A view from above the construction site in the Israeli city of Modi’in Illit reveals an unusual sight. Below, in the space that was recently excavated in preparation for its soon-to-be-built simchah hall, the workers are clustered around a chareidi woman dressed in modest attire. They are listening attentively to her instructions regarding their tasks for the rest of the day. From where I’m standing, I can’t hear what she is saying, but it’s obvious that she knows what she’s doing. After all, this is not her first construction project.
Meet Batya Elzas, the first and only chareidi contractor in Israel. For the past number of years, the 35-year-old Elzas has been working as a home remodeler—a “shiputznik”—with her team of workers. From the future simchah hall, she takes me to an apartment building a few blocks away and proudly shows me a project she just completed the day before: a new residence, built from scratch in a neglected courtyard of an apartment building. Its compact kitchen, bedroom and tiny living room with parquet flooring were built in just a few days.
“It’s the kind of work I really like,” she says. When we met, she was working on several projects in Modi’in, Bnei Brak and Yerushalayim.
“There are a lot of renovations that I am proud of, including large projects such as a children’s home. But I am most proud of the small projects, like this one. The owners of that hall interviewed and requested quotes from many professionals, but they chose to work with me precisely because they were impressed with my planning and design concepts.”
According to Batya, there are very few female contractors in Israel. I ask her how she feels as a chareidi woman working in a male-dominated profession.
“It’s not an issue at all,” she replies. “Being chareidi is irrelevant to my professional work. My clients come to me after getting recommendations from previous clients. I have never advertised my services. All kinds of people hire me, from chareidi to secular, and no one cares about the community to which I belong.”
As for whether she has ever encountered prejudice of any kind on the job, Batya responds with the following: