An unexpected family reunion for new immigrants at Ulpan Etzion

What are the chances that two new immigrants out of the more than 57,000 who came to Israel in the past two years, would show up at the same ulpan (intensive Hebrew program) and turn out to be cousins?

What are the chances that new immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union would come to the same city and the same residential study program — arriving just one day apart — and discover that they’re relatives who’d never met before?

That’s precisely the improbable scenario that played out for Vladimir, Natalia, and Ivan at The Jewish Agency’s Ulpan Etzion in Ramle.

Ulpan Etzion: Residential Hebrew Study for Academic Young Olim, founded in 1949, offers intensive Hebrew study for immigrants to Israel from all over the world who hold college degrees. In the 2017 program year, Ulpan Etzion provided Hebrew-language study and accommodation for 1,365 immigrant men and women aged 22-35, from more than two dozen countries. Campuses are located at the Beit Canada Absorption Center in Jerusalem, Haifa, Ra’anana, Ramle, and Be’er Sheva. The graduates of Ulpan Etzion go on to study at institutions of higher learning or into the employment market. 

A month before Vladimir and his family made Aliyah from Russia, his aunt informed him at his sister’s wedding that he had relatives living at an immigrant absorption center in Ramle. Vladimir says he had “no idea who they were.” Nonetheless, after discussions with a Jewish Agency representative in St. Petersburg, Vladimir’s family made plans to live at Ulpan Etzion until they found a permanent apartment. Simultaneously, those very relatives — Ivan and Natalia — were preparing to move to Israel from Belarus.

In September 2018, when Vladimir’s family landed at Ben Gurion Airport after midnight, Ramle’s municipal engineer, Yekaterina, directed them to Ulpan Etzion. She told them a couple from Belarus who’d arrived in Israel a day earlier would be meeting them there.

“I toyed with the idea that maybe this was the couple my aunt told me about at my sister’s wedding,” Vladimir recalls.

Indeed, Yekaterina had asked Ivan to meet Vladimir’s family and help them get settled in their new apartment. Unbeknownst to both sides, the unexpected family reunion would take place at 3 a.m.

The cousins eventually decided to rent an apartment together in Ramle. They even adopted a dog together.

“I feel that we have a wonderful atmosphere in our new home,” says Vladimir.

Matti Sharfstein, head of youth programs in The Jewish Agency’s Immigration and Absorption Unit, reflects, “When Ivan told me about how he met Vladimir, I said that dreams sometimes do materialize — although they still surprise us anew every time.”

Learn more about Ulpan Etzion >

22 Jan 2019 / 16 Shevat 5779 0
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