Kibbutz Ulpan is a 5-month multi-level language program sponsored by Masa Israel Journey that amalgamates studying Hebrew, meeting amazing people from all over the world and having a unique experience of becoming part of a rural Israeli community, living and working alongside locals on a kibbutz.
The goal of the Kibbutz Ulpan program is to provide participants with a working knowledge of conversational Hebrew, the ability to read simplified texts and newspapers, as well as build a foundation for further study in the course of five months.
The Kibbutz Ulpan program is recognized by the Ministry of Education of the State of Israel (Adult Education Department) and participants will receive an official certificate after completing the course.
Each Kibbutz Ulpan has its own director and staff, who are at all times responsible for the participants, their behavior and general well-being. Ulpan teachers are licensed by the Ministry of Education (one of our partners), and trained in teaching Hebrew as a second language to adults.
Classes generally consist of 20-25 students and meet for total of 18 to 24 academic hours (1 academic hour = 45 minutes) a week. Most Ulpanim teach the first two levels of Hebrew, while some also offer more advanced levels (up to FOUR!). The Kibbutz Ulpan program includes lectures on Israel and Judaism and one-day seminars on current Israeli and Jewish events.
Guided tours and hikes to historic and scenic sites that happen once a month are also included in the program.
Another aspect that makes the Kibbutz Ulpan Program unique is that the participants belong to two distinct groups – tourists who come on a temporary basis, and young Olim Chadashim (new immigrants), who are at the beginning of their journey to make Israel their new homeland. The participants are regarded as one group by the Ulpan staff and are treated equally. The Kibbutz Ulpan program has been running like this successfully over the years, giving the participants wonderful opportunities to make friends from all over the world.
Kibbutz Ulpan program is organized by PZC Hagshama, an NGO based in Seminar Efal, Ramat Gan, Israel. Among other things, it aims to promote the Kibbutz Ulpan program, register and work with candidates to the program and work with all Directors of the Ulpan Programs in the eight different kibbutzim. PZC Hagshama also functions as the liaison between the participants of the Kibbutz Ulpan Program and the Masa Project which provides grants and scholarships for Jewish participants to the program.
The word “kibbutz” (plural “kibbutzim”) means “grouping” or “gathering” in Hebrew. In a nutshell, it’s a community where people voluntarily live and work together on a non-competitive basis. The first kibbutzim were organized by idealistic young Zionists in the beginning of the 20th century. Despite many hardships, they succeeded in creating a social system and a way of life which has played a crucial role in the development of the State of Israel.
Over the years the kibbutzim have multiplied, prospered, and adapted themselves to changing realities. This means that some of the kibbutzim have changed their ideological foundation and have undergone a process of “privatization”. A privatized kibbutz is still a community that shares and lives together, but the various work branches have been turned into co-operations that earn their own wages and make their own profits.
Today some 270 kibbutzim, varying in size from 80 to over 2,000 people, are scattered throughout Israel. With a total populace of around 120,000 they represent about 2.8 percent of Israel’s population. Most kibbutz members work in some section of the kibbutz economy or in one of its maintenance units. Routine jobs such as dining room duties are rotated among members. When too few members are available for a particular job, outside workers may be hired and paid wages or receive room and board on the kibbutz.
Kibbutzim, like any other society, are made of individuals who are all different from one another. Some members of kibbutz identify strongly with the pioneer spirit that founded the kibbutz. Many others, if not pioneers themselves, are the children of those pioneers, and are now grown up and have families of their own. They are called “sabras,” or people who were born in Israel. (An etymology that will give you a sense of Israeli character: “sabra / tsabar” literally refers to a type of cactus fruit, which is hard and prickly on the outside, yet sweet and tender on the inside).
Many kibbutz members, however, do not fit this stereotypical image. Lots of “kibbutznikim” (plural of “kibbutznik” – a resident of a kibbutz) look more or less like people from your hometown and in fact may even come from a place like your hometown. Many members of kibbutz are “olim” (immigrants) from foreign countries such as the United States, Australia, South Africa, Ethiopia, Russia or around Europe. Hebrew may not be their native language, but they all speak Hebrew, as it is the primary language spoken in Israel.
Some older members of kibbutz were true pioneers in the early days of the founding of the state. Try meeting someone who was a founding member of the kibbutz in which you’re staying, and ask them to tell you stories about the early days of the kibbutz. It is a great way to practice your Hebrew and learn some Israeli history at the same time!
The Kibbutz Ulpan participants are another significant group living on the kibbutz.
What distinguishes a participant from a “chaver” (full member) of the kibbutz? Firstly, the participant lives on the kibbutz temporarily. Secondly, members have voting privileges which give them say in the issues of kibbutz life; participants do not take part in that.
Finally, members are eligible for a full use of all facilities on the kibbutz, while participants may not have access to certain facilities; this varies from kibbutz to kibbutz.
As a Kibbutz Ulpan participant, remember that you are a guest in the home of the kibbutznikim.
Because you come from a different culture, you may view the grounds and facilities of the kibbutz differently than do members. For the kibbutz members, the entire kibbutz is home, rather than a house with four walls. Take the kibbutz dining hall, for example. To the participant it looks like a cafeteria, which is a public space. However, kibbutznikim see it as a dining room, which is private.
Participants are essentially guests in the home of the kibbutznikim, and you should be respectful of that fact just as you would if you were visiting a friend in his or her house.
The demanding work ethic, early mornings, and tight camaraderie of the small rural environment can sometimes make it difficult for the newcomer, especially one coming with “vacation” expectations.
However, the Kibbutz Ulpan participants who are open to new experiences and flexible to a different reality will be pleasantly surprised at the warm relationships they can develop and the depth of the experience they can become part of.
It is important to keep in mind that the Kibbutz Ulpan program participants, despite having paid a participatory fee, are still temporarily living in the kibbutz. Therefore, please be sensitive to the rules and norms of the kibbutz, and abide by them.
There are Kibbutz Ulpan programs on nine kibbutzim throughout Israel with variations in size, location, climate, types of industry and general character. The program and general framework, however, are uniform.
The duration of the Ulpan Kibbutz is 5 months, a total of 155 days (participants may arrive 2-3 days before the start of the program and sometimes stay a few days after the end of the program).
Placement is based on personal preference, availability and the starting dates of Ulpan classes.
If one is observant or interested in becoming acquainted with religious life, one can choose to participate in the Kibbutz Ulpan program in a religious kibbutz >>. On a religious kibbutz, participants are expected to conform to certain standards of behavior, and should be aware of these before committing themselves.