The Place Where I Belong
Analysis of the Ability of the Israeli Educational System of the Modern Orthodox Sector to Provide Support for Religious Olim

Michelle Berkowitz

This is the first half of a two-year project that will be a research directory of schools that run programs for parents who are searching for educational/emotional support for the pre-adolescent and adolescent age oleh. Teenagers of Anglo-Saxon olim that move to predominantly Anglo-Saxon communities exhibit unique risk factors because of the compounding stresses of their pre-adolescent stage and acclimating to a totally new culture. These risks include: teens turning to the street, sex, substance and drug abuses, disregard for normal routine and straying from their religious convictions. My methods included interviews with school administrators, health care professionals, teenage olim and their parents. My goal was to investigate whether schools provide programs focused on identifying and supporting Anglo-Saxon teenage olim at risk.

At the end of two years, the report will serve as a resource for Anglo-Saxon olim parents and their teens. It will provide direction in the search for various supports within the school system. These include academic, psychological, social and emotional aids. This directory will be applicable to parents and their teenagers who are exhibiting signs of crises and also for those teens at greater risk simply because they are olim.

It appears that olim who immigrate to predominantly Anglo-Saxon communities are more at risk than those who move to Israeli neighborhoods. These children maintain much of their American culture, which may help initially. However, it also gets in the way of their acclimating into mainstream Israeli society.

Teenagers of olim that move to predominantly Anglo-Saxon communities exhibit unique risk factors because of the compounding stresses of their pre-adolescent stage combined with the stresses of acclimating to a totally new culture. Evidence seems to point to the trend that children who begin their studies pre-aliya and continue in Israel are at greater risk than those who make aliya before the initiation of formal schooling. There is pressure to become proficient in Hebrew. This affects them socially and academically. Instead of their expected carefree teenage years they are shadowed by the impending obligation of army service. There is also the pressure to find their identities and express themselves as Americans in an Israeli culture. These teens must be encouraged and supported in their search for positive ways to assert themselves and helped to attain a sense of control over their changing environments.

Schools and parents can detect early warning signs and work towards preventing children from initiating destructive behaviors. These warning signs may include the following: Poor self esteem, depression, chronic boredom, irritability, eating and sleeping disorders, substance abuse and running away from home. Schools that run programs/workshops and confront these issues provide youths with the means to overcoming these problems. Children meet with greater success when parents and schools work in a concerted effort on their behalf.

Interviews with parents of teenagers, Junior-High and High School administrators, teens, and adults who made aliyah when they were adolescents provided the material for analysis. Educators were asked regarding their interventions and kids and parents were asked about their expectations from the schools. Are the schools fulfilling their promises to provide their students with a complete educational experience? Are the schools meeting the expectations of the students and their parents and are they helping the children meet their personal goals? Adults who made aliya when they were teenagers can give information about how they made the transition from feeling like and American oleh to being an Israeli oleh.


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