Send Jewish American High School Students to Learn in Israel: A Good Idea or No?

This post is really meant to hear other ideas than it is to state an opinion.

Having a background in the Orthodox Jewish world, reading ancient Hebrew texts is an important part of my day to day life. Delving into what the Tanakh, Mishna, Talmud, and various commentaries say is supposed to help direct my life. Yet, study of the texts is a chore. After all, the language is foreign to me; creating a hurdle that must be overcome in order to understand what is being said. Reading over sentences multiple times to gain a basic understanding is not an uncommon theme. Catching the nuances of the language used is even harder.

I also know I’m not alone in this.

But recently I came to Israel to study in a semi-Israeli environment. The study remains a chore, but changes in my study have become quickly apparent. I obviously still have hurdles to overcome, but catching the nuances became easier; at least in hindsight– using what I currently understand and matching it to what I read.

The reason for this is simple, my understanding of the language itself has improved markedly; and it continues to improve.

It got me thinking…

Is it any surprise that all the winners of the Chidon Hatanakh (The international test on the Hebrew bible) are Israeli? Of course not. They have a natural grasp of the language to begin with. While for Americans and anybody who does not speak and read Hebrew on a daily basis, merely picking up the book is a chore.

But what if Jews decided to send their children for a year or two in high school? Grasp of the language would be a natural reality, and basic understanding would skyrocket. Everybody knows that living in a country where a language is used daily is a far better tactic to learning a language than taking a class. The fact that high school students are still relatively malleable will mean that they gain more than if/when they come at an older age.

Then I thought, “I’m thinking too small. I’m thinking within only my small little world of Orthodox Jewry. There are plenty of reasons for secular Jews to send their kids as well.”

Most salient, of course, is that Israel is the strongest coagulant today that binds Jews together. Feeling the land, speaking the language, being part of the family that is the Jewish Nation strengthens one’s feelings for Judaism.

Other reasons, such as broadening future possibilities in cooperation with companies within Israel also exist.

And, of course, a wider of the understanding of life in Israel and the conflict will come about as well.

I realize that such high school programs out there exist. However, I’m wondering why it isn’t more pervasive in the Jewish world. The benefits seem great but the amount of people I know who have taken the route of sending their kids to Israel to study in high school is small; very small.

What are your thoughts?

About the Author
Meir is a Political Science graduate of Lander College for Men (A Touro College branch in Queens NY) and a recent Oleh