Solving the crisis in Hebrew studies

A new partnership with Open University at the Lauder Employment Center in Israel’s south will help those waiting for places in ulpan.

 Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder  (photo credit: WORLD JEWISH CONGRESS)
Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder

More than 3,600 immigrants are waiting for openings in the Ministry of Education’s advanced ulpan, and the language barrier is preventing them from integrating into employment in professions in which they were trained abroad. Many of those who are waiting arrived in the past year from Russia and Ukraine, against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine.

In order not to repeat the mistakes of the past and to ensure that they will be able to integrate into their professions, the Lauder Center for the Advancement of Employment in the Negev, in collaboration with “Dialogue,” a language school of external studies at the Open University, has launched a new emergency program for learning Hebrew for the immigrants waiting for places in the ulpan. The program is intended for graduates of a basic ulpan who have not yet integrated into the advanced ulpan and is intended to provide a language tool for integration into the labor market.

This week, 32 new immigrants happily joined the first class of the Lauder Center and Dialogue’s Hebrew course. The course is an emergency philanthropic program intended for immigrants who have completed a basic ulpan (Ulpan Alef) but cannot continue on the government track immediately, due to the lack of openings in the government program. The course of study is complementary to the ulpan and is intended to provide tools for integration into the labor market. In 2022, 74,400 new immigrants immigrated to Israel, most of them from Russia and Ukraine, who arrived due to the war, which created unusual congestion and long lines for government Hebrew ulpan programs.

“The biggest challenges in Aliyah are the challenge of language and the lack of employment,” says Yelena Rostovsky, a new immigrant from Russia who joined the Hebrew course. “I made aliyah because since the war began, I no longer want to have any connection with the life I had there. I am Jewish, and Israel has always been a home for me. In Russia, I worked in accounting, but without knowledge of Hebrew, I cannot work in my profession in Israel.”

“I don’t want to give up a profession I love and for which I have accumulated so much knowledge and experience,” Rostowsky added, “so, it’s important for me to learn Hebrew. After Ulpan Alef, I was informed that there was currently no place for me in Ulpan Bet, which further prevented me from integrating into my profession. I am grateful for the new program and hope that it will continue to expand.”

The program will take place in a hybrid format for two groups – one on Zoom and one in the classroom– to provide each immigrant the opportunity to integrate it into their daily lives. The course will include 15 lessons for a total of 90 hours, and the goal is to consolidate the linguistic basis that will allow immigrants a springboard to the world of employment.

Prof. Mimi Ajzenstadt, President of the Open University: “The Open University is proud to be a partner in a program that helps new immigrants learn the Hebrew language, thereby facilitating the process of their absorption and integration into Israeli society and the world of employment. The Open University has always enlisted in national and social missions, first and foremost making higher education accessible to all, without preconditions, with high-quality research and teaching and advanced learning technology.”

The emergency plan is part of a series of initiatives by the Lauder Center to promote employment in the Negev, which was established by Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder and Jewish National Fund – USA to assist new immigrants. With the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine, the Center, in cooperation with the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, began to operate the “Immigrants to the Negev” program, which helps new immigrants from Russia and Ukraine integrate into employment in the Negev and establish their homes in the area. The program was created with the perception that if the current wave of aliyah is properly integrated, it could serve as a dramatic boost for Zionism and the Negev and the Galilee.

“The State of Israel must not repeat the mistakes it made in aliyah absorption in the 1990s,” said Tali Tzur Avner, Chief of Staff of JNF-USA in Israel, “The crisis of Hebrew studies today prevents many immigrants from integrating into the world of employment in the professions in which they were trained. Only if we, as a society, learn from the new immigrants and cultivate their occupation in professions in which they have accumulated knowledge and experience, will the absorption of aliyah be able to serve as a springboard forward for Zionism and the State of Israel. With the onset of the crisis, we at the Lauder Center did not wait and launched a new Hebrew language program. We hope that more private and governmental initiatives will follow in our footsteps and provide a solution for immigrants.”