As a young Orthodox woman, Avital Parasha had much of her adult life pretty much planned for her: She was expected to enroll in seminary, get married and maintain a home.
However, a brief lesson in computer science in high school changed her trajectory in unexpected ways. After realizing computers were her passion, Parasha decided to buck what was expected of her and enrolled in the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT). There, she experienced the “best of both worlds” where she could learn both Torah and secular studies and saw it as a way for her to combine her love of scripture and science.
Below is an interview she gave about her choice to enroll in JCT, and how her decision has affected her professionally and personally.
Why did you choose to enroll in JCT and why did you want to study computer science?
JCT combines religious education and secular studies at a high level. They are known throughout the country for their excellence in providing computer science and technology education that peacefully coexist alongside valuing the Torah. As someone from an Orthodox family who is also very passionate about computers, I felt this program was tailor-made for me.
I’ve been obsessed with computers since I first encountered a programming lesson in high school, I think you could say it was love at first sight.
As someone from an Orthodox background were your parents supportive?
My parents supported the idea of me enrolling in higher education, but they were a bit hesitant about me studying computer programming. Initially, they wanted me to enroll in seminary and if I chose to do higher education, they would have preferred I get a degree in the humanities. The rabbis in our community would also visit our high school and try to sway us into the seminary path.
Going to JCT, then, was a compromise. We visited the Machon Tal campus and realized it’s exactly what I was looking for.
How has the community accepted your decision? As a young woman, has this impacted your personal life?
At first, the general reaction was a bit extreme, but now everybody is used to it and has accepted it. I’m now the process of shidduchim (matchmaking dates) and these can get a little awkward when I reveal what I’m currently up to and what my passions are. I’m not bothered by this, though, I’m looking for a partner that will want to support my ambitions and interests.
I also don’t think I’m alone. There are many more Orthdox women enrolling in STEM and I’m happy to be part of an ongoing trend.
Have you found it difficult to manage Torah and secular studies at the same time? Do you worry how you will maintain your career once you’re married with children?
Not really. I’m combining two of the things I love. When you do things you like, you’re happy and when you’re happy, everything is easier.
As for children, I hope to work for companies that take into consideration the importance of a work/life balance. Luckily, most Israeli companies are very family-friendly. So, I’d want to work with an employer who understands that while I’m willing to give 100% to my job, I also would need some flexibility in terms of my schedule.
What advice would you give to other Orthodox women looking to study STEM?
Currently, I work as a software developer for Verisense Inomize, which employs many Orthodox women who have demonstrated that it’s possible to successfully combine a religious lifestyle with a hi-tech job. I would advise any person - regardless of their gender - who is passionate about science to dive headfirst to this lucrative and exciting field. As long as their goals don’t negatively impact other people in their lives, I would always encourage everyone to follow their dreams.
Avital Parasha currently works as a software developer and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science in 2020 from the Jerusalem College of Technology.