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Free alternative to day schools?

Free alternative to day schools? As day schools have become an overly expensive option for some in the Orthodox world, an Israeli program that has offered Diaspora Jews free high school education in Israel is beefing up its outreach to Orthodox Jews and pitching itself as a free alternative.

Na’ale is recruiting current high school freshmen to move to Israel for the next three years and be enrolled in Israeli high schools for their sophomore through senior years.

The Israeli program has 75 openings — 25 each for students who will be enrolled in the secular Motenson school in Hod Hasharon, for boys in a Bnei Akiva religious Zionist school in Beersheva, and for girls in a Bnei Akiva religious school near Haifa.

Fundermentalist’s take: Na’ale was launched in 1992 for students in the former Soviet Union, according to its North American development director Abe Reichman, and expanded later to South America and France, then North America. In nearly two decades, some 11,000 students have gone through the program.

Qualifying for the program requires some pretty thorough psychological screening. Na’ale officials say the screening is geared toward ensuring that prospective students can handle moving away from home and to a new country, and living in a dormitory setting for the remainder of their high school years.

They say the program isn’t specifically designed to push students to make aliyah and become Israeli citizens, but Reichman estimates that about 85 percent of the 11,000 students have done so. Twenty of the 22 Americans who graduated from the program last year made aliyah, including all 17 who enrolled in secular schools. 

So it makes sense that Na’ale was funded in large part by the Jewish Agency for Israel — and that the funding was from the agency’s aliyah department rather than its education department.

Still, Reichman, who also serves as the guidance counselor for Na’ale participants, says he does not speak with the students about aliyah until the last two or three months of their stay, at which point they “discuss options.” Reichman says that if a student expresses interest in aliyah, he will guide them to the right place. Na’ale pays for each student’s first flight to Israel and the return flight to the United States, if the student chooses to return.

For the philanthro-philes, here is the interesting part. 

When the Jewish Agency introduced massive budget cuts last year, Na’ale was among its victims. The agency went from funding about half of the program’s budget to paying only for marketing in North America. It sounds like Na’ale was taken a bit by surprise and really had to hustle to keep the program going. It is now funded by the Israeli Ministry of Education.

This could be a model as the agency shifts its mission away from promoting immigration to Jewish identity-building. Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky hopes that the Israeli government will pick up many of the programs that his organization does not think it can fund itself from charitable donations. 

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