This morning, instead of heading to the library to study for tomorrow’s final, I got up early in the morning, in the middle of a busy exam schedule, to head down to Jerusalem to protest. I wasn’t protesting for a change in the status quo, like the “Suckers’ Camp” protest or the J14 protest. Instead, I went to protest to ensure that the government continues to do…what it’s already promised it will do.
As part of the rights for olim hadashim (new immigrants) to Israel, we receive one degree (Bachelors, Masters, etc.) for free (or subsidized, at more expensive, private schools) from the Student Authority. This is a right promised by the Jewish Agency, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, Nefesh B’Nefesh, and any other “shaliah” you will ever meet.
However, it turns out the Jewish Agency, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, and the Knesset have decided that it’s quite alright to play with the minds of new immigrants. Right in the middle of exam season, perhaps when they knew many students would be unable to protest, they decided to have meetings regarding the future of the Student Authority.
The Jewish Agency was quick to blame the Absorption Ministry, which has blamed the Finance Ministry, which has not (yet) commented on the story. But to the olim hadashim, it doesn’t matter where the money comes from — it matters that it’s there. This has been a staple of aliya, and to turn around in the middle of our degrees and announce that it’s over because of a bureaucratic spat flies in the face of democracy and the idea that Israel is the homeland of all Jews (and not just those who were born here). Why must we suffer because the myriad organizations that are out there to “help” us can’t get their act together? And who in the Knesset will argue our case? We don’t have political parties dedicated to our cause like Shas or UTJ; there’s only one Ethiopian Knesset member, and no Anglo MKs — not from the USA, Canada, the UK, South Africa, Australia, or New Zealand; as student olim hadashim, we are utterly alone here, and now a huge benefit is being stolen from us.
I must make a distinction between cutting off funding now versus ending the scholarship program in general. There was a promise made to olim to fund our education, and that promise must be kept. That is a reason why many made aliya. People in the process of aliya must be grandfathered in. But what about the future of scholarships? Is it really a necessity?
To the naysayers, I must say emphatically: Yes it is! At the rally today, I encountered many olim from Ethiopia and from countries of the Former Soviet Union, who tell me stories of unimaginable poverty. These are Jews returning home with not a penny to their name. But they, like anyone else, have dreams and aspirations. Education is their ticket to a better life. By helping provide for them an education, they are then able to be active and contributing members of Israeli society, donating far more to the economy than the NIS 30,000-50,000 they receive in scholarships.
Even Europeans need the scholarships. College in many European countries, such as Sweden, is free, and parents never need to save up for it. That can be a shock and a big expense. Or take students, like myself, who come from the USA: Many come alone, with no family and no direct income, and the scholarship is crucial to ensuring that they have a shot at making an impact in Israel.
There are those who say, “If you made aliya for the money, then just go home.” While I’m sure there are some who do, I doubt many are making aliya for the money. But really, we have to address the misnomer: What do they mean by “go home?” We are home! This is the Jewish homeland. And as for the money — well, the money is an important part of aliya that makes it sustainable. The scholarship is crucial to ensuring that aliya among young adults continues.
And, therefore, I went today, with a few hundred other students from universities and colleges around the country, hailing originally from North America, South America, Europe, Ethiopia, South Africa, the Former Soviet Union, Australia, India — even some Arab countries — as well as other places, and we came together to tell the government: “We’re here to stay. We did everything you asked of us — we gave up our home lives and came here, we serve in the army, and we respect the law of the land. Please keep your promise and fund our education.”