The Ulpan and Merkaz Klita
Immigration has always been a serious Israeli concern, as evidenced by the ministerial rank given to the chief 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 is the ulpan (pl., ulpanim), or intensive Hebrew language school. Some ulpanim were funded by municipalities, others by the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, or the Jewish Agency. Because they were heavily subsidized, ulpanim were free or charged only nominal fees to new immigrants. Some were residential, offering dormitory-like accommodations with board. They were mainly intended for single immigrants and offered half-day instruction in a course that lasted six months. The municipal ulpanim offered less intensive night classes. Many kibbutzim also ran ulpanim, which combined half-day language instruction with a half day's labor on the kibbutz. In the late 1970s, 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 1960s 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 1950s, a fact that did not go unnoticed by many Oriental Jews. In the late 1970s, 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. As of 1988 the occupancy had declined, as had Western immigration to Israel.
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