Ulpan Etzion & JAFI: They Just Don’t Get It

Let me set the stage with an abreviated story – one in which I have personal knowledge. It’s about the venerable R.H. Macy’s department store chain. Founded in 1858, it went through various periods of expansion and ownership through its first one hundred years. Macy’s was known throughout the world, in no small part to the classic Christmas film Miracle on 34th Street. But what drove Macy’s success was the keen sense of merchandise carried through the decades – for Macy’s was a store where merchants were at the heart of operations and responsible for the product mix.

In 1988, after a particularly nasty and public loosing fight to acquire Federated Department Stores, Macy’s began a national reorganization. Among other changes taking place, the merchants were replaced by bean counters. Purchasing decisions, including those of fashion forward apparel that helped propel Macy’s unique image, were now being made based primarily on ROI, with little regard for style, supplier integrity, or the like. A steady decline in sales began. While initially showing some positive bottom-line results, this was a major reason for the chain’s ultimate bankruptcy filing in 1992.

Now, I do get ROI and the need to make a profit. But I also get that a successful retailer needs to deliver what the customer wants, when they want it and at the correct price. Merchants understand this – bean counters do not. They just don’t get it.

Where am I going with this? To JAFI‘s most recent decision to close Ulpan Etzion’s Baka campus and move to the the Beit Canada facility at the conclusion of the current semester (next week). I do understand JAFI’s predicament and the enormous financial pressure they have been under for the past few years. And in this case, the complication of the Baka campus not being owned, but rather leased, to JAFI.

But like Young Judaea Israel and the move of the decades old WUJS Arad program to Jerusalem, they just don’t get it.

Especially in these days of ‘Aliyah by Choice’, there is a great deal more to long-term programs, Aliyah recruitment and absorption, etc. than the shekel bottom line. Like a merchant, they need to deliver what their customers (in this case Olim) want, when and where they want it. That’s when they’ll see the real ROI. Otherwise, in time, they will not be needed as some new initiative fills the void.

According to Eli Cohen, JAFI’s Director of Immigration and Absorption, “the move from its present location to Beit Canada isn’t something to worry about. You could worry if it was moving to Naharyia…”.

Just like those involved in the decision to relocate WUJS Arad to Jerusalem, he just doesn’t get it – as far as Etzion’s ‘customer’ is concerned, the distance between Baka and Armon Hanatziv is as huge as the one between Arad and Jerusalem.

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in the media: You can find more on the Baka closing on the Ulpan Etzion blog and in this cover story appearing in today’s InJerusalem (Jerusalem Post).

In a class of its own

For the students and staff of the country’s first ulpan, the closure of Etzion’s Baka campus spells the end of an era.

The Jewish Agency maintains that far from signaling the end of Etzion, the program will continue on the new site with improved facilities. Its claims, however, are falling on deaf ears of many staff and students who believe that the move is more than physical and that the ulpan’s unique atmosphere, which has attracted thousands of young Jews from across the world, will be lost.

image source: JAFI