Eleven students from MTA's tenth grade class headed to JFK Airport on December 15th 2012 to fly to Israel as participants in the five-year-old Makor Chaim Exchange Program. The program consists of six weeks of intensive learning and traveling with Israeli students from the Makor Chaim Yeshiva in Kfar Etzion. Two MTA students from Bergenfield, Aryeh Burg and Zev Markowitz, were among them.
Aryeh told Jewish Link of Bergen County that the purpose of the program is twofold. First, the boys are expected to apply the learning methods used at the Makor Chaim Yeshiva upon their return to their MTA classrooms. Secondly, the activities are designed to inspire students to have a deeper connection and love for Israel. Aryeh, who has been to Israel many times, including on various summer programs, commented, "My past experiences in Israel, I was visited the country as an American. This time, it was a brand new experience." The big difference, he said, is that the American students are fully immersed in Israeli society and, most importantly, into the Israeli high school system.
To qualify for this elite program, students undergo a process much like their high school application process. They must have a good GPA, write an essay, receive recommendations from previous rabbeim and teachers, and be interviewed. Once they qualify and are accepted, the students embark on a trip of a lifetime.
The American students, shared a large open dormitory room with Israeli students, and participated in an intense daily schedule beginning at 7:00 a.m. The days were often long, concluding around midnight (by choice, of course). The boys study chavrutah style, listen to a shiur, take general studies classes, and weekly tests. After seder erev, the boys play basketball, go running, or simply hang out with their new Israeli friends. Each American student is assigned a host family within the yeshiva with whom they meet on a weekly basis. This gave the boys yet another perspective of life in Israel.
Aryeh was most impressed to see how the students of Makor Chaim truly love being Jewish and are friends with everyone, even with kids from different grades. He also observed the special relationship between students and teachers and their synergy working together on Torah growth. "The whole atmosphere of the yeshiva," sais Aryeh, "was conducive to building self-confidence and respect for one another."
This year in particular, the MTA exchange students were in Israel during a very unique time. They witnessed the worst snowstorm in 20 years, and experienced what it's like in Israel during Knesset elections or "political color-war," as Aryeh called it. The boys quickly realized what it was like to be a Jew living in modern day Israel.
Yeshiva University High School for Girls (Central) offers a similar exchange program at Ulpanat Tzvia in Ma'ale Adumim. This yeshiva strives to inculcate in their students a love for Torah and Israel as well as the acquisition of good midot. The program also includes extracurricular activities as an intrinsic part of the educational program.
Mrs. Tova Rosenberg, the Director of Hebrew language at both MTA and Central High School for Girls, who is also the Founder and Director of the Makor Chaim Exchange Program told Jewishlinks, "When students attend Israel for their year of study post high school they get a taste of Israel. It is vastly different in this experience. They are Israelis for six weeks, fully integrated into the Israeli classroom."
Mrs. Rosenberg explained, "No other yeshiva day school sponsored program offers full immersion. It says a lot about the students' maturity level that they are able to absorb into another culture in just six weeks. This definitely gives them a cutting edge for college."
Since this program is an exchange program, five Israelis from the Makor Chaim Yeshiva's eleventh grade class, join the MTA students for second semester. They are included in all Judaic Studies classes, including informal education. "They are mini-shlichim, working together with the MTA students on leadership training," said Mrs. Rosenberg.
When asked what he will do differently now that he has experienced the Makor Chaim Exchange Program, Aryeh said, "I have brought back with me a more intense love for Israel. I hope eventually to train for the Israeli Army and improve my Hebrew, so I can make Aliyah."
By P’nina Seplowitz