Young Jews are the most likely to experience anti-Semitism. Fifty-four percent of Jewish students on college campuses have experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism. With pressures on Jewish youth mounting, many are looking for a way to get a quality education without compromising on their Jewish identity.

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For over 1600 Jewish teens, the answer lies in Israel. Not content to wait until after high school to start their future, they have come to the Naale Elite Academy. A branch of the Jewish Agency, the Naale program gives teens the chance to complete high school at an Israeli boarding school on a full scholarship. While making Aliyah is not a requirement of the program, the majority of the Naale students choose to stay in Israel.  We spoke to Naale students to see what motivated them to make the somewhat daunting move of coming to Israel alone.

The need to be with a sympathetic peer group was a motivating factor for most. David Peterman, 16, from Montreal, finally found his niche at Naale. He explained, “There weren’t many Jewish school options for me. I was homeschooled for 2 years before I came to Naale. I came to Israel on a two week trip and I wanted to come back.”  The need to feel like an integrated part of the student body is important for teens. Sophia Zylbersztajn, 18, from San Paulo,  Brazil expressed it succinctly, “Jewish life is hard in Brazil. I wanted to come to Jewish high school and make friends.”

Many Naale students had been on a search for a sense of belonging. Yechi Fulzbacher, 17, from Antwerp Belgium, saw Naale as a chance to find a place where be belonged. “I didn’t feel like I fit the school I was attending,” he explained. The teens felt an overwhelming sense of relief to arrive at Naale. “In Germany, I was different from other people, here I am free to be myself,”  Odelia Bergauz, 15, from Munich Germany said with a wide smile.

For some the Naale program was the chance to make Aliyah at the soonest possible opportunity. Yehudit Amini, 18, from Milan, Italy, explained that Naale allowed her to actualize her goals as soon as possible, “I always wanted to come to Israel. I wanted to make Aliyah after high school so it was a bonus to come before.”

For those teens who knew that they wanted to make Aliyah in the future, the Naale program offered the chance to get a ‘jump start’ on their acclamation in Israeli society. Adam Bernartz, 17, from Johannesburg, SA, told us, “I wanted to go to university in Israel. I’m very Zionistic so it was even better to come for high school and get a good grounding in Hebrew.” Naale offers students intensive Hebrew classes with the aim for eventual integration in the regular Israeli classes. All students take the Bagrut and are eligible for a subsidized degree program after high school.

Atara Trudler, 17 from Philadelphia, USA summed up the feelings of all Naale students, saying “I was really pleased to discover that such a program actually existed.” For teens struggling to express their Jewish identity in the face of rising anti-Semitism and anti-Israel rhetoric, the chance to finish high school in Israel can be a dream come true.

For more information about the Naale Elite Academy, click here