A landmark Jerusalem absorption center which served as one of the pillars of North American immigration since the establishment of the State of Israel is losing its main dormitory building after the Vatican terminated its half-century-old lease, the Jewish Agency said Wednesday.
The three-story building, which served as the chief dormitory and club room at Jerusalem's prominent Ulpan Etzion in the city's upscale Baka neighborhood, was recently sold by the Carmelite Church to a private developer, a Jewish Agency spokesman, Michael Jankelowitz, said.
The Carmelite Church, which is connected to the Vatican, had previously leased the lucrative property out to the Jewish Agency for the last half century, he added.
The absorption center, which was established in 1949 as Israel's first ulpan, will likely have to vacate the building in question within the next three years.
Jewish Agency officials, who are battling concomitant economic difficulties, are considering where to house students when they will have to vacate the building. But the officials are not inclined to leave the compound altogether.
"The future of Ulpan Etzion is not at stake here," Jankelowitz said.
Some 165 students from 20 countries around the world are currently studying at the ulpan, of whom 103 live there.
Some of the students studying at what is considered the Jewish Agency's flagship ulpan are already housed at an alternative site in southern Jerusalem known as Beit Canada, while others live in rented apartments.
In the past, students have complained about the condition of the rooms in the old building, as well as heating problems over the winter. The rest of the buildings at the site belong to the Jewish Agency.
The quasi-governmental organization which promotes Jewish immigration to Israel has been going through a period of economic turmoil and change.
The economic decision by the Church to terminate the group's lease on the building comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin is said to be pushing ahead with claims on a couple of buildings in the city's historic Russian Compound which are owned by the Russian Orthodox Church, including the landmark city building housing the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court.
Israel is concerned over the precedent such claims may have on other Church properties in the city, including the prime minister's official residence.