By Hadassah Bay
A gratifying exception is the Naale Elite Academy, a joint programme of the Society for Advancement of Education and the Jewish Agency for Israel, which provides high school education and boarding facilities in Israel for Jewish teens from all over the world, free of charge. This past September, the Naale students at the various campuses across Israel started the school year with a plan in place for Covid, strictly adhering to Ministry of Health instructions, but with sufficient flexibility so that the students could complete their coursework and also take full advantage of their time in Israel.
Shoshana Becker, Naale’s director of the Western World Region, says: “The great thing about going to Naale during corona is that you’re with all your friends, instead of being stuck at home with the nuclear family.”
Yoni Peleg, 16, the son of Israeli parents who settled in London, is studying at the Ayanot youth village and has been enjoying every minute. “We’ve been doing a lot of fun activities,” he says, “going camping and taking trips when it was allowed.” Yoni advises teens to leave their comfort zone and come to Naale, where “they can meet new people, and create new experiences and adventures.” Ambitious and goal-oriented, Yoni has already started training for the military, in anticipation of his first call-up next fall, at the beginning of 12th grade.
For those who are reluctant to leave home and become a boarder in a different country, Yoni says not to worry about the technical details. “They really take care of you here. They’ve thought of everything, even bus fare. They help you with the laundry, the food is good.”
For the students at Naale, this year has been the very best under the circumstances. Chloe Sheldon, an 11th-grade student at the Amana religious girls’ school, explains how the other students made great efforts to welcome the new arrivals. “Since we had to be in quarantine for two weeks, the other kids did all kinds of things outside our windows, like kabbalat Shabbat and events, so that we wouldn’t feel isolated and would have some human contact.”
Chloe, who’s “naturally shy,” according to her mother, is now in her second year at Amana and thriving. “I really enjoyed getting to know different people and different cultures,” she says, adding that she shares a room with a girl from Brazil and two girls from Mexico.
During her first year, says Chloe, the Naale staff were always there, making sure she was adjusting well, academically, socially and emotionally. “They made sure that I liked my host family, assuring me that I could change if I wanted to. And because I had missed a lot of maths, they gave me a tutor. They really did everything to make sure I was OK.”
Chloe’s mother, Shilgit, admits she and her husband were hesitant at first about sending their daughter overseas. Today, she says it’s the best thing they could have done. “It’s a wonderful programme, with a high academic level. I’m especially happy with her group; they’re all really good girls. As her parents, we are very happy that Chloe has found her place here. And let’s face it, the fact that we were saved the burden of tuition was a huge help.”
Chloe enjoys the best of all worlds; several months after she started Naale, her parents made aliyah, and they now live in Ramat Beit Shemesh. “It was always my dream to return to Israel,” says Shilgit, who is Israeli and whose husband was born in the UK. “When Chloe said that she wanted to live in Israel, that clinched it for us.”
“For families that are planning aliyah, Naale is the perfect solution,” says Becker. “The child gets a head start with the language and studies, receiving all the support they need — and they have their families where they can go for Shabbat and holidays.” Becker quotes experts who state that when making aliyah, the teens in the family often have the hardest time finding their place and adapting to the new culture. “Naale certainly facilitates what can be a fraught and frustrating process,” she says.
For Michael and Sharon Powell, parents of Yehonatan, who attends the yeshiva in Shaalvim, Naale was the answer to their prayers. “We found in Naale everything we could have ever hoped for,” says Sharon. “The staff are there for each student and care for his individual needs. No one will tell you, send your child; it won’t be difficult. What they do promise is that they will be there for him all along the way. And that’s the truth. Naale provided the softest landing possible.”
Michael Powell is especially impressed by the staff. “They are amazing – devoted and very professional. They are very open to what we have to say, and we enjoy a strong, close, ongoing connection with them.”
For his part, Yehonatan couldn’t be happier. “In the beginning it was something new; it was fun. Then you realise it’s a home. It’s a family, not just another experience.”
Yehonatan enjoys living and studying alongside youths from all over the world – the United States, Mexico, Switzerland, Poland, Hungary and Germany. He says he’s looking forward to flying back to Manchester for Passover to see his family, but will be returning immediately afterwards. “My life is in Israel; I love it here.”
His advice to other teens considering Naale? “Come with an open mindset. But don’t worry. Even with corona, it’s a great place to be!”
Now, that vaccinations are available and many students are able to get the vaccine, Becker and the Naale staff are optimistic, anticipating a productive school year that will hopefully be free of corona. Naale’s regional managers are currently at the height of preparations for next year and have organised admissions days in centres around the world.
For more information about the Naale Elite Academy and the admissions process in the UK, please contact Ravid Meron. Phone: +33-7-82656204