The Milah Ulpan in Jerusalem, a nonprofit operating for some 17 years, closed
its doors last month – a move that has sparked controversy, as laid-off teachers
believe it occurred because they unionized.
About a year ago, teachers at
the ulpan – all of them graduates of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem – had
confronted the institution’s management with some problems concerning their
salaries and pensions.
According to Roy Guy- Green, a lawyer representing
the laid-off Milah teachers, the staff had no employment contract and was paid
on the basis of hourly salaries, which were found to be insufficient to cover
their in-class work as well as the time they spent grading homework and exams at
home. Discrepancies were also found in the workers’ pension payments, which he
said were insufficient.
“For such a small nonprofit with such [few]
funds, I would take a very close look at management salaries, and ask why
employee rights are neglected for such a long time,” Guy- Green told The
He added that employees should have received documents
from management prior to starting, detailing how they would be paid, but hadn’t
A former member of the Ulpan Workers’ Union, Ronit Cohen,
said that during meetings with Milah’s management, the teachers’ demands had
been called “exaggerated.”
As the workers unionized, Cohen said, the
board threatened that “the worker’s organization will lead to closing the
“On July 10, teachers received a notice that the ulpan was
closing,” Cohen explained. “The letter said that it was due to the health
condition of the head of the managing board.”
According to the notice,
the ulpan was to close its doors on September 11 with the end of the
“But after we were told that Milah is closing, we indirectly
received information telling us that it was going to reopen as a private
institution in the fall,” Cohen said.
According to the former teachers,
some of the staff was offered positions in the “new Milah,” but these offers
excluded all of the unionized members.
In a letter to students back in
August, the laid-off instructors expressed their sadness that after unionizing
and holding negotiations with the management over issues such as pension plans,
they been told, in July, that the ulpan would close and that they were therefore
“On August 13, Tuesday afternoon, a number of us arrived to teach
and found signs stating that the fall semester would open as usual,” they wrote.
“This took the teachers who received no such notice, by surprise. We felt it
important to inform the students that perhaps the ulpan shall remain, but for
the most part, the teachers will no longer be the same teachers.”
text continued, “On Wednesday morning, one of these teachers came to teach as
usual but was informed that her employment has been terminated, effective
immediately (an illegal measure). Later that morning, a policeman was called
upon to escort this teacher and a colleague who came in to support her off the
The situation was such, the letter said, that “veteran
teachers who have been working here for a few years were kicked out by a
policeman right before their students’ eyes. They have still not received an
apology from management for this difficult incident. Only a few days ago, harsh
and humiliating words were spoken to another teacher.”
website is currently not functioning, Milah continues to offer registration for
the upcoming semester, which begins on October 13.
“It’s a shame that
after years of commitment to the institution, we are kicked out as criminals,”
In response, Milah CEO Jonathan Tsevi wrote to the Post that
the decision to close the nonprofit had come after the head of the managing
board suffered a stroke in October 2012. The rest of the organization’s board
members were unsuccessful in finding someone to take over the management, and
decided to wind up its activities.
“The manager of the ulpan managed to
convince the board to extend its activities for a while, hoping that a way will
be found to enable the continuation of the Ulpan, but after a while the board
reached the final decision, in July 2013, to wind up the organization and
consequently a receiver was appointed,” the statement said.
emphasized that the decision to close the nonprofit “coincided with the
appearance of a labor union, but the winding up decision was pending long
before.” He added that “the upheaval which followed only convinced the board
members that there was no other way but winding up.”
He explained that
the receiver, Zeev Farber, “in spite of the (by now) tarnished reputation (due
to deliberate actions of some of the ulpan teachers, encouraged by the union),
managed to sell the assets of the nonprofit to private investors who agreed to
take upon themselves some of the obligations of the organization (including its
obligation to rent the ulpan premises). It should be noted that had investors
not been found, the severance of the employees could have been in
According to him, all the employees at Milah had been encouraged
to submit their candidacy to the new company.
“To the best of my
knowledge, no employees’ rights were breached by the nonprofit,” he
A former student of the ulpan, US native John Reed, who moved to
Israel in January for his job as a journalist, told the Post on Tuesday that he
had been very happy with Milah prior to the closure.
“It was great. There
were terrific teachers. In fact, I think they were the best language teachers
I’ve ever had,” he said. “It was also a great buy for your money.”
the events of the summer, Reed decided to leave the ulpan and register at a
different institution for the upcoming semester.
“I am leaving because it
became a bit of a mess,” he explained. “Teachers had to spend time explaining
and dealing with what was going on, and it disrupted the semester. It was
bad for moral and bad for motivation.”
Though he is sorry to be leaving,
he said, “I think its the management’s fault that I left. And if it is true that
they fired everybody because they unionized, then I disagree with that on