September 20, 2007
By Daphna Berman
The WUJS Institute offers free course in Hebrew and in the local culture to Sudanese newcomers to the Negev
The WUJS (World Union of Jewish Students) Institute, in Arad, recently began a Hebrew-language course for refugees from Sudan's Darfur region living in the town.
About 70 refugees from Darfur were placed in Arad at the beginning of the summer. The children are enrolled in local schools, while the adults commute to work in hotels at the Dead Sea. About 35 adults have taken advantage of the free ulpan classes.
"Parents began expressing concern that they would be left behind while their children acclimated to life in Israel," WUJS director Alon Friedman said.
"They wanted to be able to study Hebrew so that they could help their children get settled and do homework with them," Friedman added.
In the weekly, two-hour sessions, students learn basic Hebrew and are exposed to Israeli culture. In a recent lesson, they ate apples dipped in honey while learning the "Shanah Tovah" New Year's greeting.
Most of the group is literate, and in addition to learning spoken Hebrew they are also learning the alefbet in order to read and write the language.
"They are an amazingly motivated group and are eager to study and practice," Friedman said. The refugees have work permits but are not immigrants and are therefore ineligible for publicly funded ulpan studies.
The WUJS center, which is run by the women's Zionist organization Hadassah, developed the curriculum for the mini-ulpan, while teachers in Arad are volunteering their time. The classes are held in Jewish Agency-owned absorption centers in the city.
WUJS participants, who will arrive next month from various countries, are expected to run afterschool activities for the refugee children, as well as additional enrichment programs for the adults.
"For us, having the ulpan is not political and it is not about whether the refugees should be allowed to stay here or not," Friedman said.
"We live in the city, we're part of what goes on here and the reality is that 70 refugees now live in Arad. Whether they will be here for another week or for the rest of their lives, we still need to help. We've seen their difficulties and we do not want to be indifferent."