Cutbacks may force Ulpan Etzion to move

Jewish Agency mulls relocating program to more out-of-way Armon Hanatziv absorption center.

ulpan etzion aj 248.8 (photo credit: ariel jerozolimski)
ulpan etzion aj 248.8
(photo credit: ariel jerozolimski)
Jerusalem's historic Ulpan Etzion, which has been the starting point for thousands of young, single, academic immigrants since it was founded in 1949, could be moved from its central location to another Jewish Agency building on the outskirts of the city, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The move, which an Agency spokesman confirmed is still being considered, is part of a $45 million cutback being forced on the quasi-governmental agency because of the global financial crisis. "It will not happen overnight," the spokesman said. "However, it is part of our streamlining process. We currently have two ulpan programs in Jerusalem and moving them into one location will reduce costs." The other ulpan, Beit Canada, is located in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood, at least one bus ride from the bustling German Colony/Baka area that is so popular with young immigrants, and even further from downtown. "It is only a physical move. Under no circumstances will there not be an ulpan for young, single, academic olim in Jerusalem," the spokesman stressed. "The Jewish Agency is making changes, but they will not affect our Hebrew-language offerings." About half of the roughly 180 new immigrants currently studying at Ulpan Etzion live on the campus, which according to sources is leased rather than owned by the Agency. In contrast, the Beit Canada Ulpan, which is designed for young immigrant families, belongs to the agency. In 2006, the Vatican-linked Carmelite Church, which owns the Baka property, announced it was not keen on renewing the lease for the building containing the ulpan's dormitory and dining room. However, the Agency managed to hold on to part of the premises where the study rooms and some dormitories are located. According to the spokesman, discussions within the Agency about whether to move Ulpan Etzion to Beit Canada took place at the Board of Governors meetings in Jerusalem two weeks ago. A letter obtained by the Post from a source within the Agency urges that the ulpan, which completes its current session on December 15, be closed immediately before its summer semester. "I know a lot of people at Ulpan Etzion and people who lived at Beit Canada for a few weeks before moving into Etzion, and according to them, the atmosphere at the two places is completely different. At Beit Canada there are a lot of new olim, singles and families, and you meet a lot of people, but there is something really depressing about the place, as it's in the middle of nowhere, as compared to Etzion," a young immigrant, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Post. "At Ulpan Etzion the ulpan provides meals every day, including Shabbat, while at Beit Canada nothing is organized for the residents. Secondly, religious and secular people were placed together as roommates, which in principle is a good idea, but practically is unstable," the immigrant said. Another oleh, currently studying at Ulpan Etzion, said there was disappointment at the news that the ulpan may be moved. "It's tradition, the ulpan has been there forever," he said. "Every new group has talked to past groups, and everyone knows that you take any of the nearby four buses anywhere into town. At Beit Canada there is only the No. 8 bus - which takes you to town, but still it's a long wait compared to four buses," the immigrant said. Students at the ulpan have started a Facebook group to organize a protest against the move.