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The thrill of going to finish school in Israel




“How can they offer all of this for free?” she asked. She was sceptical about Paige going on her own, “but then, of course, it’s Israel. What an opportunity!”

Paige was one of five pupils selected for the 2016/17 year. “Once she was out of her comfort zone, she started learning about the real world,” says Anne.

In September 2017, 13 pupils left South Africa for Na’ale, almost three times more than the year before. This group of teenagers – aged 13 to 16 – also left their families here and went to Israel, says Livnat Katz, the regional manager of Na’ale since February 2016. And, says Katz, given the applications already submitted for enrolment in the next programme, which starts in September 2018, she expects the numbers will increase yet again.

Applicants should be in Grade 8, 9 or 10 and must pass academic and psychological tests before being accepted into the programme. These tests take place on dedicated screening days, which are conducted by Israeli educational psychologists.

The programme was established in 1992 after the fall of the Soviet Union. “Jewish families were looking at sending their children to Israel. Ever since then, the programme has been fully subsidised by the Israeli ministry of education, which partners with the Jewish Agency for Israel,” says Yona Oster, Na’ale’s head of pedagogic education.

“It has produced 17 000 Bagrut (the Israeli equivalent of a matric) graduates. Students from around the world can come to Na’ale Elite Academy and get a top-notch education while exploring their Jewish heritage.

“One of our perks is that it is all free. Successful applicants get a full scholarship to study in Israel, including their airfare paid, full board, trips, pocket money, school fees, uniforms, stationery, toiletries and much more.”

Katz says Na’ale offers a “strong support network of dedicated staff” including several counsellors and programme managers, as well as an Israeli, English-speaking host family.

Kids start their education in English, but switch to studying in Hebrew after three months. “Na’ale offers a well-rounded education while broadening horizons, expanding social reach and fostering healthy independence,” says Oster.

“We tailor and support pupils’ academic and emotional growth, whatever their needs may be,” she says.

Lisa Mervis’ son, Gabriel, went over in 2016, aged 15. He is doing Grades 9 to 12 at Anières, which is affiliated to the Technion University in Haifa. “When Gabriel was assessed in July 2016, the Israeli clinical psychologists felt he had the ability to excel at engineering.”

Sivan Kark, also from the class of 2016, is at Mosenson. She says she calls home twice a day, is very happy and fitted in quickly. Her mom, Wendy, was sceptical at first but adjusted as she saw Sivan doing so. “Sivan is glad she went,” says Wendy. “She has made many friends with girls from Italy, America and Colombia.”

Sasha Matusowsky is one of the 16-year-olds from the 2017 group. She likes everything, except the food. “I talk to my mom four or five times a day,” she says. Her mom, Inna, “has been very supportive – she came here in December and I am coming home at Pesach time.” Sasha, who previously attended Pretoria Girls High School, adds: “The teaching is generally on par with South African schools, except for the standard of English, Hebrew and maths. It is much higher at Na’ale”.

She says she has enjoyed the opportunity to become independent and be with other teens from across the globe. “There is always someone there for me,” says Sasha. And when her glasses broke, “Na’ale bought glasses for me”.

Or Shalev, 17, had left Yeshiva College to join the programme. “It’s hard,” she says of boarding in Israel, “but I’m enjoying the experience.” Her family go to Israel every year and she grew up in a Hebrew-speaking home. “But it’s very different living here,” she says. When asked if her knowledge of Hebrew was a help, she says she’d be happy even if she had to learn Hebrew from scratch.   “But it depends on the person. It isn’t for everyone,” she adds. She speaks to her mom every day and wants to go to the army after school. “Nothing prepares you for the Israeli army better than studying in Israel,” she says.

Nadav Rabinowitz, 15, is at Shaalvim Yeshiva for boys. He is doing Grade 10, hopes to complete his Bagrut and is “thinking of making aliya. I am very glad I came. I am with people the same age as me who come from 13 different countries, and I’ve travelled around Israel a lot.” Asked what stands out for him about the past six months, the ex-Hirsch Lyons lad replies: “Everything to do with the school is amazing. If we need help, someone is there. If we need extra money [the programme provides the teens with pocket money], we just have to ask.”

Anne Katz says it’s not all easy for the kids, “but they grow up quickly. They learn to be independent and to manage their own money.” She is amazed at all the friends her daughter has made there. “They build real and lasting relationships.”

She visited Paige in December and was impressed, adding: “The quality of the teachers and staff is fantastic. Before I went to see the environment, I would worry if she went out, especially at night. But not anymore.”

  • Registration for 2018 is now open. Contact the Israel Centre on 011 645-2560 for more information.

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