More than 50 North American teenagers have chosen to spend their last three years of high school in Israel. At Naale Elite Academy’s recent student interviews in New York, Chicago, Miami and Toronto, these 15- and 16-year-olds expressed their desire to move to Israel on their own, without their parents, for at least the next three years – and went through rigorous testing to ensure they qualify for the program.

Every year, Naale Elite Academy, an innovative, unique program enabling young Jews to spend their last three years of school at an exclusive, top quality Israeli high school, conducts a demanding screening process in order to make sure the chosen students are able to cope with the Naale program.

Potential students have to go through a series of interviews. In addition, two tests are required before accepting candidates – one to determine their academic level in Math and English, and a second to determine their maturity (and thus their ability to live away from home), which requires psychological testing.

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Girls at Amanah Religious Girl’s School take time out – Courtesy Naale

“Usually, we hold interviews in June or early July for the late August intake, but for the first time in the history of Naale’s focus on Western countries, there were enough candidates to hold early interviews in April as well,” says Ofer Dahan, Director of Development for the Western World Region. “So far, 43 students have been accepted from the United States and 11 from Canada, and we are expecting many more in the second round at the end of June.”

Although the final numbers of students entering the Naale program for the new school year will only be known after the June/July screenings, the students who have been accepted so far hail from New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal and Almonta.

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Naale students have fun at the beach – Courtesy Avital Karp

Ravit Bar-Av, Naale’s representative on the east coast (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland and many others), is happy with the response from American youth and their parents to the Naale program.

“We had 12 candidates from the north east for the first screening session in April,” says Bar-Av. “We were surprised by the number of students that were already applying in April. There were many more that showed interested, but they didn’t meet the basic criteria of age or grade. Of these 14 candidates, 12 were accepted and discussions are still being held regarding the other two. This is a very high and unusual acceptance rate. At the June screening, we are expecting at least 10 from the east coast, but we are hoping for more.”

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Prayer time at the religious boy’s school – Courtesy Naale

There are many different reasons for American teenagers’ desire to study in Israel. Bar-Av notes that the parents of Jewish teens find the program a “once in a lifetime opportunity”. “Many parents are deeply connected to Israel and instill the love of Israel in their homes, making studies in Israel part of a life-long journey. Teens are looking to be part of the Israeli society after they have visited Israel before to visit family or as tourists and fell in love with the country.

“At Naale, we look for independent, motivated teens and it is amazes me that they know exactly what they want already at the age of 15. Often they refer their parents to us only after they have done the research themselves and corresponded with me – and I have to ask to talk to a parent,” she laughs.

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Tiyulim (tours) are part of the Naale experience – Courtesy Naale

Although there are many Jewish schools in the US and Canada, it’s becoming harder and harder for parents to afford a Jewish education due to the costs involved. While being separated from their children for a long time isn’t easy, parents realize they can give their children a top class, quality education in Israel with an unprecedented amount of support from the organization and the staff to overcome the difficulties they may face during the program – all sponsored entirely by the Israeli government.

“I don’t believe in encouragement coming from the representative,” she says. “I see myself as a facilitator allowing the family to come to a decision that is best for them. What I do make sure to emphasize is the support network that Naale provides every step of the way! Starting with the information-gathering phase where I make sure to connect students and parents to the schools’ coordinators and, more importantly, to current students and their families, and then I describe the care they get after being accepted and throughout their stay in Naale. This is what I found helps the families to come to their own decisions.

“This is my second year with Naale and by now I have talked to hundreds of families and students. Each one has a unique set of reasons and motivation and it is only with a strong sense of a mission that Naale has been able to provide answers and attention to each one. I truly believe that there are many more families that can benefit from this program and each member of the community that now knows about this opportunity can help someone by telling them about this amazing opportunity,” says Bar-Av.

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 (special trips), 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.

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Naale students at Mosenson School, Hod Hasharon – Courtesy Naale

Many students do choose to stay in Israel and make Aliyah – once they turn 18 – and are even followed by their families. But there are also those who return and continue on to university at home with their families after graduating with one of the best educations in the world.

The next screenings will take place during the last week of June and first week of July in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Toronto. Screenings in other countries include Mexico City, Mexico; São Paulo, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Johannesburg, South Africa; London, England and Paris, France.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Naale Elite Academy or to register, please email the US representative in your area or visit the Naale Elite Academy website at www.elite-academy.org.

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