Start of Israel’s school year marks a new beginning for immigrant families

Alina Stupin, a native of Novosibirsk, Russia, and Leah Gabayahu, whose parents immigrated from Ethiopia, eagerly awaited the start of 1st grade classes at the Bereshit School in Kiryat Yam after preparing for the school year at The Jewish Agency’s Sapir Absorption Center in the seaside city near Haifa. The official start of the school year in Israel was on Sunday, September 2.

Each year, this absorption center eagerly welcomes immigrants from around the world in order to ease their integration into Israeli culture and society, with the start of the school year representing just one of the major milestones in the lives of new immigrants.

From the window of the Sapir Absorption Center, you can see and hear the Mediterranean Sea, which was a key part of the children’s daily landscape during their summer vacation. Leah proudly says, “I can already read a few words of Hebrew because I learned to read with my mentor, and I even know punctuation.”

Ruthie Cohen, director of the Sapir Absorption Center, notes that Leah “took part in a preparatory program for the 1st grade, so she’s coming to school very prepared.”

Absorption centers offer a “soft landing” and transitional housing for new immigrant families and adults. The Jewish Agency’s 21 absorption centers include classrooms for lessons in Hebrew, preparation for life and employment in Israel, events, activities, and cultural presentations, and served around 8,200 olim in 2017.

Absorption centers for Ethiopians in Israel—10 of them operated by The Jewish Agency— provide subsidized housing dedicated to the specific cultural needs of Ethiopian olim. Additionally, four absorption centers for olim from around the world include immigrants from Ethiopia. In 2017, the centers served 3,800 immigrants from Ethiopia.

With Israel’s school year starting this month, Leah says she is excited to “play fun games and to win in basketball,” but that first and foremost “it’s important for me to succeed in my studies.”

Alina Stupin is starting 1st grade as her parents begin working at Carmel Hospital in Haifa. Her father Andrei Stupin says, “When we arrived in Israel from Russia, we wanted to closely examine all of our possibilities. A few months ago, we officially became new citizens and began our studies in ulpan [an immersive Hebrew language program], in addition to obtaining our licenses to practice medicine here.”

“For Alina’s whole family, this is a new beginning,” says Ruthie Cohen.


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