The other day, I graduated with an MA in Crisis and Trauma Studies from Tel Aviv University’s International Program. The experience was fabulous: I learned so much about stress, crisis, and trauma from leading experts in the field; had the opportunity to be a student intern at Mesila, working with the foreign communities of the Tel Aviv-Yafo area; worked with a group of high-caliber individuals; and also made some new lifelong friendships. I am also a recent oleh (almost three years) coming from Los Angeles, California. I volunteered to join the IDF at 26 and served nine months as a librarian in the university’s Behavioral Sciences Department. My father is Israeli and I have family here, which I must admit, makes the whole “oleh hadash” experience much easier, and I am extremely grateful for them.
One of the great things about being an oleh is that, supposedly, if you want a higher education, the Israeli government will help pay for your schooling fees. Well, not anymore. Due to recent decisions by varying governmental agencies, it looks like student scholarships for olim are now a thing of the past. I am extremely disappointed with this decision, and I believe it is a big, bold, horrible mistake. However, what I’m really pissed off about is the irresponsible decision regarding the recent budget cuts that are affecting thousands of currently enrolled olim students.
Back at the beginning of the school year, after going several times here and there, back and forth, early in the morning, having to wait several hours to interact with the cumbersome, out-of-date bureaucracy that is the Minhal Hastudentim (Student Authority), and after finally submitting all of the required paperwork, I signed a contract to receive a sum of around NIS 26,000 to help pay for my tuition, which is about one-third of the cost of the one-year, intensive program, since it is an expensive international MA degree. In the contract, I had to promise that I would get good grades and notify the Minhal Hastudentim should I decided to drop out of the program or leave the country. In return, the Minhal Hastudentim was to deposit half of the money in my bank account during Semester A, which it did, and then grant me the second half of my tuition fees after proving that I received good grades in both Semester B and the summer semester. All the necessary paperwork, including proof of payment at the university and my updated grades, were submitted on time before the August 15, 2012, deadline, and academically, I did much better than the minimum required by the Minhal Hastudentim to receive the rest of the payment.
So I can assure you that I was shocked when I received an email from my contact at the Minhal Hastudentim, writing, “Due to budget cuts this year, Minhal HaStudentim will not be financing the summer semester portion of 2012.” I immediately thought, “What kind of nonsense is this to publicize such a decision only after students have already signed up and paid for classes, expecting to be reimbursed? Where is the accountability?” My hard-working parents depend on this money, times are not the easiest, and I have two younger siblings who are also in need of financial aid for expensive university programs back in the US. I also have several olim friends who are not only full time students, but also hold part-time jobs in order to barely make ends meet. Moreover, my parents have contributed regularly to the Jewish Agency in order to help other students in the past.
So I write this in the hope of finding support from other students who are currently dealing with the same situation, and to create awareness so that the Israeli and Jewish communities know to what extent olim students are being screwed over. I believe that this shameful decision by those individuals who are supposed to serve the public gives current and future olim a negative impression about the Israeli government’s ability to be reliable and welcoming to olim and students. I also encourage the Minhal Hastudentim, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, and the Jewish Agency to redeem their decision, find a way to gather up the resources as soon as possible, and do the right thing; that is, to fulfill their promise and pay us olim students the second half of our anticipated reimbursement.