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Jewish teens shrug off comfortable SA for Israeli boarding school

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JORDAN MOSHE

However, the group of young Jewish teens setting off to study in Israel told the SA Jewish Report there’s only one issue foremost on their mind: making a good first impression.

Families said farewell at Beyachad in Johannesburg on Monday to nine young South Africans who will be relocating to Israel this coming Sunday. They, and three Cape Town teens, are leaving behind their family and friends to live and study in Israel. They will complete the senior phase of their high school career at the Naale Elite Academy.

“Besides the educational benefit, this is a personal journey for you,” the director of the Israel Centre in South Africa, Liat Amar-Arran, told the group. “It’s an opportunity to grow, learn, explore, meet new people, go on adventures, and really bring your soul to a bigger place.”

The farewell dinner included brief addresses from the programme’s regional co-ordinator, Livnat Katz; Yeshiva College Principal Rob Long; and Rabbi Motti Hadar, the principal of Torah Academy Boys’ High School.

Each student is carefully selected, going through an intense full day of screening by two clinical psychologists flown from Israel who test their mental and academic agility. They will be based at one of the schools in the academy’s network around the country, experiencing Israel through learning, extracurricular activities, school trips, and educational outings.

“The criteria for Naale is a child who is confident, outgoing, and social,” says Katz. “They need to be independent and a good student. It’s important that they can cope with the transition to a new country, and the challenges of being away from home.”

Jessie Thompson, Shiran Wiessman, Ori Fisher, Kira Levin, Amy Bennett, Montana Abkin, Daniel Glasser, Esther Kushner, and Jade Evans are all eager to embrace the life of a Sabra (a Jewish person born in Israel), and achieve a sense of responsibility and independence.

“We’ll learn how to get things done for ourselves,” says Bennett. “We have it easy in South Africa, with parents and maids looking after us, cleaning for us, and making our beds.

“We have a chance to learn how to do things for ourselves in a new setting, with new people while learning a new language. We have a chance to be responsible, which is scary and exciting.”

The group’s priorities are to learn how to budget, do their washing, and hone other everyday life skills. They don’t lament their new responsibilities, rather they express keenness to learn how to care for themselves. They all smile when they talk about taking care of themselves free from the clutches of “clinging Jewish parents”, who they say they will miss but can live without for a while.

Five of the nine students have never visited Israel before, and in spite of some apprehension, they are all eager to step into a new space and forge independent identities. “You’re making a new name for yourself,” the teens say. “It’s like a new life where nobody knows you. You have new chances outside the bubble of Joburg life, and learn who you really are.”

They say they are undaunted by the potential educational challenges ahead, but they definitely harbour certain fears: frizzy hair and weight gain are among them. “You’re surrounded by good food and constant humidity,” says one teenage girl. “We’ll have to find a way to make a good first impression on complete strangers when our hair is out of control. That’s going to be difficult.”

They say they will miss friends, family, and South African food the most. However, they agree that separation from their siblings and biltong is a small price to pay for the experience of a lifetime.

Technology like WhatsApp will make sure that they can stay in touch, and Israel’s central location makes getting things from home via travelling friends quite easy.

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