(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Not being able to speak Hebrew renders a new immigrant an invalid and offers them no hope for their future in this country, according to MK Michal Nudelman (Kadima), Chairman of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs.
"Sixty percent of all immigrants over the age of 30 finish their initial ulpan (Hebrew studies) without mastering the Hebrew language," Nudelman said Tuesday during a committee meeting, which included a gathering of Russian-born MKs, officials from the Education and Immigrant Absorption Ministries and Hebrew language professionals. "This is a catastrophe for the country and causes extreme damage to professional immigrants who are not able to find work without knowing the language."
Nudelman had called the meeting to assess the methodology for teaching Hebrew to new immigrants and to examine the reasons why a recent study by Hebrew University Professor Eliezer Leshem found that only 40% of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union living in peripheral towns can read, write or speak Hebrew and more than 90% continue to speak Russian at home.
"Mastering the Hebrew language is the most important component of a new immigrant's absorption into this country," said Nudelman, who emigrated from Kiev in 1991. "The Education Ministry has to improve its methods of teaching Hebrew out in the field."
MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima), who also made aliya in 1991 from Moscow, said that the meeting had opened a Pandora's Box of problems on how to ensure that all new immigrants are able speak functional Hebrew. She faulted the Education Ministry for not dealing with the problem and for not providing enough options for immigrants to continue learning the language once their initial course is finished.
"The Education Ministry is not putting enough emphasis on this important matter," commented Solodkin, adding that she had written on the subject back in 1996 and the situation had not really changed ten years later. "Many of my people can't read Hebrew literature and because of that they do not understand or connect with Hebrew culture at all. Many immigrants have asked me whether the State of Israel cares if they know Hebrew or not."
Meir Peretz, Director of Adult Education in the Education Ministry, responded that, "All immigrants who want to learn Hebrew can do so, the country offers them 500 hours of study in ulpanim and whoever studies more will learn more."
Peretz noted, however, that there were immigrants who did not attend ulpanim due to economic considerations, and the Ministry of Education did not reach them.
"This committee believes this to be a very important issues," said Nudelman, concluding that the problem would be brought to the attention of Education Minister Yuli Tamir and Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Boim. The committee also plans to approach Minister for the Israel Broadcasting Authority, Eitan Cabel, to look at ways of using television and radio for teaching Hebrew with an "easy Hebrew" news program.
The committee urged the Education Ministry to find ways to improve Hebrew language education among adult immigrants and present its findings within the next month.