ALL IN THE FAMILY
by Darry Egnal Nov. 2, 2014
A high-end Israeli high school program for Diaspora Jews, Naale Elite Academy enables students to complete their last three years of high school on a full scholarship in Israel. The reasons these youngsters choose this path are very different. Some simply want to be in Israel; some parents can’t afford a Jewish education for their children in their countries of origin and want to give them the best opportunity to get one; some families plan to make Aliyah but aren’t ready, so they send their children ahead of them. Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that these brave teenagers are given an all-expenses paid, top-quality education co-funded by the State of Israel (the Israeli Ministry of Education) and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Naale Elite Academy scholarship recipients come from nearly 30 countries around the globe, including the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, South Africa, Australia and the F.S.U., among others. Since the program opened in 1992, there have been 16,000 students and graduates. Last June, 346 students graduated from the program. At the end of August, 503 arrived to start 10th grade in Israel – 74 from North America, 57 from Europe and the U.K., 27 from South America and 14 from Africa, Asia and other countries.
A difficult, but ideal choice
Corrine Reiners Michelin (18) was two when her biological father passed away. Three years later, her mother remarried and she had three more children, including Libby (14). “After my father died, he raised me, so I don’t call him anything else but Dad,” says Corrine. When Corrine was 11 her parents got divorced and she ended up living with her mother. She wasn’t happy to be separated from her siblings, but she had no choice as her father wasn’t her biological father and couldn’t get custody.
“About two years ago, I moved back in with my father and siblings,” she says. Corrine found out about Naale through her father. “He thought it would be a great experience for me to go and study abroad. I hadn’t been to a Jewish school since the fifth grade and he really wanted me to get back into studying Judaism and Hebrew,” says Corrine. “At first, I thought, ‘Why do you want to ship me off across the world?’ I had just moved back in with my siblings. I was like, ‘Are you trying to get rid of me or something?’ But it was not like that at all. He saw the potential of Naale and wanted me to have this experience. He thought it would be good for me, so I looked at the website and I saw all the pictures of the kids on the program and I read about it. I looked at it over and over again and finally I said OK.”
Corinne arrived in Israel and started the Naale program at Mosenson High School in Hod Hasharon in August 2013. She has enjoyed her year in Israel, although it took her a few months to adjust to Israeli food and culture. “I’m already a very independent person because I lived alone with my Mom and had to do things on my own. It wasn’t hard being here without family, but it was a culture shock and I really struggled with the food at first. But everything has changed. I’m used to the food and the people now, and I’m far more responsible. I realize that everything is up to me. If I want to pass here, I have to really work on my Hebrew, and be motivated. It has made me, personally, more motivated and more mature,” she says.
Corinne believes Naale is a fantastic opportunity for every young Jew. “I think Naale gives people such a great chance to change their lives. Not only is it a great education, but it also offers many trips and other exciting experiences. And the fact that everything is paid for you to come and study from abroad is amazing. I would suggest that everyone joins Naale.”
Corinne’s 14-year-old sister, Libby, arrived in August this year. The girls, who are from Boca Raton, Florida, are ecstatic to be together again. “I talked to my sister every day for about three months before I arrived,” says Libby. “She told me how much fun Naale is and that I should come because she knew I would love it here. And so far, it’s amazing to be here.”
If Libby had the chance, she says she would tell all her friends to come – not only because “it would be so much fun and we would be together, but also because you can learn a different language and get to know about different cultures. You grow so much here, it’s fantastic. And you’ll meet so many new people at school and everywhere you go; it’s like you’re a little grown up. It’s so cool,” she says.
Finding yourself and finding a home
Many sets of siblings attend the Naale Elite Academy program. It seems like the most obvious option. Older brothers or sisters have been at Naale for a year or two or have already graduated and they encourage their siblings to follow in their footsteps. Sometimes, it even makes sense for parents to send them together at the same time.
Isabelle (17) and Deborah (18) Dias hail from Brazil. Before coming to Israel with Naale, they lived in Canada for two years. There was no Jewish community in their neighborhood in Brazil, and Jewish schools didn’t exist. When their father was transferred to Canada for work, they were finally able to attend a Jewish school, but after two years, their parents decided to return to Brazil because the girls’ grandparents were ill. At the time, they had both been offered full scholarships – one from Naale and one from a Jewish school in Canada. Both options meant leaving the girls alone in a strange country. Together, they all decided that Israel and the Naale program were the better option. Two years later, the girls can attest to the fact that they made the right choice. Isabelle and Deborah both graduate this year.
“At Naale you learn so much about yourself because you are always surrounded by people and that makes you realize who you really are,” says Deborah. “You gain a greater level of confidence in yourself. You become independent and self-sufficient, and the group becomes a huge family – your family. I think that’s one of the things I like most about the program.”
Isabelle spends time thinking about what she wants to be and who she is. “I usually decide fast, but here I pick and choose carefully, and I am learning how to see all the options, and what is best for me now and in the future. Coming here makes you become closer to your culture and who you are. Being in Israel is a challenge. It’s hard for a lot people because they don’t like to be far from home. But it is a learning experience. You leave here with stuff that you learned for life,” says Isabelle.
“We had never been to Israel before,” adds Deborah. “We came from a place that didn’t have a Jewish community at all and the fact that we’re in a classroom where everybody is Jewish and you’re surrounded by Jewish people and Jewish communities and Jewish values is actually incredible. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s incredible. That’s the only word I have to say about Israel and Naale.”
For more information about Naale Elite Academy, go to www.elite-academy.org.