New Israeli immigrants with disabilities can now attend a Hebrew-language course geared to their needs.
Every year, new immigrants – called "olim" in Hebrew – flock to Israel from around the world. Among them are some with disabilities, and their initial encounters with Israeli society are unquestionably more difficult. In an effort to ease their transition, it was decided in May this year that a trial ulpan (school for intensive Hebrew study) exclusively geared toward the needs of disabled immigrants would open in Haifa. The pilot project has been wildly successful and plans are in the works to expand the project to seven other cities in Israel.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Israel initiated the project with the cooperation of the Israeli government, the Ruderman Family Foundation, the adult-student education wing of the Ministry of Education and AHVA, the Israeli multidisciplinary association for people with disabilities.
Until now, immigrants with disabilities have encountered a tough time when trying to transition into Israeli society and learn spoken Hebrew, especially since a framework that accommodated their needs was unavailable. "I want to be able to communicate with people, to be part of society," said Vladamir Kaplian, who immigrated to Israel from the Ukraine more than 17 years ago but still struggles to speak Hebrew. Kaplian was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at age 11, studied history and archeology and has written a number of children's plays. "I want to be a genuine Israeli," he said. "I came to live here, and I want to feel free." After nearly two decades, Kaplian said, the special Hebrew classes are helping his dream become reality. "Only now do I feel like my hope can be realized," he said. "It is thanks my Hebrew teacher at the handicap-accessible ulpan and its specialized educational programming."
The customized Hebrew language curriculum is taught at two levels: beginner and advanced. The classroom is uniquely designed and equipped for the special needs of students, who suffer from physical, emotional or mental disabilities. The ulpan's teachers have degrees in special education and extensive experience working with special-needs students.
One of the teachers, Irena Hellman, described the students in her class. "Their eyes sparkle with joy," she said. "It's important to realize that many of the students have low self-esteem, so that the ability to engage in a basic Hebrew conversion is for them a major accomplishment."
The language classes also help the students find future employment.