It’s not always easy to pack one’s bags, travel to a new country and leave family and friends behind. This is especially true when you’re a teenager leaving home for the very first time.
For Naale Elite Academy students, leaving the nest may be bittersweet, but in doing so, they find themselves in a home away from home in Israel.
Not every goodbye was a tearjerker, though. Zack Gitlin, 15, from Fair Lawn, said that while it was sad to bid farewell to his parents, he is ready to begin his Naale journey and become independent.
Zack was one of the 635 students who arrived at Ben Gurion Airport on September 2, to begin their year at the cultural and experiential co-ed Jewish high school in Israel. These students are set for an adventure of a lifetime as they enroll in a network of campuses across the country and receive a free scholarship that includes room and board and learning Hebrew, as well as your standard core curriculum like math, science and english.
“It has always been a dream of mine to live in Israel. It still feels like a dream, to be honest,” Zack said. “There are plenty of reasons to love Israel, but I grew up knowing that Israel is the place for me - it’s my country. I’m proud of Israel. It’s amazing what it’s done in such a short period of time.”
Yeshayahu Yechieli, Naale’s director, explained that beginning at Naale is the start of a new era in students’ lives.
“This isn’t just about starting a new year, but a new chapter in your life. When you call your parents, tell them, ‘Thank you,’” he said, giving the new students some sage words of advice.
Yechieli added that embarking on this unforgettable journey will also be marked with personality-building challenges along the way.
“At Naale, you’ll meet teens from all over the world. And learning at Naale is not a one-way ticket. Once you leave our doors you’ll be obligated to achieve something,” he added.
Emmanuel, 16, from Boston is up for that challenge. “I really wanted to try something new. My parents came to Israel when they were young and I wanted to do the same. I see this year as an excellent opportunity to broaden my horizons. I’ve lived a very straightforward life and now I want to see more of the world,” he said.
In addition to learning Hebrew and understanding the Israeli way of life, many of the students are eager to expand their social circle this year.
For some, making friends happened before they even stepped on Israeli soil.
Take Ilana of San Francisco and Hedi Farkas from New Jersey. The two hadn’t even met before they boarded the plane, but by the time the wheels touched down they realized they’d quite possibly made a friend for life.
“I want to make friends!,” Ilana exclaimed with Hedi by her side when asked what she hoped to get out of her Naale experience.
“We only met 10 hours ago, but now we’re friends. It’s amazing,” Hedi said.
Hedi also acknowledged that although leaving home was rough, she is expecting that her “once in a lifetime” Naale experience will make it all worth it.
“Naale seemed like a really good program. It felt it was very important for me as a Jew to experience Israel to the fullest,” she said.
By Noa Amouyal