Making Aliyah with your teen

Parenting Advice from Street Graffiti in Ra'anana (courtesy).

Your choice to move your teen to Israel can have two options. Success…or fabulous success. Bringing your teen to Israel as an Oleh/Olah is doable, possible, and amazing. I’m sure you are waiting for the “But” so here it is — success is going to look very different.

Recently at one of our family’s first post-COVID gatherings with friends, a fellow teen parent related to me that their child was having some adjustment issues in the military. The parent joked, if they only had a parent-teacher conference, we could solve this in a minute!  But self-reliance, responsibility, and resilience are the name of the game for Olim teens and the payoff is huge.

Here are three ideas to consider.

Social, Social, Social: In the first year, just focus on social. As a parent, you can’t make friends for your kids, but you can ensure they are connected, put in a position to succeed, and even directed towards the families you know share similar parenting styles. This likely starts in where you choose to live and then is influenced by the concentric circles of schools, finding a place to daven with a “community” feel, and even meeting willing neighbors ready to help. 

A key to our family’s success was NCSY in Israel. Long a staple of the USA Jewish community, NCSY now boasts 5 chapters across Israel with an emphasis on helping Olim teens make sense of their new home.  While the programming focuses on building strong social networks, it also helps teens navigate their new responsibilities like national service, making a personal connection with Judaism and Zionism, and even learning to take public transportation with humor and mentorship.

Redefine Success:  When Tiger Woods was a very small child learning to golf, his father recalculated what “par” could be on the golf course. In doing so, he took a gigantic challenge and turned it into manageable bites where his child could succeed.  Manageable bites may look different to every family. 

In our experience, these small wins may include preparing your teen to self-advocate in a rough and tumble high school environment. It may mean a recognition that a tutor or mentor can turn a mystery into a positive adventure. Finally, it may mean that while your teen may have thrived in school back home, she might benefit from making different choices about school priorities and advanced courses than you would have elsewhere. We benefited from a long-term engagement with Olim Advisors who have prepared us to help our teens self-advocate and navigate some of these challenges. 

It’s Different for Teens:  It just is. Freedom is balanced with responsibility and expectations in very different ways. And that freedom comes early and fast. Whether it’s letting your teen travel to meet friends a few towns over or just deciding that 4th grade really is the best time to give a kid a smartphone.

Our experience with this has been positive so far. I love watching our teen & pre-teen organize their own lives (even during COVID). It’s amazing to see them take responsibility in ways I’d never imagined like setting up a socially distanced drive-in movie night or Shabbat afternoon gathering of the neighborhood COVID puppies.  As a parent, often I feel the biggest difference in Israel in my role is to provide guardrails, not guidelines to help my kids make wise decisions. This is absolutely something I’ve learned from our new network of friends.

There is no shortage of stories of aliyah for teens that were bumpy or even did not go well. As a country, it seems like there is an ever-increasing number of resources available for both parents and teens to help ease the adjustment in new and exciting ways. Google it, query your social network, turn to experts and friends…and ask for help.

We made aliyah from an amazing community in Oakland, California. We made a hard choice to become Olim and then chose a well-worn path to a soft landing in a community built to absorb Anglos. That was our choice and so far so good. But that was our journey and I pray for fabulous success on yours.

To see a recording of a recent 1-hour webinar on Successfully Making Aliyah With Teenagers and Raising Them In Israel, please watch here: 

About the Author
Dan is a veteran public relations, political communications and media strategist. He founded Full Court Press Communications 20 years ago. He is also the host of Mindful Work - a podcast at the intersection of Mindfulness, Jewish Thought, and Business. He resides in Israel.
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