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Naale Shalavim graduates Aaron Finkelstein from South African and Aviel Ratzon from New York tell Israel National News about their wonderful experiences at Naale and how it prepared them to live in Israel.

“When I took a look at the programs, I fell in love and I really decided it’s great to talk about being a Zionist and wanting to come to Israel but doing it is a whole other level,” Finkelstein says.

Ratzon adds: “Luckily I had the experiences of my two older siblings that did the program, had great experiences, very much enjoyed it, and we grew up with a strong sense of Zionism at home. Coming to Israel in some shape or form was always a matter of when not if.”

“In general the program was great and I’m not going to sugar coat it, it’s hard. It’s not the easiest thing, and if you can do it, it’s amazing, and if you’re the right kid for it, brilliant,” says Finkelstein.

It’s a challenge but when you get through it, it’s rewarding in its outcome, Finkelstein explains.

Ratzon says the program “really pushes you forward. It’s a time when everyone is growing up and developing but at Naale takes it to a new level, and luckily the staff in general really accommodates and is looking out to make sure you succeed.”

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Students in the program make new friends from around the world.

“The friends that I have today are people that I want to carry on seeing for the rest of my life,” Finkelstein says. “They’ve the closest friends I’ve ever had and that’s including by the way Israelis, the language barrier that we had at the beginning. For me my closes friend wasn’t actually someone from the Naale classes, it was someone I met in the school, someone from Shalavim, my best friend Zaki and I was his best man almost a year ago now, and honestly I’m so happy I came to Shalavim, especially for that.”

Ratzon explains that even though he’s originally from New York, once he was in the program, he understood that being in New York is a “small world” compared to the environment at Naale.

“It just blows your mind,” Ratzon says. “Meeting people from all over the world speaking different languages, different cultures. Socially, it takes about a week and you understand that you have built lifelong friends.”

How is the academic challenge and the scholastic experience?

“Particularly for me I don’t feel like the school was the most challenging thing. I feel like Shalavim created a learning environment where things were easy. What the environment did for me was give me an appreciation for the actual learning whereas most schools are focusing on making you learn,” Finkelstein says. “The Naale program is teaching you how to be a good person, how to be social with people that you wouldn’t think that you’d ever be with. In the same dorm with Italian kids, Canadian kids, American kids, you learn to be a better person by being around people that you sometimes struggle with and most of all being around great educators who are amazing role models.”

The level of studies very much impressed Ratzon, who says: “The quality of the studies there was very professional. At first you don’t understand it because you’re very overwhelmed, particularly with the language. Without you realizing it, they really push you, really help you understand the language, understand the content of the classes. At the end of the year, when I was taking my final exams, I was looking through the book and I’m realizing, ‘Oh, I can read this and I understand.’”

Now, they are both living in Israel. What did Naale give them?

“Naale has definitely prepared me for my entire life here,” Finkelstein says. “I don’t think I’d be in the same place I am now, in the same religious place, in the same mindset, if I’d gone to a different school.”

Naala gave Ratzon “nothing short of a very strong base, starting a new life, a new chapter in Israel, as a Jew returning, a religious foothold. Everything was a very well-rounded experience that really prepared me for my life here.”

Finkelstein explains that when he was still in the program, he recommended it to a lot of his friends, and also to his brother.

“I would recommend it to any kid who wants to actually challenge themselves and to try and go past their boundaries,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s one of the best options you can choose. You’re looking at one of the best schools in Israel – Shalavim – and the whole program is practically free. There’s no downside to it.”

“The staff is amazing in making sure that you succeed both academically, socially and overall adapting to the lifestyle here in Israel,” Ratzon adds.

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