Selah graduates put on a remarkable show for their teachers,
families and friends. There were theatre pieces, musical and dance
performances, poetry, speeches and more.
July 6, 2010 / 24 Tammuz 5770
By Darryl Egnal
More than 200 young immigrants from the Former Soviet Union (FSU) celebrated their graduation from the nine-month Selah program in style on June 7, 2010.
Selah, an acronym for Students before parents, is one of the Jewish Agency’s most successful youth programs. It is a highly creative, yet practical initiative for facilitating the successful immigration and absorption of young immigrants, aged between 17 and 20, from the FSU.
In a moving graduation ceremony at the Karmiel high school auditorium, 200 FSU youngsters paid tribute to their teachers and madrichim (leaders/mentors), who had dedicated their time and energy to the immigrants’ successful absorption into Israel.
Teachers paid tribute to the graduates and to the success of the
During the two-hour graduation celebration, VIPs, including the Vice Mayor of Karmiel, Shula Cohen, Dr Sarah Rubenstein from the Ministry of Education, and Ziona Izenstein, director of the Jewish Agency Karmiel Absorption Center, as well as teachers, madrichim and others, praised the dedication and achievements of the youngsters, all of whom have now officially made Aliyah, and wished them well on their journeys.
“This is the moment we need to say goodbye to the Selah program of 2009/2010,” said Izenstein, who is mother, father, advisor, counselor and more to these young immigrants. “From this moment, everyone will go his or her own way. Some will go to study; some will go to the army… There are so many doors that are opening for you. It’s a new way in a big life.
“But you have all the resources you need to go out into the world. You already have friends to support you and all the necessary things you’ll need to make it. The question is what things each one of you will put in your bag for the journey.”
Vice Mayor Shula Cohen expressed her pride in the students’ successful completion of the program and commented on how happy she was that there were so many new Karmiel citizens who had contributed to the local community and would continue to contribute in some way. She stated that it was important for Karmiel to get more young people to remain in the city and she urged them to come back after their studies and return safely from their service in the IDF.
The Selah program
The Selah program targets high school graduates who make Aliyah before their parents, and choose to build their futures in Israel. In addition to Hebrew, English and computer studies, they learn about Jewish culture and heritage and the history of the Jewish people.
Ziona Izenshtein (right), director of the Karmiel Absorption Center,
with Nastia Mordovetz, a graduate from last year’s program who took
special leave from the police force to attend the graduation.
After congratulating them, Dr Rubenstein, who is responsible for the senior school division of the Education Department’s North Region, stressed the importance of learning Hebrew and achieving fluency in the language, as this would open more doors for them and would help them integrate easily into Israeli society.
All of Selah’s young participants arrive in Israel as tourists. Within three months, their status is changed to that of new immigrants. In this way, they become eligible for the government’s “absorption basket” of financial assistance.
During their first three-months in Israel, Selah students live in a Jewish Agency Absorption Center and receive free room and board. During the second stage, they receive half-board and pay a subsidized rental fee, similar to other Absorption Center residents.
Since the program began in 1995 with 80 students, thousands of dynamic young people have joined the program from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Azerbaijan, the Baltic States and Georgia, among others. Before being accepted to the program, candidates are required to undergo an extensive testing procedure in the FSU, including achievement, aptitude and personality tests. A personal interview is also conducted.
This year, the Karmiel Absorption Center has been host to the largest group it has had in the 15 years since the program started. “In the past, we had around 40 to 50 students, but this group was far bigger with about 200 students arriving together,” said Ziona.
“Now that they’ve completed the program, they will all move on to begin their futures. About 100 of them have joined the IDF, between 70 and 90 of them will probably go to university or the technion, some are too young to join the army and will find jobs until they’re ready, and a few will return to the FSU to see their families and decide what they want to do with their lives,” she said.
Some of the former students continue to return to the Karmiel Absorption Center to see their teachers, mentors and friends. They participate in the events, attend the parties and help out where needed.
Many of them attended the graduation, including Nasdia Mordovetz, who managed to get time off from the police force to be there. She and her twin brother, Nikolai, who is in the army, finished the program a year ago and decided to serve their new country.
All the teachers and mentors received a flower from the graduates
to thank them for making the Selah experience such a special one
Then there are those who return as volunteers or madrichim (leaders) so they can help the next generation of students to find their way through the program.
Julia Bergman (23) is one of them. She arrived in Israel in 2007 to join the Selah program. Coming from Moldova, she speaks fluent Rumanian and Russian, some English, which she learned at school, and now Hebrew.
“Ours wasn’t such a big program – we were 48 people,” she said. “But we were like a family and my best friends are from the program. My madricha from the program is also one of my best friends now.”
After completing her nine months, Bergman went to study International Relations at the Akko branch of Bar Ilan University. She completed her first year and then decided to take a break. “While I was studying, I volunteered at the Karmiel Mercaz Klita (Absorption Center), but this past year (2009/2010), I decided to take a break so I could work full-time as a madricha.”
The role of the madrichim is to guide the young immigrants, to be there for them in any way necessary, give them advice and look out for them.
“Because I went through the program myself, I know it well,” she said. “I also came here without my parents; I don’t have any sisters or brothers, and I have no relatives here, so I understand what they’re going through and I think I have been able to help them.
“We have many responsibilities; we give them support, we explain things to them, we prepare different activities, we help them with their lessons, we have discussions about the country, about its history, and much, much more.”
Asked how she feels about the success of the graduation ceremony and the end of the program, Ziona mentioned her mixed emotions.
“This is a wonderful celebration and I’m very proud of them and happy for them, but I’m also terribly worried about them; about what they’re going to do and if they’re going to be ok. They may be independent now, but it’s not the same as being independent with your parents around – in the background – to help you when you need it.
“My son is in the army, so I know what it’s like for him and what I’m willing to do for him when he needs me. They don’t have that and it’s going to be hard, so I worry about it.”
During her speech, she reminded them all that there was a place for them to visit at any time. “The Mercaz Klita is open to you. Every one of you is welcome here during your studies or the army just to say hello or if you need something or to ask questions,” she said. “You will get the support and help you need here.”
And her parting words of advice? “If you have any problems in your lives, just remember that time is your friend, it will help you. Be patient because once the time passes, things won’t be so bad. Every one of you is something special. You are all different, but you are all special…”