Arielle Zahava Scherzer, daughter of Cathy Bardenstein and Jeff Scherzer lives in Tustin. The Scherzer family found out about the Naale program through OC Jewish Life, while Arielle was attending Hebrew High in Los Angeles. Dr. Grajewski interviewed Bardenstein a day after returning from a trip to Israel to visit Arielle.
Naale Elite Academy, a unique, exclusive, top-quality Israeli high school program for Diaspora Jews, enables students to complete their last three years of high school in Israel while learning to be independent, self-sufficient and resilient. The program is co-funded by the State of Israel (the Israeli Ministry of Education) and the Jewish Agency for Israel and the students receive a full scholarship with all expenses paid until they graduate.
Arielle has been in private schools for most of her education. She expressed some interest in Naale, but asked her mother (Bardenstein) to “find out more information.” Eventually it sounded adventurous and exciting enough to apply. She has been with the program since August 27, 2013.
A United Nations equivalent
A small seed of an idea planted by former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in 1992 has turned into one of the most successful Jewish high school programs in Israel. Naale Elite Academy is a microcosm of Israeli society, a real mixture of young people from different countries, cultures and outlooks. Originally for youth from the Former Soviet Union (FSU), the high school now includes young Jewish students from more than 50 countries around the world.
This year’s intake included about 160 youngsters from 26 countries on five continents. Once again, the numbers from the US topped the list at 91, followed by France at 19 and Canada at 14.
“This is a nice increase in numbers since last year,” says Naale director, Yeshayahu Yechieli. “Since Naale opened its doors to the West about 12 years ago, we have welcomed students from 40 Western countries. This year, for the first time, we have a student from Japan. And countries like India, Serbia, Kenya and China are also represented, so we have a wide mix of students from all over the world.”
The program integrates these teenagers into various high schools around the country, ranging from co-educational to Religious Orthodox and Haredi. Since the program launched, more than 16,000 select high school students from the United States, Europe, the FSU, South America, Germany, Poland and South Africa, among others, have graduated through the program.
An opportunity to develop and grow
Scherzer flew to New York with her parents and went through testing, which included a psychological interview, a math test, and Hebrew Proficiency. Interviewers also observed candidates interacting with each other and interviewed parents. “But what sealed the deal,” Says Bardenstein, was an exchange program with Israeli students and students at Hebrew High.
Like a lot of Israeli children, Scherzer’s independence has blossomed. She has met students her age from around the world, and together they are learning to navigate the public transportation available in Israel. According to Bardenstein, “There is no hand holding for the students. This is Israel!” At 15, after the airlines lost her luggage, she was an experienced world traveler. Additionally, the education in Israel is different and there are more challenges, as Scherzer learns to navigate the language and take responsibility for her education. “She was sitting in class with other students from around the world and it took them a week to figure out the class they were in was Psychology because the teacher only spoke Hebrew.” says Bardenstein.
The only thing Bardenstein would recommend: A “Buddy Program” for first year students. “Maybe have the older students speak with new parents as well – to help with getting set up,” says Bardenstein. Until then, Bardenstein has met with some of the new moms and started a “support” type program.
Bardenstein is proud of her daughter, “In the three months she has been involved in Naale she is more confident and has responsibility and ownership of her education. Even if she chooses to come back to the United States she will remain competitive. She has separated herself from the rest of the kids going to school in America. [Naale] gives kids a place to shine!”
Yechieli is proud of the success of the program. “Have you ever heard of a State that would pay tuition for 16,000 foreigners without asking them to commit to anything?” asks Yechieli. “Yet this is what the government of Israel has done over the past two decades.”
Thousands of Naale graduates from all over the Jewish world went on to higher education in Israel, became Israeli citizens and have helped to build up the country in various fields. They have brought their culture, background, experience and education to the people and the State of Israel, leaving their mark on a country that welcomes Jews from every corner of the world.
Please contact Naale’s West Coast representative, Roni Mimran, at 310-497-9363 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, for further information. Visit the Naale Elite Academy website at www.elite-academy.org ✿
Darryl Egnal is a contributing writer to
Kiddish Magazine and Lisa Grajewski, Psy. D
is the Co-editor in Chief of Kiddish Magazine.