By Dr. Michael J. Salamon
Avir d’yisroel machkim – The very air of Israel brings us to wisdom. We have developed a tradition to send our children away to Israel, usually for a year of intensive study after they complete high school. Despite the fact that many of these students are in their late teens or older, sending a child off to Israel for a year is often a leap of faith for parents, because it is typically the first time that these children are so far away for such an extended period. Some parents make a point of visiting their children in Israel over the chagim but many do not. Many children have had the experience of being away from home before, having gone to sleep away camp for a month or two every summer for many years. Sleep away camp however, is different, there are several visiting days interspersed and while in camp, the children are allegedly in a protected environment. In camp the objectives are socialization, friendship and fun. While important, these are not the primary goals for the year away in Israel. When we entrust our children to the schools in Israel, we are sending them to people, often strangers, with the primary goals of helping them grow in learning, maturing in character and gaining in wisdom.
Parents have expressed many fears about the process of the year, or two, away. These include how well the child will adjust to the new schedule, will there be too much or too little academic work, will there be the right food to eat, will they feel comfortable making new friends, what the dorm situation is, will they be exposed to some bad people or threatening situations, and will there be sufficient supervision? Perhaps the biggest concern I have heard from parents is if the child will “flip out.” Parents spend a great deal of time and energy on these concerns. They make plans to visit during winter break and bring their child home for Pesach. Children tend to handle most of the issues fairly well, knowing that they are going through a process that has become a tradition and generally express fewer fears than their parents.