To: Rabbi Horowitz
From: Yitzi and Rivky
We both spent time in Eretz Yisroel after high school and found it to be a wonderful experience.
When our children were younger, we always assumed that we would send each of them to Eretz Yisroel for at least a year after high school. Now, with our eldest child (a boy) in 12th grade, we are not so sure that this is the right move.
Last year, we were in Yerushalayim (during the school year) attending a family simcha and we walked through the Ben Yehudah mall on several nights (11 pm-1 am) just to see for ourselves what we had heard about from our friends. We were shocked at the ‘scene’ and are concerned about the notion of sending our son so far from home at the age of 18. There was lots of drinking, smoking, and frum kids going to and from clubs. We are naturally quite worried.
We appreciate the tone of candor in your columns and would love to hear your straight talk on this subject.
Rabbi Horowitz Responds
Here are some final pointers on sending your children to Eretz Yisroel:
As with all other areas of life, preparation and thorough planning are critical to the success of your child's year in Eretz Yisroel. I strongly recommend that you do your due diligence and carefully research any program that you are considering. Often, parents get intimidated by the many choices and feel unprepared or unequipped to make appropriate choices for themselves. You ought not feel that way. There is much that you can do to familiarize yourself with the strengths and weaknesses of the various schools.
Often, the best way to do so is by good old-fashioned networking. Spend some time speaking to parents who have recently send kids to Eretz Yisroel, and perhaps more importantly to young men and women who have recently returned from a year in Eretz Yisroel. Doing so will allow you to collect valuable information from two perspectives rather than just one. (I have observed that many or most parents do a considerable amount of networking with fellow parents but do not actually speak to the ‘consumers’ – the kids who have actually spent time in Eretz Yisroel.) Another excellent venue to pursue is to collect information from high school teachers and/or principals who regularly send their students to Eretz Yisroel. After all, they get to see how their students have done during their time there.
Many of the yeshivos and seminaries send key administration members to North America and Europe to interview and/or recruit students for their programs. Some even hold forums where groups of parents can meet administration members to inquire about their programs and ask any questions they may have. It is certainly well worth the time and effort to attend these forums.
I would strongly suggest that if you have the time and resources, plan a trip to Eretz Yisroel while your son or daughter is in 12th grade so that you can visit the schools and see the various programs for yourself. Nothing will give you a better understanding of the programs as actually ‘kicking the tires’ and seeing things for yourself. While you are there, I suggest that you think out-of-the-box a bit when doing your due diligence. One idea would be to invite some of your friends’ children or extended family members who are spending ‘the year’ in Eretz Yisroel to dinner. I can assure you that they will be more than eager to join you in a restaurant. And, for the price of a meal (OK; several meals) you will get a wealth of information on the various programs if you ask the right questions. (If money is a factor, take a few girls out rather than boys. Four girls will split a few salads, while the boys will order several main dishes each J)
One of my close friends was quite innovative (read: devious) and actually asked each and every Israeli cab driver he retained during his trip for his opinion of which schools have adequate supervision and which do not. He proudly told me of his idea when he returned to the States, and said that he got the best ‘intel’ from the cabbies, each of whom had a remarkable wealth of knowledge of which programs hold the kids accountable and which do not.
While your child is 6,000 miles from home, one of the (many) balancing acts that you must do as a parent is to allow you child independence while maintaining an appropriate level of contact and supervision.
Most schools in Eretz Yisroel (especially the seminaries) insist that the students have cell phones with them at all times for 1) security reasons and 2) to be able to contact them should they need to. I would recommend that you get a phone for your child that has text message capacity – and learn to text message if you have not yet done so. This will enable you to communicate with your son or daughter in a less intrusive manner. This is not to suggest that you should not talk regularly. But it does allow for more communication without becoming overbearing. If you are paying for the Eretz Yisroeli cell phone, ask that a copy of each bill be sent or emailed to your home so you can review it. (Tell your child that you will be reviewing his/her bill, so it does not seem like you are ‘snooping’ behind their back.)
As much as regular phone communication is important, I believe that you should not allow six months ago going by without you or someone close to you seeing you child in person. If you have the wherewithal to go yourself(ves), by all means do so. Many of the schools in Eretz Yisroel have a midwinter break of sorts when kids can spend time with visiting parents. If you cannot go, your friends or relatives in Eretz Yisroel create venues to meet you children. Staying in touch is always a good idea.
© 2008 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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