The Naale program is a unique way for teenagers to spend their high school years in Israel.
The Naale program at Shaalvim Yeshiva High School, in its ninth year, has been a huge success, for the staff and the students.
“The kids have succeeded well,” said Naale Coordinator Rabbi Daniel Hershenson. “Both in learning Hebrew and in their studies, both Jewish and secular studies, and both at a high level.”
Students begin in 9th or 10th grade. They get Ulpan in their first years. In the 11th and 12th grades, they learn for their matriculation certificate.
Students in the program come from all over the world to study together in Israel: North and South America, Europe, South Africa, Australia.
“I got the idea from my mother. It was really about me coming to Israel to have a Jewish education,” said Yehuda Attias, who is from Louisiana, USA. “In Louisiana, it’s not a big option for me to have a Jewish education.”
Yitzchok Barbas, who is from Warsaw, Poland, concurred. “Naale seemed like a good connection between a high school and religious studies.”
Students enjoy the close-knit community but also the unparalleled educational experience.
“There’s levels of learning that you’ll never find anywhere else. It’s really amazing,” said Netanel Maroof who is from New York.
Rabbi Hershenson explained that “the connection that is made through day in and day out experiences in Israel with their classmates… makes a really whole and meaningful experience, much more than just a week of fun in Israel. Connecting to the land, connecting to the people, connecting to your roots, connecting to your nation.”
Attias added that they are enjoying living the Israeli lifestyle.
“You feel togetherness with Israelis,” he said.
Maroof said that the experience as a young person will leave a lasting, lifelong impact. “You’re experience everyday life here. You’re coming as a teen, as someone whose life is still developing.”
The connections made with fellow students and rabbis and teachers is one of becoming a family, as well as the meaningful impact of meeting people from other cultures.
“In the end, everyone feels part of Israeli society,” said Barbas.
Rena Sheetz, the school’s social worker, said that the teens in the program after interacting with Israelis, and partially due to their young ages, very easily integrate into Israeli society.
While the pandemic year was a trying one, Naale was able to keep the high school open and afford the opportunity to continue living there for students who wanted to, ensuring they would stay safe inside the campus.
This enabled them to continue learning. “Our goal was to keep them healthy and safe,” said Rabbi Hershenson.
They were able to stay open the whole pandemic year and celebrate the holidays. “It was really important for all the staff and students,” he said.
Maroof said that the time being on campus, where students were still able to play basketball and enjoy being outdoors, allowed him to get to know his fellow students a lot better.
“I got closer to all of my friends from being with them constantly.” And he also became closer to the rabbis.
“I was able to devote more time to my studies and to think about what I want to do next year,” he said.
Attias explained that “it was nice being in an environment with a lot of other guys. I feel like I”m so much happier here than I would be at home because I have people to be around.”
He added, “Naale gave me friends, and gave me an education, and so many good things that you can really carry for the rest of your life."
Naale gave him and his classmates tools for life, said Barbas. “How to deal with life choices, how to find meaningful relationships, how to learn and study, how to be a meaningful member of society and a good Jew.”