JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky recently welcomed over 200 olim, young professionals from 27 countries, who are set to begin Hebrew studies at Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem.
At the opening ceremony of the 127th semester, held on February 6th, Sharansky told the group that only twelve hours after he married his wife, Avital, she boarded a plane to make Aliyah. He was only reunited with her in Israel after more than a decade's separation.
“When we parted, Avital was a shy young girl who only spoke three or four words in Hebrew,” Sharansky said. “When we met again after twelve years, she was a confident woman who spoke Hebrew fluently, knew how to give speeches and had met numerous world leaders.”
Emphasizing that, “All her koach (strength) within the Jewish world began here at Ulpan Etzion,” Sharansky joked that when asked why his wife’s Hebrew was better than his, replied “I tell people that she studied at Ulpan Etzion and I didn’t.”
Encouraging the students, he said: "You are blessed twice. Once for your decision to make Aliyah and to take part in the building up of Am Yisrael. The second blessing is to start your lives in Israel here in Ulpan Etzion. Klitah (absorption) without neshama (soul) doesn’t provide encouragement for new olim. I can see that here you receive Neshama ve-ruach (soul and spirit).”
Among the students was Jessica Cohen from Paris, who started Hebrew studies at the Ulpan in late January. She decided to make Aliyah after completing a legal internship in Israel during her studies at the Sorbonne: “On the plane back to France I cried my eyes out. People on the plane didn’t know what had happened.” Upon completing her studies in France, Cohen immigrated to Israel. Cohen said she aimed “to finish the Ulpan with excellent Hebrew, so that I can present my arguments as a lawyer in Hebrew with the same ease that I do in French.”
The Ulpan Etzion model is always oversubscribed, and regularly attracts olim from all over the world. As State's first ulpan, established in 1949, Ulpan Etzion accepts students with academic backgrounds who have chosen to contribute their skills to Israel. Improving their Hebrew skills with five hours of classes, five days a week, for five months, residents also benefit from a relatively "soft landing" for their first steps in Israel.
The Ulpan offers opportunities to make friends, enjoy various cultural activities, and receive assistance and advice on entering the Israeli job market. In recent years, The Jewish Agency has expanded the popular Ulpan Etzion model, with new programs in Haifa, Tiberias, and Ramle.