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The woman, Michal Zernowitski, grew up in a religious party that does not allow female candidates. Again and again, as the audiences move from room to room, Ms.The political parties supported by most of her neighbors in Elad, a bastion of ultra-Orthodoxy, belong to the right-wing governing coalition that she abhors. Zernowitski waits her turn, smiles, stands and delivers a five-minute stump speech that turns heads and opens minds.“I believe that if you open the door, these people will come and vote,” she says.The experts say she is unlikely to test that premise.“She has no chance,” declared Gilad Malach, an expert on the ultra-Orthodox at the Israel Democracy Institute. Zernowitski, if ahead of the curve, was nonetheless onto something: The Haredi parties are calcified and vulnerable to breakaway voters, he said.“On the day that an ultra-Orthodox representative will be successful outside the classic political parties,” he said, “there’s a chance more people will choose that party because it works.”At a Labor candidates’ night in Jerusalem, Ms.Zernowitski addressed a roomful of activists and retirees who snapped up her brochures.Afterward, Izzy Almog, 81, holding his cane, smiled up at her from his seat.“Don’t be offended, but I don’t know what your chances are,” he said. Zernowitski has been around politics long enough to know how tough it can be.And the Palestinians, she said, deserve self-determination: Leaders of both sides “should go into a room and not come out till they have a deal.”Her passion, however, is for addressing her own community’s ills: Schools where children are taught Torah and Talmud but not math, science or history.Adults who come of age and find they are incapable of holding down a job.“Economically, the only solution is to give it up,” she says — to leave the ultra-Orthodox lifestyle — “but most Haredim don’t want to give it up.”“People are saying, ‘We don’t want the next generation to end up like us,’ where at 18 you have to go learn 12 years of an education in six months,” she said, driving to Tel Aviv at the wheel of her Hyundai hybrid.
You don’t need to consult a rabbi to figure out that being a single woman of a certain age in the Orthodox Jewish community is no piece of babka.TEL AVIV — It is primary season in Israel, and the creaky Labor Party, hemorrhaging support and desperate to project energy and vitality, has invited its 44 candidates for Parliament to a college campus for a night billed as speed dating with hundreds of voters.At the front of a classroom sit an array of typical center-left candidates — a longtime incumbent, a well-known journalist, a leader of the Druze minority — and one who is like no candidate ever seen at this kind of gathering: an ultra-Orthodox woman. And yet she seems to relish the steep uphill climb.She rails against the state-funded but privately run ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, education system, where, she says, “your background” and “who you know” determine “who gets into the good schools.” She recounts how she became a trailblazer as an ultrareligious woman in tech, but laments how her children are stuck “in the same place I was before.”She blasts the Haredi parties, which she says are a half-century behind the times on women’s rights, gay rights and many other issues, and the right-wing government over which those parties hold outsize sway, because she says it ignores problems affecting Haredi communities for fear of antagonizing its coalition partners.And she explains, like an emissary from another planet, to urban hipsters who may never have talked with their black hat- or wig-wearing neighbors, that a “revolution” is underway among the ultra-Orthodox: The “new Haredim,” as she calls them — younger, worldlier people who use smartphones and commute to diverse workplaces in the big cities — are hungry for change, dying to engage with and be embraced by broader Israeli society, and ready like never before to break ranks at the ballot box.“There’s a huge gap between what the ultra-Orthodox establishment is doing and what the people want,” Ms. A man rises with a question for all five candidates: How can we bring more people with skullcaps into Labor?