Ana Friberg (16) embodies the meaning of the word ‘multi-cultural. She was born in Russia to a Russian mother and Swedish father who met in Israel. During her short life, she has lived in at least four countries, including Majorca near Spain, and Germany, where she lived for seven years before coming to Israel to finish high school at Naale Elite Academy. She speaks five languages – German, Spanish, English, Russian and Hebrew – but cannot call any of them her ‘mother-tongue’, even if her mother is Russian and it was the first language she learned.
Ana is now in 11th grade, her second year at Naale Elite Academy, and her Hebrew, which her father spoke to her as a child, is now fluent. She and her parents decided Israel was the best place for her to finish high school because of their nomadic way of life.
“Because we moved around so much, I never had the chance to be with other Jews,” Ana says. “We lived in places where there weren’t so many Jews, like Majorca. My father was the only rabbi in the whole country and he always wanted me to be with other Jews, to celebrate holidays with them, like Chanukah, Pesach…
“So he looked around for a long time to find a place for me to go. He heard about Naale from a friend and so we came to Israel to see the place. I really liked the idea because I wanted to be with other Jews, I didn’t want to be the only Jew in the whole school anymore.”
In the beginning, Ana found it hard to be without her family. “My family is very important to me. The only thing that didn’t change in my life when we moved was my family, and then suddenly, I didn’t have them. But everyone here was in the same situation and so they understood, which made it much easier,” she says. And her grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins live in Israel, which helps when she’s missing her immediate family. There is also plenty support for students from Naale staff. “The madrichim are great. I talk to them often and they’re really helpful.”
At Naale, she has made many friends from different countries, which means she has been able to practice all her languages very often, something she really enjoys. She also loves the fact that she gets to celebrate all the Jewish holidays with other Jews.
The past year and a half has changed Ana in many ways. She feels she’s become more independent and more mature. “Before, I had my parents who would tell me what to do. Now I have to be more independent. I take care of my money; when I have to go to the doctor, I have to get there by myself; if I want to be healthy, I’m going to have to eat healthy. It’s my decision now – how to eat, how to dress, what’s the right thing to do, when I go to friends…
“I have to make my own choices about what is right for me and what is the right way. And yes, it’s hard, and sometimes I wish my Mom was here to tell me what to do, but now I’m learning from my own mistakes so I’m not going to repeat them again, and that’s good.”
Ana believes Naale has so much to offer and it’s a great experience for those who choose this path. “I think that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and it’s only three years. Not everyone has a chance to do this and it’s an amazing experience. You won’t regret it,” she says.
“Maybe there will be days when you say: ‘Why did I do it?’, but in the end, you will be very happy that you did. It really helps you for your future – getting to know yourself better, gaining self-confidence, learning about other people and about life, learning about Israel and your culture as Jews. It’s really fantastic and I think a lot more should do it. There is no place like Israel. I’ve been in so many places and you can’t compare anywhere to Israel. I really like it here and I’m happy that I’m in this program.”
Ana plans to join the IDF when she finishes school because she feels it’s important. “The country has given me a place here, to learn, to sleep, to eat, and I don’t even have to pay for it,” she says. “I want to do something to give back, so I really want to go to the army. After that, I don’t know. I can imagine studying at university here. Maybe. Why not? Life has so many surprises. I didn’t know I would live in so many places. Not even my parents knew, so I’m going to let myself be surprised with what happens next.”