California teenager, Aviv Gadi, will graduate from high school next June, but not from the school she attended in Los Angeles. She has spent the past two and a half years at high school in Israel on a full scholarship through a program that has changed her life.
Aviv Gadi’s Israeli parents moved to Los Angeles more than 25 years ago. Growing up an only child, she loved visiting Israel every year to spend time with her cousins, many of whom are her age. Throughout the years of visiting the country, she grew more and more attached to the possibility of a life here. When she was given the chance to finish high school in Israel, she jumped at the chance.
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.
“I came here open-minded, hoping to meet new people and experience new cultures, especially knowing I was coming into a place where there’s every type of person, every type of personality,” says Gadi. “It’s like a melting pot. And the boarding school is so different from anywhere else because there are Israelis here as well as kids from all over the world so we get that half and half. I think that it’s a great program and I really appreciate it because it gave me an opportunity that I don’t think I would’ve had in any other place,” she says.
“Naale is like a foundation for me. If I had come to Israel without a base, alone or even with my family, I think my experience would’ve been very, very different. I wouldn’t have had that surrounding, that place to start off, that place to grow.”
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.
High School Programs Across Israel for Every Religious Level
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 62, followed by France at 19 and Canada at 14. The program integrates these teenagers into various high schools around the country, ranging from co-educational to Religious Orthodox and Haredi.
An Opportunity to Develop and Grow
Alex Hart (17) from Wisconsin has found her place at Naale Elite Academy. She loves the fact that she has friends from all over the world. While most of her friends are from the US, she also has friends from Germany and Austria and many other countries. “I’ve made all these great connections and learned to understand the real world. It’s nice to get a different view of a different world and different cultures and to be assimilated into that surrounding. I love the fact that I can fit myself into another culture.
“I think Naale is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Naale does a really good job of setting us up and pointing us in the right direction, especially if your intent is to stay here in Israel. I think if you get the opportunity to come here and learn, then it’s probably something you should do. At least for the experience of being away and experiencing something new and different, and then you can continue with your life, wherever it may be.”
Israel Covers Tuition Costs
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.