After two-year lapse, teens will head to Israel for Y2I Adventure

 

Teens get to know each other during Y2I pre-trip meetings.

By Shelley A. Sackett

BEVERLY — Over the last two years, the pandemic has clipped the wings of many a traveler, including rising sophomores and juniors who had hoped to go on Lappin Foundation’s 12-day, fully subsidized Youth to Israel Adventure.

Established in 1970 by the late philanthropist Robert Israel Lappin as a way to build Jewish pride, connect young people to Israel, and imbue them with a sense of love and responsibility for their Jewish brethren, the trip has become a rite of passage for teens who live in any of the Lappin Foundation’s north of Boston service area’s cities and towns.

Despite lingering concerns about COVID-19, the Y2I trip will resume from June 26 to July 8, with 83 teens from 31 communities and 41 high schools. More than one-third are from interfaith families, and Camp Bauercrest campers will join Y2I for the third time.

“Community building is a big part of the trip,” said Lappin Foundation Executive Director Deborah L. Coltin, who has supervised Y2I since 2006.

Coltin acknowledges that the big difference between 2022 and previous Y2I trips has to do with COVID-19 precautions. While the pre-trip meetings and trip itinerary remain largely unchanged, testing, mandatory proof of vaccinations and boosters, and contingency plans in case anyone tests positive prior to departure from Israel provide added layers of safety.

“We will abide by the rules of travel that are in effect at the time. Other than that, the trip will be full of activity, exploration, new friends, and self-discovery,” Coltin said.

Danvers High School sophomore Norah Hass is not worried about any aspect of the trip. She learned about it from her brother Jared, who made the trip in 2019, and welcomed the opportunity to meet more Jewish teens. “Danvers has a very small Jewish community, so this will be a nice change,” she said. She is most excited to swim in the Dead Sea, which she has heard is “something everyone should experience once in their lifetime.”

An informal discussion during a pre-trip Y2I meeting.

Ariana Selby, whose two teens Jackson, 17, and Talia, 15, will travel with Y2I on the trip, likewise has no concerns about her children’s safety. “The Y2I teams has been extremely informative and transparent throughout the process of planning and arranging travel,” the Marblehead mom said. “Israel is known for its superior healthcare system, so I am not worried about COVID-19.”

Her youngest, Nathan, 13, is looking forward to his turn in a few years. Selby hopes her teens grow together as siblings during the trip and make lasting bonds with other travelers. “I also hope they are inspired to form a deeper connection to their Jewish roots,” she added.

While Claudia Granville, of Boston, is a full-throated supporter of both the Lappin Foundation and the Y2I experience, she is a little worried about what would happen if her daughter Mabel, 16, tested positive in Israel and had to stay in a designated hotel until testing negative, but is optimistic the policy may have changed by July.

Even so, Mabel and her family remain enthusiastic about her upcoming opportunity, which Granville calls “a foundational trip for Jewish teenagers growing up in this time” amid the profound prevalence of antisemitism and anti-Zionism. “It is essential for our teens to be exposed to and experience Israel in a positive light, especially before college,” she said. She hopes Mabel, who plans to join Lappin Foundation’s Teen Antisemitism Task Force next year, will learn enough to return home with “talking points when she is inevitably faced with anti-Israel rhetoric.”

For Elizabeth Cushinsky and her four children, Y2I is a family affair. Seth, 17, will follow in his three sisters’ footsteps when he attends Y2I this summer. She has no concerns for Seth’s physical safety while in Israel, but she is concerned about COVID-19 and the fact that he and his fellow travelers will be traveling on a plane, touring in buses, and staying in hotels.

“This is a trip of a lifetime for him. There is no question that the benefits outweigh the risks,” the Marblehead mom said.

She hopes Y2I inspires Seth to join Hillel in college and continue enjoying and practicing his Judaism as he grows older. “Even living in a Jewish area on the North Shore, we struggle to bring our children up in a largely Christian world. It gets even more challenging as they grow older,” Cushinsky said, noting with pride that Seth wears a mezuzah around his neck every day.

To Cushinsky, Y2I’s focus on inclusivity is as noteworthy as its emphasis on Jewish pride. “They go out of their way to make sure all teens feel welcome and supported, regardless of their needs [social, emotional, or related to another type of disability]. The supports are kept low key, so teens don’t feel different than anyone else on the trip,” she said.

Teens discover their Jewish identity on Youth to Israel journey

By Shelley A. Sackett

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2017 Y2I participants dance on the Haas Promenade in Jerusalem during their ‘Welcome to Jerusalem’ ceremony. The trip included 109 teens from 28 communities.

 

 

Josh Tabenkin didn’t want to go on the Youth to Israel Adventure trip. He even skipped one of the mandatory pre-trip meetings, half hoping that infraction might get him booted out of the program. He ultimately decided to go because he was afraid he would regret it if he didn’t for the rest of his life.

 

After two weeks in Israel, the Georgetown Middle-High School 11th grader returned a different person.

 

“You learn about how great Israel is over all these years, but you really don’t believe it until you see it. I now feel I have a home and a place to go where I’ll always be accepted,” he said. “Being a Jew is more than a religion. I am changed in a Jewish way.”

 

Which is exactly the kind of transformation philanthropist Robert Israel Lappin hoped teens would experience when he created the Y2I program in 1971.

