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Immigration to Israel: Ulpan and Merkaz Klita

Immigration has always been a serious Israeli concern, as evidenced by the ministerial rank given to the official in charge of immigration and the absorption of immigrants. Various institutions and programs have helped integrate immigrants into Israeli society.

Perhaps the most ubiquitous of the absorption organizations is the ulpan, a term for intensive Hebrew language school. Since Israel's founding, the ulpan (plural ulpanim) were funded by municipalities, the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption or the Jewish Agency. On most cases, ulpanim were heavily subsidized and were thus free for new immigrants. Many were residential, offering dormitory-like accommodations intended for single immigrants while giving half-day instruction for six months.

Municipal ulpanim usually offered less intensive night classes and many kibbutzim also ran ulpanim which combined half-day language instruction with a half day's labor on the kibbutz. In the late 1970's, when immigration to Israel was high, about 23,000 individuals were enrolled in some sort of ulpan.

The merkaz klita, or absorption center, was developed in the late 1960's to accommodate the increased immigration that occurred between 1969 and 1975 of relatively well-off and educated Jews from the West, particularly from the United States. These centers combined the ulpan with long-term (often exceeding one year) accommodation for families.

With representatives of all the major ministries ideally on hand or on call, these centers were supposed to cushion the entry of the new immigrant into Israeli society. They were a far cry from the often squalid transition camps of the 1950's, a fact that did not go unnoticed by many Oriental Jews. In the late 1970's, at the height of immigration from the United States, there were more than twenty-five absorption centers housing almost 4,000 new immigrants. Taking all the forms of such immigrant-absorption institutions together--centers, hostels (for families without children) and residential ulpanim--almost 10,000 persons were living in some form of them in early 1976.

Sources: Library of Congress