Working on the assumption that high school-age youths will forge social bonds more readily than when they get older, a group of 10th graders from America has arrived in Israel to spend six weeks at a Ma'aleh Adumim high school, in the hope that this will strengthen their ties with Israel.
The 10 girls, all students at Yeshiva University High School for Girls in Queens, New York, will attend classes at Ulpanat Tzvia-Ma'aleh Adumim.
Even before their arrival here, the American girls began communicating with their Israeli counterparts via the Internet.
In coming months a group of girls from Ma'aleh Adumim will spend time in New York as part of the exchange program, which was initiated by Rochelle Brand, the principal of the YU high school.
There is a parallel program between YU's high school for boys and the Mekor Haim Yeshiva in Kfar Etzion.
The head of the Tzvia-Noam school network, Rabbi Eitan Eiseman, said that for halachic reasons he normally does not allow students to leave Israel.
"We don't even make trips to Poland to visit the concentration camps," said Eiseman, referring to the Holocaust study trips that have become de rigueur in many high schools.
"But in this case the girls are on an important mission: to encourage their American friends to make aliya. Therefore, we allowed them to leave Israel as shlichot [emissaries] of the Jewish people."
However, Tova Fish-Rosenberg, director of the exchange program, said that while the American parents are "delighted to have their girls come," they don't necessarily want them to emigrate to Israel.
"It is definitely in the back of their minds since the girls receive a Zionist education. But for various reasons it is difficult for some parents to come to terms with the idea that their children might make aliya."
Fish-Rosenberg said that sending Israeli girls to America was an important element of the program, a way of opening them up to a "global Jewish world."
"I believe it is important for Israeli girls, as the future leaders of the Jewish people, to learn about American Jewish culture," said Fish-Rosenberg. "We want to foster ties between the two largest centers of Jewish life."
Emily Kaye, one of the 10 American girls, who is in Israel for the first time, said that her parents supported her trip. But she said that they would probably be sorry if she immigrated.
"They would not want me move too far away from them," said Kaye. "Still, coming to Israel is better than moving to Florida."
According to Avi Widerman, a strategic consultant for Lapid, an umbrella organization for numerous programs that bring high school students here, about 10,000 high school-age students come every year for between three weeks and four months.
Widerman, who said that he received the data from research by Ezra Kopelowitz, said that there were 30 different organizations that worked under the aegis of Lapid.
"It is important to bring students to Israel at this age for two reasons," he said. First, they have not formed their self-identity yet, and second, because it prepares them for challenges they will meet in college."