The academy is the North American branch of Na'ale, started in 1992, which brings teens from around the world, and especially the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, to Israel before their parents to study and acclimate to their new culture. When the students settle, they serve as the anchor for their families' aliyah. The North American branch was started three years ago.
Not every student who takes part, however, will permanently move to Israel. Elie Klein, director of communications for Elite Academy and the Israel Aliyah Center in North America, said for many students participation is simply about the realization that they belong in Israel.
"Life might be more difficult in Israel," he said. "But everything in Israel is centered on being a Jew in a Jewish state. These 14-year-olds pick up on this; they realize what it means to live in the Jewish state, to go to school with only Jews, to be part of something bigger than them, and to be part of the next generation of Jewish and Israeli leaders."
This year 50 other North American students will take part in the program.
Yonit and 17 other Orthodox girls will attend the Neve Sara Herzog Yeshiva High School in B'nai Brak. Seven Chabad-Lubavitch girls will study at Beit Rivkah Yeshiva High School in Kfar Chabad. The others, traditional, Conservative or Reform boys and girls, will join students such as Seth Nicholas, from Frederick and a former student at Beth Tfiloh, at Mosenzon High School in Hod Hasharon.
The program is fully subsidized by the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Education. The scholarship includes schooling, health insurance, room-and-board, a one-way ticket to the Holy Land, spending money and an international phone card. The youth have school field trips and additional travels with the Elite Academy.
Baltimore 11th-grader Talia Mittelman started the program last year at Herzog. She said it is exciting and challenging.
"You have to be a very independent person and able to figure out stuff for yourself, and you have to deal with a lot of hard situations," she said. Even after being a student at Rambam, where proficiency in Hebrew language is stressed, getting through Israeli classes was not easy, she said.
"We were with the Israelis and I just didn't understand what was being taught," she explained. "It was hard and fast and some days I didn't know what was happening."
But after a few months, Talia said she learned to deal with the Hebrew well enough to take tests and write reports in it.
"It is a three-year program, so we can slowly integrate the students into Israeli society," said Mr. Klein, "By 12th grade, you really wouldn't be able to pick out the Elite students from their Israeli classmates."
This is what Yonit hopes will happen. With three siblings living in Israel, she, too, wants to move to Israel.
Mr. Klein, a Baltimore native, said the recent Israel-Lebanon war did not affect the program.
"I thought I would be getting calls asking if it was too late to pull out [when the war began]," he said. "On the contrary, I got calls from anxious parents and students wanting to ensure the program would go forward."
Said Roz Goldberg, Yonit's mother, "Unfortunately, terror is a reality for the Jewish people in general. In America we are only quasi-safe סס We're very proud of Yonit and very excited for her. It takes a lot of guts [to leave your parents], but she is such a brave person, willing to take this chance."
Copyright ©2006 the Baltimore Jewish Times