Meet the Haredi entrepreneur running for a historic seat on the Jerusalem city council

Malka Greenblatt, who ‘hates politics but loves getting things done,’ will be the first ultra-Orthodox woman to serve on the council if elected on Tuesday

Malka Greenblatt (courtesy).
Malka Greenblatt (courtesy).

As Israel votes Tuesday in municipal elections, mid-war, 34-year-old American-Israeli Malka Greenblatt is hoping to make history as the first Haredi woman on the Jerusalem city council.

Despite running for public office in a city where images of women on advertisements and political posters are considered taboo by many ultra-Orthodox residents — and are sometimes defaced if found in public — Greenblatt says she has faced virtually no pushback from the Haredi community during her campaign.

“I felt alone because I was really stepping outside the box,” she says, “but I never felt alienated or anything like that.”

Greenblatt moved to Israel 12 years ago from Michigan and embarked on a career doing hair and makeup before quickly moving on to run a successful wig shop, Tagless Wigs.

Soon she found herself with an energetic 2-year-old son who needed a gan, or preschool. “And that’s when I really got triggered from my own schooling,” Greenblatt told The Times of Israel. “I had a fine experience [but] I came out after 15 years of school feeling that I didn’t get much out of it. And I didn’t want my kids to have the same experience as I did.”

Determined to find a solution, Greenblatt started a small, private Haredi Montessori preschool program. The Montessori method, which is relatively new to Israel according to a 2019 Aliyah Ministry report, emphasizes hands-on learning and developing real-world skills to allow children to be more independent at an earlier age.

“Giving a child something better in their formative years — it’s a gift for a lifetime,” Greenblatt says. “I think the more we can invest in that, the better the future is going to look.”

If you’re not sure who to vote for tomorrow, I'd like you to consider voting for me. Who am i?My name is Malka…

Posted by Malka Kresch Greenblatt on Monday, February 26, 2024

Nine years later, still running a thriving business and now raising four children, Greenblatt has turned that one school into four Montessori Haredi preschools, three of which are fully funded by the municipality with the help of the ultra-Orthodox education division.

“We also got a girls’ [elementary] school opened,” she added. The Netivoteha Haredi public school currently goes up to third grade. Last year, there were 200 applications for 25 open spots. “This year,” Greenblatt said, “it might be double that. There’s a huge need.”

Her experience with the municipality in the education sector and her desire to implement change were what prompted Greenblatt to run for city council, on the Jerusalem Unity (Achdut Yerushalayim) party list, alongside fellow candidate Avishai Cohen. Greenblatt is technically second on the list, but recently signed a rotation agreement that splits the five-year term with Cohen, should the party only get one seat.

“I hate politics but I love getting things done,” Greenblatt says of her budding political career. “This is not filling any hole in my life. I’m doing it because I feel it needs to get done. It’s not about the politics; I just happen to be good at politics.”

Representing a relatively under-served demographic, Haredim who hold full-time jobs outside of the ultra-Orthodox world, Greenblatt takes a brass-tacks approach to the role of her prospective seat on the city council. She wants to help her constituents create change from the ground up by expediting the process for them.

“How do you get from A to Z without losing your mind? My goal is to clarify for people what the steps are,” she says.

Jerusalem’s municipal system has a lot to offer its citizens, Greenblatt says, but average citizens — particularly new immigrants — do not know where to start when trying to access municipal resources that are technically fully available to them.

“I’m not superwoman, I can’t do everything,” says Greenblatt. “But what I can do is represent, lead, or guide in a way that [allows] people to take more action toward getting what they need.”

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