 

soldier-talk

2013 Y2I alumnus Jon Cohen, who is currently a Lone Soldier in the IDF, spoke to 2017 Y2I teens and encouraged them to defend Israel by being Israel advocates. Pictured, from left: Jonah Spritz of Swampscott, Colby Tarbox, Ian Shevory of Marblehead and Cohen.

 

“Y2I teens come back from Israel prouder and stronger Jews and eager to support Israel. Israel builds Jewish pride in our teens where none existed before. Israel inspires kids to stay Jewish. Israel connects teens to our Jewish Family and Israel inspires them to keep the Jewish chain of tradition going,” he said.

 

A stated goal of Y2I is to “inspire teens to stay Jewish, to marry Jewish, and to raise their own children Jewish.” To that end, it gives local teens a means and a reason to get together. “It’s a beautiful thing to see so many North Shore teens connect with one another and become fast friends. Were it not for Y2I, most would never meet,” Lappin said.

 

Open to Jewish sophomores or juniors in high school who live in or are members of a temple in any of 23 cities or towns, Y2I is considered a rite de passage for Jewish North Shore teens. More than 2,500 teens have taken the fully subsidized trip since its inception as Let’s Go Israel in 1971.

 

The 2017 trip included 109 teens from 28 communities and 38 high schools. Y2I is open to all, regardless of level of Jewish observance, education, and affiliation and, thanks to a 2017 grant from the Ruderman Family Foundation, disabilities.

 

Deborah Coltin is executive director of the Lappin Foundation and has led 12 Y2I trips over the program’s life. The two-week trip combines education, adventure, history and fun in a packed itinerary that includes visits to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, a Bedouin Village, the Sea of Galilee, and Masada.

 

“A big challenge is wanting to do more and see more during our time in Israel. With thirteen days on the ground and only 24 hours in a day, there is only so much we can do and see, and we do and see a lot!” she said. The 2017 trip also included activities such group building and leadership development, and Israeli dance sessions that tell the story of Israeli history and culture through dance.

 

Although Y2I offers participants the opportunity to have a Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall, none from the 2017 signed up in advance. After less than a week in Israel, several changed their minds. “It was beautiful how Israel made them feel this way not even one week into the trip,” she said.

 

Tony Gluskin, who never had a Bar Mitzvah at home in Marblehead, pinpointed the event of wrapping tefillin, reading a prayer with Rabbi Bernie and receiving a blessing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem as the single Y2I experience that had the most impact on him as a Jew.

 

“I felt a connection like never before, like I was crossing a bridge and strengthening my Jewish identity,” the Marblehead High School 11th grader said. “It all came together to give me a once in a lifetime feeling.”

 

Being at the Wall, touching it and putting a note to his grandfather in one of its crevices was “one of the coolest experiences I ever had,” according to Tabenkin. “I just felt so connected with the country and my people.”

American and Israeli teens spent fours days together in mifgash, a Hebrew word that means, “encounter.” Coltin witnessed the strong bonds formed over such a short time. “The mifgash is about feeling part of the Jewish Family, regardless of where we live,” she said.

Gluskin was struck by how similar American and Israeli teenagers are. “We talk about the same stuff, like the same music, enjoy the same things,” he said. He was also struck by an important difference.

 

“Once we graduate high school, we go onto college, but once they graduate, they go to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. It was fascinating seeing the affect that has on their daily lives.”

 

For Katie Cohen, of Peabody, seeing people who were not much older than herself wearing IDF uniforms and carrying guns “showed me up-close how different it is to grow up in America versus Israel.”

 

Most of the teens were surprised by how safe they felt in Israel. “The Israel they saw and experienced was not the Israel they saw on the news,” Coltin said. “Some expected Israel to be like a military state with armed soldiers roaming the streets.”

 

The rigors of a summer tour in Israel had its own physical tests. For Gluskin, the 6 a.m. wakeup call was his biggest challenge. “During the summer I like to sleep a lot,” he said. For Cohen, it was the heat, which she doesn’t think she could ever get used to completely.

 

With the heat, however, came the chance to float in the Dead Sea, Cohen’s favorite experience of the trip. “I’m not that great of a swimmer, so for the first time I could float comfortably without a floaty,” the Peabody Veterans Memorial High School 11th grader said with a laugh.

 

On a more serious note, another goal of Y2I is to equip teens to be Israel advocates and ambassadors. Following their trip to Israel, they are invited to enroll in the Foundation’s free Teen Israel Advocacy Fellows program, where they can participate in advanced Israel Advocacy training.

 

“My wish is that every Jewish teen in the U.S. could experience Israel, which would remedy the growing divide between the American community and Israel,” Lappin said. Coltin is excited by the number of teens who have expressed their interest in continuing in the 2017 post-trip advocacy program.

 

Her biggest reward, however, still comes from establishing a connection between Israel and North Shore Jewish teens who now have new friends, their own personal stories about Israel, and the tools and techniques to stand up for Israel and for themselves as Jews.

 

“Y2I continues to weave its magic,” Coltin said. According to Tabenkin, so does she. “This whole trip would not happen if it weren’t for Debbie. She gave me the gift of Israel,” he said.

 

 

 

 

Y2I is funded by Lappin Foundation, Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation, Robert Israel Lappin, Combined Jewish Philanthropies and more than 900 donors to the Foundation’s annual campaign. The Morton and Lillian Waldfogel Charitable Foundation provides funds for families in need to cover ancillary costs.