A family of new olim is only “as happy as its unhappiest child.” One of the greatest challenges to young families making aliyah is the adjustment of their children to the new world into which they were introduced. Children may rise to the occasion easily or find the new world confusing and challenging. For children approaching their teens and in their teen years, being uprooted from their peers and known lifestyle can be most disruptive and difficult.
Rabbi David Samson, a native of Baltimore, had the zchut of learning with Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook. He went on to serve as a ram at the high school of the renowned Yeshiva Mercaz HaRav Kook. During his years of instruction at the yeshiva, he was privileged to learn with bright and motivated students. At some point, he realized that there is another side to the coin. As an American oleh himself, he assessed a need for a program to address the emotional and academic needs of children, particularly teens, of recent olim from America and other English-speaking countries including Australia, England, Canada and South Africa. His goal was to provide a “soft-landing” for these teens before they might “fall through the cracks.”
To this goal, almost 11 years ago, Rabbi Samson founded Yerushalayim Torah Academy (YTA). Located on the campus of Yeshivat Netiv Meir in Bayit Vegan, YTA’s mission is to meet the challenge of ensuring the successful absorption of English-speaking sons of new olim. Through accommodating their language needs, and taking into account their needs for adjustment, the school is able to promote a love of limud Torah, and provide a high standard of scholastic achievement. Whenever possible the students of YTA learn alongside the students of Netiv Meir, creating a bond and camaraderie between them. Thus the YTA students are provided with the confidence and security to acclimate fully to life in Israel.
In promoting his mission, Rabbi Samson sought out rebbeim and instructors who could carry out the program on a daily basis. Rabbi Bezalel Borstein, a native of St. Louis, was brought in to YTA and has served as principal of the boys school since its inception. Rabbi Borstein attended the Telz Yeshiva in Chicago and Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh. At Yeshiva University he earned a BA in computers, and went on to earn his semicha and an MA in Jewish education as well as a degree in counseling. He made aliyah in 1987 and resides with his family in Alon Shvut.
The classes at YTA are kept to approximately 15 students per grade to allow for individual attention. Through a three-level approach to limudei kodesh, the students are able to develop the skills needed for Gemara and Tanach study. The three options offered are English instruction with Hebrew texts, shiurim in easy Hebrew and eventually all Hebrew instruction, often with the students of Netiv Meir. All of the rebbeim in the YTA program are bilingual and olim themselves. Limudei chol, secular studies, are also taught by English-speaking instructors and include the study of English literature and composition, math, science, computer science and Hebrew language. YTA students sit for the bagruyot, comprehensive exams, alongside their native Israeli peers. A broad program of extracurricular activities includes many tiyulim, as well as chesed opportunities that are offered throughout the high school years. Sports, including basketball and weight-lifting, are integrated into the daily schedule and the school boasts a flag-football team.
Rabbi Jeremy Spierer, a Kew Gardens Hills native, now residing with his family in Neve Daniel, serves as a ram for the 11th grade. He also serves as the point man to help the graduates decide upon post-high school options such as yeshivot, mechina programs, IDF opportunities and higher education. Many YTA graduates have served in elite units in the IDF including quite a number who have reached the rank of commander and officer. Rabbi Sinai Prebor and Rabbi Joel Cohen, former principal of SAR Elementary School, serve as ninth and 12th grade rebbes.
A parallel girls YTA program is housed in Ulpanat Tal Ramot in Jerusalem. Headed by Dr. Lisa Fredman, herself an olah, now residing with her family in Efrat, the girls program very much parallels that of the boys program. Graduates of the girls YTA go on to serve in Sherut Leumi, religious army programs and study in midrashot across the country. Many pursue professional degrees.
Both YTA programs have met with great success during these past 11 years. This success of the programs can be easily measured by the statistic that 100% of the program’s graduates have remained in Israel. Some of the early graduates of YTA have gone on to marry and establish families throughout the country.
A tribute by Dassi Be’eri, superintendent of Religious Secondary Education for the Israel Ministry of Education, commented, “The efforts that the YTA administration and staff invest in each and every student and the variety of educational methods employed to ensure that each student is able to enhance his /her academic knowledge and further his/her academic growth is extraordinary.”
By Pearl Markovitz