Teen finds ‘home’ in Israeli high school

Tucsonan Haya Gibly (kneeling, in grey pants) with other Naale Elite Academy students upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on Sept. 2. (Photo courtesy Raquel Gibly)

It’s usually college students who undertake the challenges of studying abroad, but ever since she was in fifth grade Haya Gibly was determined to go to high school in Israel.

Haya, 14, recently started attending Mosenson high school in Israel, an opportunity she found through the Naale program.

The Naale Elite Academy program, co-funded by the State of Israel and the Jewish Agency, allows Jewish students from all over the world to receive their high school education in Israel on full scholarships.

“I’ve always liked the Israeli culture, people, and I wanted to experience this. Israel has always felt like home and going to high school there seemed like a great opportunity,” Haya says.

The opportunities for Haya at Mosenson include a comprehensive Hebrew education and an internationally recognized diploma after graduation, but most important is the ability to actualize her dream of living in Israel.

She was referred to the Naale program by her Jewish online school teacher, who taught her Torah and Hebrew. 

Haya’s mother, Raquel Gibly, says that she and Haya’s father, Zakai Gibly, initially reacted to the proposition with a resounding “no.” They thought she was too young for a study abroad program.

Zakai had attended a boarding school in Israel so he understood the challenges that Haya would face, says Raquel. But Haya’s determination persuaded them to see the opportunities the program would afford.

“There’s no Jewish education in this city for [Orthodox high school] kids, we’re limited here,” Raquel says.

Haya’s willingness to research the program on her own and her dedication to get accepted convinced her parents that she would be successful in the program.

“I think that they see this as a good opportunity for me and a great way for me to perfect my Hebrew and move to the place I have always wanted to live in. My parents are very supportive of me and everything that I do here,” Haya says.

Raquel says the Naale program is very well organized and the representatives made it a priority to be available for any concerns the family had.

Once Haya’s parents felt confident in the program, they began going through the interview process and exploring the schools that were offered.

The Naale program offers a range of high schools for students to choose from: coed, single-sex, dormitories on campus, and even STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) specializations.

It also includes a range of schools available to students depending on observance, Raquel says. The Giblys started narrowing down schools based on the family’s Orthodox observance.

Haya had her own criteria, too.

“I preferred living on campus, so me and my parents decided that Mosenson was the best option for me,” says Haya.

The program’s grade level system is similar to the American school system: ninth grade is a transitional year and 10th-12th grade are considered high school years with graduation in 12th grade.

Although the grading levels were familiar enough, Haya’s  adjustment to Mosenson was still a challenge.

“The mathematical system here in Israel is very different than anywhere else. Instead of separating math by subjects (algebra, geometry, calculus), here, math is all integrated and you learn it by grade level and by intensity,” she says.

Another big adjustment was entering the boarding school environment.

Haya had previously attended Sunrise Drive Elementary School and Orange Grove Middle School in Tucson.

“Back home my school life and home life were separated but here I live with the same people that I go to school with,” she says. “The hardest part is not being able to make a midnight trip to the kitchen.”

Although Haya doesn’t have the freedom to execute the late-night snack ritual, she says she’s becoming more independent.

And if she does feel isolated, on weekends or holidays she’s able to visit her sister, Sophie Gibly, along with some cousins, aunts, and uncles who currently live in Israel.

Sophie, 26, is currently working on her second degree in Tel Aviv.

Haya says she keeps in touch with her four siblings and parents through the WhatsApp phone application.

“I know that my family and friends will always be there for me no matter the distance or how long we haven’t been able to see each other,” she says.

Since Haya left for Israel on Sept. 1, her parents have visited twice, but she is currently back in Tucson for her Pesach break.

“We are very proud of Haya, this was all her idea and she has stuck to it,” says Raquel.

Regarding her future, Haya is unsure about college but she would like to join the Israeli army, says Raquel.

“We will be proud of her no matter what her choice, but if she chooses to be in Israel permanently, we will be fully supportive,” Raquel says.