'A Zionist factory'

'Ulpan Etzion is not just a language school, it's not Berlitz," says Hannah Horowitz. "There are lots of other ulpanim across the country, but this one is special, the only one of its kind." Horowitz speaks from experience, having spent 28 years working at the ulpan, first as a teacher then as manager of pedagogy for the Education Ministry until September 2002. "It's the first stage in the absorption for young single people that immigrated; they left their family and came to Israel alone. To rent an apartment alone can be lonely, and you're already worrying about paying bills and earning a living instead of studying Hebrew," says Horowitz. "It's a Zionist factory, something very special," she says, speaking fondly about her years at the ulpan. She still retains a strong passion for the place over 30 years after she first came to teach the reborn Hebrew language to young Jews arriving from the four corners of the world. "The five months are an intensive experience for everyone - not just the students but for the teachers and the office staff as well. At the end of the term, everyone reaches a high and makes contacts that remain with them," she says. "There used to be a civil guard station here, and people volunteered and took part in the life of the community. It helped olim make contact with people in the neighborhood and improve their language as well. There is a symbiosis between the ulpan and the neighborhood; lots of graduates stay and live in the area because they are connected to the place. East Talpiot is just another neighborhood, there is no magnetism," she comments. "It [the ulpan] is known around the world almost without any advertising. People know that it opens twice a year, on January 15 and July 15, and it fills up straight away. Everyone who came could feel the atmosphere and the Zionism here. It's the first ulpan in Israel. The trees you see here were planted by the first students on Tu Bishvat in 1950. Beit Canada is not the same thing. I'm not against Beit Canada; I know it and it's great for families, but not instead of Ulpan Etzion." Faced with the Jewish Agency's financial circumstances, Horowitz is not overly optimistic about saving the Baka campus but she, like many others, is determined that it mustn't go out with a whimper. "At the very least we must shout about it!" she maintains. "There is only one Ulpan Etzion in Israel. If you close it, you close a Zionist factory."