Studying STEM in Israel

Studying STEM in Israel

High-school freshman from Tenafly reports on Naale program

Gabe Lipschitz
Gabe Lipschitz

Sending a teenager to a boarding high school is not an easy choice for parents to make. But Seth and Rebecca Lipschitz of Tenafly did not want to rule out any possibilities when searching for the right high school for their youngest son, Gabe.

Gabe had participated in the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth program and is passionate about STEM –science, technology, engineering, and math. So though the oldest Lipschitz son, Sam, 19, graduated from the Frisch School in Paramus, and the second son, Joey, 17, is a Frisch senior, their parents wanted something different for Gabe.

The couple sought guidance from Rabbi Akiva Block at Kesher Community Synagogue of Tenafly and Englewood. “His view, like ours, was that it’s really tough to send a kid away for high school, but if the program is exceptional the opportunity has to take precedence,” Mr. Lipschitz recalled.

It didn’t occur to them at the time that such an exceptional opportunity could be halfway around the world.

A Google search for Jewish STEM programs took Mr. Lipschitz to the website of Anières STEM High School in Israel, one of the options in the Naale (pronounced “nah-ah-leh”) Elite Academy network of tuition-free high schools in Israel for overseas teens.

“We reached out and applied. Once he got accepted, we visited the school and my son fell in love with it,” Mr. Lipschitz said. “They’re doing physics, robotics, chemistry, aerospace engineering; everything he loves.”

About 50 Naale participants join 400 Israeli day and boarding students at Anières, a World ORT school based in the historic agricultural village of Nahalal in the Jezreel Valley. They get free education, board, and lodging, as at all Naale partner high schools. In all, 635 students arrived in Israel on September 2 to begin their studies through Naale.

The added value for Gabe is Anières’ focus on STEM subjects — including biotechnology, physics, computer science, chemistry, biology, robophysics, software engineering, aerospace, and sports aviation — and its affiliation with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, often referred to as the “MIT of Israel.”

Students can take classes at the Technion while they still are in high school. Those who qualify may continue for a bachelor’s degree in engineering or science as part of the Israel Defense Forces’ highly selective Atuda academic program before military service in their field of specialty.

Gabe had never heard of Naale and hadn’t ever considered going to high school in Israel. “But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good thing,” he said. “As soon as I heard about this option, it’s what I wanted. It’s a good opportunity. It essentially guarantees me a spot at the Technion and then from there the IDF — and then from there, life.”

He did not even mind repeating ninth grade; now 15, Gabe went to Tenafly High School last year while he and his family explored other possibilities. Starting Naale in ninth grade is essential because that’s the year its students get an intensive Hebrew course — called “ulpan” — to prepare them for mainstreaming with their Israeli classmates in 10th, 11th, and 12th grades.

“We have almost 20 hours of ulpan a week,” Gabe reported. “We don’t have much contact yet with the Israelis, but by next year we will be fully incorporated in the school.”

He speaks English with his three roommates, boys from Mexico, Argentina, and Germany. In addition to students from New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Florida, and California, the coed program also has participants from Russia, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Japan, and England. There are 14 English-speakers in the Anières Naale cohort.

“We were all going through the same things at the beginning, coming to a country that’s new to us and away from our families, so it was easy to bond with them,” Gabe said. The Naale students have their own counselors and homeroom teacher.

“I was a little hesitant at first, but it’s been almost a month now and I am pretty well adjusted,” Gabe reported just before Rosh Hashanah. His biggest difficulty so far is that he isn’t overly fond of the food. Fortunately, there is a grocery store in Nahalal where he can buy items to supplement what he gets at school.

To keep in touch as closely as possible with their son, the Lipschitzes bought an Alexa Echo Show with a video screen. “We sometimes talk over that, and we text occasionally,” Mr. Lipschitz said. They’ll come to visit Gabe in November and for Passover. Gabe will take a trip home during Chanukah vacation.

“I have some relatives and family friends in Israel where I can go for Shabbat and holidays,” Gabe said. He will also have occasional trips around Israel as part of the program.

Here is Gabe’s advice to anyone in New Jersey considering coming to Israel for high school nearly 6,000 miles away from home: “Go with the flow and try to stay positive,” he said. “That really helps.”

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