The Israel option

Today in the Jewish world and specifically in Orthodox high schools it is very common for boys to take a year off for time to learn in Israel. The many boys who think of coming to Israel believe they have many options to choose from. Those options which focus on traditional Torah studies to those focused on academic studies, to music, the arts, and much more.

Over the years the Israeli government has recognized the value and potential of these “Gap” years in Israel and together with the Jewish Agency they formed MASA – an organization which provides scholarships and encourages young men to take advantage of this opportunity -The opportunity of getting to know Israel better before they start their academic journey and the rush of adult life.

It is estimated today that around 4000 boys and girls come to Israel after high school for their gap year annually. In the Orthodox and Modern Orthodox world, the percentage of students who decide to spend a year in Israel to learn Torah is higher than that of any other sector and can often reach up to 90% of an entire senior class.  Over the years, students have concentrated on coming to a few select Yeshivot and Seminaries. Most of these institutions are located in the Jerusalem area and its surroundings, and maintain an English atmosphere, which includes American Rabbis, American friends and so on.

Alon Moreshet, a young and driven individual decided that there was a need for something other than the mainstream tradition -something that would cater to those students who needed a different approach and unique experience.  Alon served in the Israeli army for 7 years as a Captain in an elite special force unit. Alon, as a teenager travelling with his parents, spent 3 formative years in the United States where he integrated, made American friends and learnt to understand the American culture on a personal level. As an adult, back in Israel Alon interacts with many Americans studying and living in Israel.  All of these experiences led to the development of a vision – and a few weeks ago this vision was launched – THE ISRAEL OPTION.

We met with Alon to discuss the launch of THE ISRAEL OPTION and find out what its all about.

Q: What is your vision for the Israel Option?

Alon: People who come to Israel believe that the options for learning are limitless - The way I see it there are only 2 options: The American option and the Israel Option. By my definition the American option means that a student comes to Israel to learn Torah in an American environment, with English speaking friends and an American geared program within the many  fantastic Yeshivot which offer these programs. In my opinion, if you are already making the decision to come to Israel for this experience there is so much more to gain in being here. There is another option that a lot of people miss out on – The Israeli Option. This is an opportunity for boys in America to spend a year in Israel within serious Israeli yeshivot and mechinot. Through this integration, they have the life changing experience of close Israeli friends, higher levels of Hebrew learning, experiencing and seeing more of Israel, opening up to the Israeli society, and at the same time learning Torah at the highest level.

Q: Some students may not feel comfortable learning with Israelis, and would prefer the comfort zone – the American students, the English speaking Rabbis and English shiurim – why do you think the Israel Optios is better for them? What advantages do you see with this integrated approach?

Alon: First of all it is important to state that The Israel Option is not for everybody. There are a lot of boys who are open to the idea and want to explore and get more of Israel during their “Gap” year. They embrace being integrated with Israelis, hearing Hebrew all around them, and experiencing a greater connection to Israel. I believe the Israel Option approach provides a great service to both the Americans and the Israelis - they make friends very quickly and it is mutually beneficial for the students to learn one another’s culture and to get to know each other better.

Q: What is the principal of the Israel Option? What do the programs include?

Alon: Israel Option is not a program - it is a joint venture between a few yeshivot (we hope to extend to seminaries as well) where each of the programs which join the Israel Option commit to specific guidelines: The amount of overseas students will be no more than 15% of the student body; The main language of the Yeshiva/Mechina will be Hebrew; The Yeshiva /Mechina will be a Torani environment with its core focus on Halacha, Observance of Mitzvot and a high level of Torah learning; An environment specifically geared for the overseas student – English speaking Rabbis, tailor made classes and suitable chevrutot; For those students looking to prepare themselves for either the IDF or Aliyah we ensure both spiritual and physical preparation, as well as creating the invaluable support system  to guide each student through the bureaucracy and different stages of this process; Israel experiences – getting to know the land of Israel first hand – touring and hiking through Israel; Specialized Ulpan focused on upgrading your grammar and enriching your Torah learning

Q: What about parents who are afraid that sending their children to this type of program would encourage them to make Aliyah? What are your thoughts on this?

Alon: Today a student who attends a traditional Yeshiva program is exposed to the ideal of making Aliyah in the same way as they would be anywhere else. But, in my opinion, the fact that you are in a community that is open about it, where the program addresses the process and has the infrastructure to offer you the support should you decide that you need it, makes your decision an empowered one. I don’t think our program creates any more “risk” than a regular program BUT the difference is that we hand our students the tools they need to make the process a manageable one. They acquire a better level of spoken Hebrew, a deeper integration, a stonger connection to their Yeshiva, which becomes a support system they rely on in their future in Israel.  Each yeshiva or mechina has this structure in place for the student considering Aliyah or drafting into the IDF. Each Israel Option program ensures that the student is not left to fend for himself without his family.

Q: How do you see the future developments of the Israel Option?

Alon: I would like to see that in the near future the option of coming to Israel and learning in such a program will become a more mainstream choice.  It is crucial to me that students realize that there is another way to accomplish what they are looking for and experience their Gap year to the fullest capacity in the way that is most suited to their desires and needs. At the Israel Option we also act as an umbrella organization offering support to the Yeshivot/Mechinot and Seminaries who are a part of our vision – we work together providing the support they need to ensure that they in turn can cater to their students.  At this young stage we have already partnered with 3 Yeshivot/Mechinot (Keshet, Otniel and Torah B’Golan) each offering unique programming. We look forward partnering with many more institutions to expand your Israel Option.

It is my opinion that The Israel Option will open new opportunities for those students who know that the conventional approach to a “year of learning in Israel” is simply not enough or quite the right fit for them.  The Israel Option can be summed up as - One portal, both informative and a channel of communication to quickly and easily determine the best possible alternative for each student. The Israel Option seems to answer to the needs of the student who wants to really “ Live” in Israel during his year, “meet and get to know” Israelis on a real level and integrate while learning at the highest level and experiencing Israel to its fullest. I am hopeful that this new portal will give students broader information to make the best choice for them.

The Israel Option has opened up a whole new element to be explored!


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