About 485 youngsters from 26 countries on five continents recently landed in Israel to start the new school year with the Naale Elite Academy program. The program integrates these teenagers into various top high schools around the country, ranging from co-educational to Orthodox and Haredi. Naale increases in popularity each year as more and more young Jewish teenagers decide to finish school in Israel rather than stay with whats familiar to them.
From Western countries
The Naale program was established in 1992 as a joint initiative of the Prime Ministers Office and the Ministry of Education. Its mission is to enable Jewish high school students worldwide to study and to finish high-school in Israel. The first ten years focused on bringing youth from the Former Soviet Union, but 12 years ago Naale Elite Academy opened its program to the West, step by step, including English, French, German and Spanish-speaking countries.
Of those coming from Western countries, the U.S. once again topped the list this year with 91 students, followed by France with 19 and Canada with 14. Other countries represented include Italy (9), Brazil (8), Mexico (7), South Africa (7), the UK (6), Germany (5), Spain (4) and Argentina (3), as well as one each from Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Uruguay, Venezuela, China, Japan, India, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Holland, Serbia, Switzerland and Kenya.
This is a nice increase in numbers from last year, says Naale director Yeshayahu Yechieli. Since Naale Elite Academy opened its doors to the West, we have welcomed students from 40 Western countries. This year, for the first time, we have a student from Japan. And countries like India, Serbia, Kenya and China are also represented, so we have a wide mix of students from all over the world.
Since the program was launched, more than 15,000 select high school students from around the world have graduated from high school through Naale, an exclusive three-year scholarship program co-funded by the State of Israel (the Israeli Ministry of Education) and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
There are many different reasons why teenagers choose to study in Israel, says Ofer Dahan, Director of Naale for the Western World Region. Some love the idea of studying in an international school with students from all over the world. Some feel more comfortable being Jewish in Israel. Many want to learn Hebrew and experience Israeli life and culture, and strengthen their connection to Israel and to their Jewishness.
Naale helps develop more independent, motivated teens who go on to do incredible things with their lives, continues Dahan. This is an amazing program and an incredible opportunity. All parents need to do to be assured of this fact is to speak to the parents of students who are already at Naale. Theyre better spokespeople than we are. They know the program and the framework we have here to support their children, and they know their children have everything around them to ensure they get the best care at all times.
Every scholarship to Naale Elite Academy comprises a full airfare for the flight to school at the beginning of the 10th grade year, full room and board, free tuition, off-campus travel expenses, tiyulim (excursions), a budget for maintaining telephone contact with family, a monthly stipend and laundry service – for the entire three years.
There is also an option of two to three years free tuition at an Israeli university, before or after the army. The students do not have to make aliyah or join the army to take advantage of this program, and are given a student visa for the duration of their schooling. Many students do choose to stay in Israel and make aliyah – once they turn 18 – and some are even joined by their families. But there are also those who return and continue on to university in their home country.
A new and different challenge
Divya Horesh, who is 16 and from Kansas, was home-schooled her whole life. She understands that there are going to be huge differences between Naale and her own experience so far, but shes up for the challenge and very excited. Im looking forward to being more independent, she says. Ive been home-schooled my entire life and its hard to be socially out of the loop. When youre home-schooled, you dont have any classmates and you dont spend much time away from your parents. She felt it was time to do something different and after seeing a flyer at a NCSY youth event, decided to attend Amanah Religious Girls School in Kfar Saba, north of Tel Aviv.
Yechieli doesnt believe there will be special problems for Horesh in adjusting to this new experience. When a young person moves from one country to another, its anyway such a big change in so many different aspects, so for her, for example, instead of four changes, she will have five, he says. I believe that if she, like other new Naale students, decided to come, and her family encouraged her, they understand that the whole system is different. We are happy to take her because we know that she can do it – in terms of potential and in terms of daily learning life – even if she comes from home schooling. We havent faced problems with home-schooled children in the past, so Im sure shell be okay.
Sisters Maria (16) and Elizabeth (15) Gutkin from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, decided to come on the Naale program together. They will both attend Mosenson, a co-ed school in Hod Hasharon. I need a good education if I want to become a doctor, says Maria, and its a different opportunity here. I get to learn another language and meet people from all over the world. Look around. Were surrounded by people from everywhere! Its really cool!
I found out about Naale at the same time as my sister and I thought it would be a really amazing experience, agrees Elizabeth. It felt like something I wouldnt regret for my future and it would be an incredible journey. My Dad was quite excited. He wanted us to go. He wanted us to live a different life, a more free life where we dont have to depend on others for everything, so he was very excited for us.
Thousands of Naale graduates from all over the Jewish world went on to higher education in Israel, became Israeli citizens and have helped to build up the country in various fields. They have brought their culture, background, experience and education to the people and the State of Israel, leaving their mark on a country that welcomes Jews from every corner of the world.
For more information about Naale Elite Academy, go to www.elite-academy.org.
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