By Ken Stephens
11th grader, Shira Abargel, always knew that her heart was in Israel. “I just never felt Canadian. I’m proud to hold the Israeli flag. And, I really didn’t want to see another X-mas tree!” Together with her sister, Shira ‘escaped’ Canada to come to Israel.
The articulate and upbeat Abargel sisters of Montreal, Canada are quite different from one another, yet share one very important thing in common-unrequited love and praise for Naale Elite’s educational program at the Amana Ulpana in Kfar Saba, Israel. What makes their story truly fascinating is the fact that both sisters, Oriya, 18, and Shira, 17 decided to come to Amana for high school. They joined dozens of girls from all over the world who decided to have a truly Jewish high school experience. They live and learn with their Israeli counter-parts on the oasis-like campus, in one of Kfar Saba’s residential neighborhoods.
The Abargel sisters were actually born in Beersheva. However, 6 years ago their parents moved the family to Montreal, Canada. Oriya and Shira admittedly had a difficult time fitting into their radically new environment, including the local educational curriculum.
“We learned about the Naale Elite program at Amana after reading about it on-line,” recalled Oriya, who is in the 12th grade. “I personally never liked living in Montreal and my mother encouraged and supported my move to Amana.”
Having arrived in Israel, Oriya received more than just a more Jewish environment than she left behind. “There is tremendous warmth and love at Amana,” she explained. “The girls in school and the dorm are supportive and not judgmental and the teachers are extremely helpful. Adjusting to the language and culture obviously was not a problem for me and I’ve learned a lot about myself during my nearly three years here. My sister came based on my recommendation.”
Shira was equally enthusiastic about coming to study in Israel. “The experience has been great. I’ve made friends with girls in the program from all over the world.”
The Abargel sisters also praised the more relaxed learning environment they found in Israel, where they found more time to ask questions in class and have the chance to develop deeper relationships with teachers. Despite studying hard, the program at Amana allows them to have an active social life as well. The carefully supervised program still gives them room to experience Israel. “You can leave the campus and explore the country but there are rules and the teachers do need to know where you are going at all times. They truly care,” added Oriya.
Although making Aliyah is not a requirement of the Naale program, both Oriya and Shira intend to stay in Israel upon their graduation. “It’s up to each girl as a person to decide if they want to be here and discover who they are during their time at Amana,” said Oriya. “What is most important is that the staff at Amana cares about each girl and gives them the tools to learn about themselves inside and outside the classroom.”
What all the sisters of have found is a fully Jewish life experience. Shira got away from the dreaded Christmas trees. She smiles broadly as she says, “I loved celebrating Chanukah at Amana.”
Naale Elite Academy is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Jewish teens to achieve academic excellence, as well as personal and interpersonal skills that will support them throughout their life. The program is fully subsidized including a full scholarship for tuition, free airfare to and from Israel, room and board, health insurance, trips and more. Since its inception more than 16,000 high school students have come to study on the Naale program, with 85% graduating with a full matriculation, an internationally recognized high school diploma.