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Naale Elite Academy, a free high school program, has been aiding Aliyah and shaping Jewish identity for teens from around the world for the past 25 years

Ella Lavon
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The experiences of youth shape our entire lives. We all know that Jewish education is the key to creating the next generation of the Jewish nation. But no whirl-wind tour or summer program can replace the experience of living in Israel, absorbing Jewish identity on a constant basis. Additionally, the rising cost of Jewish education is causing many families to seek other solutions in the place of traditional Jewish day schools. A unique Israeli high school program, Naale Elite Academy, is offering the perfect solution to both issues.

Mosenson students embrace their heritage at their class trip to JerusalemCredit: Naale Elite Academy

The only fully subsidized Jewish high school program, Naale Elite Academy has been shaping lives, strengthening Jewish identity and building the State of Israel for the past 25 years. Originally from the USA, Chaya Ticker joined the Naale program in 9th grade. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, Ticker said. But with Naale, I grew up in Israel. Her experience attending high school in Israel, learning about the land and strengthening her Jewish identity, has shaped her life. I didnt just experience Israel. I learned Israel from the inside. And most importantly, I came to understand who I am as a Jew and a Zionist.

Smooth transition into Israeli society

Naale Elite Academy combines the best of Jewish outreach with fully supported Aliyah absorption process. To date 17,000 student have taken part in Naale. The joint Jewish Agency and Ministry of Education program offers a quality Jewish education to teens from around the world at Israeli boarding schools. Students attend Israeli high school for 3-4 years, starting from either 9th or 10th grade. Upon graduating with an Israeli Bagrut matriculation, students can take this internationally recognized qualification to any institution of higher education around the world.

While Aliyah is not a requirement of the program (most participate on a student visa), more than 90% of students eventually make Aliyah. With over 70% of students parents ultimately joining them in Israel, Naale has been one of the most successful Aliyah initiatives, bringing tens of thousands of new Olim to Israel.

Naale was created by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to facilitate youth Aliyah from the former Soviet Union (FSU). The program has been lauded by a successive stream of Israeli leaders. In October 1993, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin welcomed 750 new Naale students, saying that There is no more lofty enterprise than Naale.  

The latest Naale students get a warm welcome as they arrive at Ben Gurion airportCredit: Naale Elite Academy

Setting it apart from other Aliyah programs, Naale offers a smooth transition into Israeli society. Instead of attending Ulpan in an isolated environment entirely with other new immigrants, Naale offers students a fully supported Ulpan within an Israeli boarding school. This gives students an emersion into Israeli society as well as the mutual encouragement of other newcomers. Naale Ulpan prepares students for eventual integration into standard Israeli classrooms with Hebrew language instruction while their other studies continue in their native language. This allows for a gradual development of their Hebrew skills without jeopardizing their other academic studies.

While students are given assistance if they wish to make Aliyah after completing Naale, eventual Aliyah is not a requirement of the program. Although it is a high school program, completing all four years at Naale Elite Academy is not mandatory. Students are free to transfer back to their home countries at any point in time. The Naale full scholarship covers all tuition fees, full board in the on-campus boarding school, health insurance, extracurricular activities, trips and excursions, and the initial flight to Israel.

For those students who do not make Aliyah and instead return to their home countries, the Naale experience provides an unforgettable window into Israeli society. For Shemaya Greenberg, from Boca Raton, FL, Naale provided a unique opportunity to experience Israel. I wanted to come to Israel. I thought Id have to wait until college, so when I discovered I could come to Israel in high school with Naale, I jumped at the chance.

Opportunity for personal development

The impact of living with Jewish teens from around the world has a life-changing effect on the Jewish identity of Naale students. Greenberg shares how the difference between students from different backgrounds actually worked to strengthen their sense of Jewish unity. Theres such an amazing blend of cultures here with people from all over the world. And we all have being Jewish in common, she notes, adding that, No one told me that youd find yourself here (at Naale) but you really do.

It may sound a bit daunting to send teens to study abroad, but this challenge is a powerful opportunity for personal development and prompts incredible self-growth and transformation. 

Simmy and Yaakova Pollock, parents of two teens who studied abroad at Naale Elite Academy in Israel, saw amazing changes in their teens. They have grown in their self-confidence by realizing previously unknown abilities like traveling alone and successfully navigating the Israeli transit system, becoming bilingual and succeeding academically in mainstream Israeli classrooms, Pollock says. 

Naale Elite Academy runs specialized tracks, including secular and religious programs and intensive science and art programs, as well as separate groups for students from English, French, Spanish and Russian speaking backgrounds. While on the program, students are supported by a whole network of professional assistance, including dorm counselors, social workers, language specialists, psychologists and, of course, dedicated teachers.

This network of student support creates an overall environment of growth. The Pollacks found that the benefits of Naale went far beyond the academic. We noticed an increased sense of independence in our kids; from learning to self-advocate, budgeting, and tolerance for others, they explain.

The personal growth and development engendered by the experience had a ripple effect on the entire family. Our kids talk and communicate with us more now than they ever did when they were here – and we were always a close family, Pollack describes. It is certainly a life changing experience – a change for the better.

New co-ed religious program

The latest school to join the Naale program is Dror Elite Academy in Jerusalem. With co-ed religious studies, Dror opens the door to Naale to even more families across America, especially those who are looking for a more familiar American style of Jewish education for their children. The new Dror program offers the same high level of academic education as do all Naale programs.

Unlike Naales other religiously observant tracks, which are in separate gender schools, Dror offers mixed gender academic and Jewish studies. Both boys and girls learn Talmud, take part in prayer services, and their Social Beit Midrash is a space for students to collaborate on social activist projects and meaningfully contribute to the surrounding community. Thanks to this level of diversity, with different schools and tracks catering to a variety of family backgrounds, whatever a teens Jewish expression there is a place for them at Naale.

Naale is more than just a free Jewish high school. At Naale, Jewish families are finding more than an affordable education; they are finding the best start to their childrens future. Chaya Ticker sums up the Naale experience: If you want to live the authentic Israel and get an amazing Jewish education, then Naale is the place for you.

To learn more about the Naale Elite Academy-Free High School in Israel, visit