Try everything and bring lots of socks, is the advice from foreign students at Naale Elite Academy’s high school boarding programs—a Jewish teenager’s opportunity to finish high school in Israel on full scholarship.
It may seem odd at first that teenagers travel abroad for a high school education. Perhaps we can thank Harry Potter for the rise in popularity of learning abroad. Of course, it helps that quality programs exist, offering creative and intellectual pursuits, even engineering tracks, for young Jewish whizz-ards in the global shtetl.
Teenagers choose Naale for all sorts of reasons; participants are a mix of serious, bright and creative kids from around the world who want to be challenged, some have been to Israel many times, while for some, their school experience is their first time in Israel.
Some come from traditional Jewish schooling, some have been homeschooled because they live in remote locations, and others live far enough but have access to a small Jewish or public school; but all do not make the cut in terms of what they can provide a teenager who needs more.
Choosing from the Naale proverbial sweet shop has become a rite of passage for some families. Like the Horesh family from Kansas City, Missouri. Eli Noam and his siblings were all homeschooled until high school, when his sister discovered Naale. Now he and his siblings are all part of the wider Naale family. Siblings Naftali and Avital Zuckerman were both born in Israel but moved overseas when they were small children. The absence of a local Jewish high school brought them back to Israel, him to Shalavim and her to Amana. In contrast, sisters Shira and Oriyah, both expressive and gregarious, actually had high schools on tap in Montreal, Canada, but were determined to immerse themselves in a full Jewish educational experience in Israel, both at the Amana program. One particular brother and sister, Eliana and Avi Goldstein, twins from New Jersey, investigated Naale together, he with sights set on the Technion track headed to Aniere where he could develop his passion for electrical engineering and aeronautics, and Eliana wasn’t going to be left behind! She chose Ayanot for its “cozier setting” and creative curriculum.
Once parents hesitated and children demurred when it came to boarding school. Today it’s an adventure that broadens horizons. That’s the vibe you get from these students, a sense of their readiness to jump into everything Israel and Naale can offer, with a circumspect nature and maturity. In reference to dormitory life, comments that come up all the time are ones that advise students coming next year to “give it time; dorm life is challenging and you need to get used to it,“ but, they say “learning to get along with others and their cultures is a lifelong lesson and will serve you forever.” Morris Habib from Rome, Italy adds a caveat, “The academics are so much better here,” while Julieta Guzman from Colombia professes to love learning in a more “open culture” where it’s “less uptight.”
Naale students see the advantages in adding that firsthand international element to their high school experience. After graduation, students will visit each other in Barcelona, San Diego, Columbia and New Jersey. They would never have become such good and close friends if not for making the leap to Naale. Perhaps Menachem Guttman from Toronto, Canada said it best: “It doesn’t matter where you came from, we’re all interested in being here.”
What if the new teenage dream is less about focusing on what doesn’t exist in the immediate area and more about looking further afield and opening yourself up to the possibilities? This vision of international learning broadens horizons and minds and gives strength to identity and leadership in ways that staying at home can’t give you.
They might return home with sharpened elbows, wearing Blundstones and calling everyone chaim sheli, my life. But they’ll never regret a school adventure that will stay with them forever.
Learn more about Naale Elite Academy’s network of free high school programs in Israel at www.naale-elite-academy.com.
By Rifki Orzech