FSU ulpans won't be cut, for now

The Education Ministry has promised to continue running the programs through September.

ulpan class 88 (photo credit: )
ulpan class 88
(photo credit: )
Representatives of the Jewish Agency announced Monday that it had reversed a decision to cut back on Hebrew language instruction classes (ulpans) and other programs in Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union (FSU), after successfully raising funds to keep the programs going for at least the next year. Speaking at the Knesset Committee on Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora, Gerda Feurstein, deputy director of education at the agency, said, "We are very happy to announce that we now have an approved budget for ulpanim in the FSU communities and they will not close as previously thought." In November, The Jerusalem Post broke the story that some $850,000 was to be cut from programs in the FSU, with roughly $500,000 from the agency's flagship ulpanim program. The program currently offers Hebrew language education to some 20,000 students across the FSU. Many Knesset members of Russian origin spoke out against the plan to make cutbacks, pointing out that these programs formed the backbone of aliya from former soviet provinces and also strengthened the connection between communities living there and Israel. "We are delighted that pressure from this committee managed to push the Jewish Agency to reverse its decision," said committee member Marina Solodkin (Kadima), who had been actively involved in lobbying the agency to continue funding the programs. Feurstein said, however, that plans by the Education Ministry to cut back on ulpanim here in Israel would seriously undermine the agency's work in the FSU. "We call on [Director-General of the Education Ministry, Shlomit] Amichai not to cancel ulpanim in Israel for new immigrants," she said to the committee. "The relationship between what happens here and over there is strongly linked." Knesset members present at the hearing, including committee chairman Professor Michael Nudelman (Kadima), Sofa Landver (Israel Beiteinu) and Zeev Elkin (Kadima), vowed that such Hebrew language programs for new immigrants would not be allowed to diminish. The Education Ministry has promised to continue running the programs through September, with the Immigrant Absorption Ministry committed to investing in Hebrew language education in the future. Elkin urged the committee to issue a statement highlighting to Education Minister Yuli Tamir the successful efforts made by the Jewish Agency to retain ulpan classes in the FSU and calling on the ministry to uphold its resolve not to reduce such programs in Israel this year.