At first, 15-year-old David Gokar of Brooklyn and his parents were hesitant about the prospect of him spending the next three years at a high school in Israel.
But after attending a presentation that stressed the high caliber of the education (as well as the 98 percent graduation rate among the 9,000 Jewish teens from 32 countries who had enrolled since the program started 12 years ago) David signed up and became one of the first six North Americans admitted to the Elite Academy program.
"The presentation made the point that it was a good program and that students would learn Jewish history," said David’s father, Aaron, who said his son has little knowledge of Judaism or Jewish history.
"I’m a little concerned because the situation in Israel is not that stable, but we hope nothing will happen," said Aaron Gokar. "He will be in a school near Tel Aviv and he will not be going to the territories. We believe he will be safe and will get a much better education than he would in the New York City public schools."
This year was the first time the all-expenses-paid program was offered to North American teenagers. It is sponsored by the Jewish Agency and the Israeli Ministry of Education.
"People had said that no American family would send their teenagers to Israel for three years of high school," said Michael Landsberg, executive director of the North American Aliyah Delegation of the Jewish Agency. "We had only 60 days [of recruitment], and we feel comfortable that those who were accepted are going to pass the program."
He noted that 40 youngsters applied and that six were accepted for this yearís class of 700. But he said applications may still be submitted through next week by contacting his office (212 339-6066).
Students are offered the chance to choose among 50 leading high schools in the country. The students live in dormitory housing, supervised by the Israel Ministry of Education, and have host families they can visit on weekends.