Jeff Robbins is passionate when he speaks of Israel and the award he’ll be receiving this summer from the Lappin Foundation in Salem. “I’m so riveted by the phenomenon of bullying – of anti-Israeli bullying, that I see these kids as being the vanguards.” The ‘kids’ Robbins is speaking about are the hundreds of high school students who have been sent on free visits to Israel through the foundation’s Youth to Israel (and others) program.
An attorney at Mintz-Levin in Boston who specializes in civil litigation and First Amendment issues, among other matters, Robbins grew up in a family that he said was “not observant at all.” It was his own unsponsored, uncoordinated visit to Israel that fueled his lifelong passion for the scrappy country surrounded by enemy nations. “I went there on my own after my sophomore year at Brown (University),” he said. “I walked into an office of some sort when I arrived in Israel and told them I wanted to live and work on a kibbutz, back when you could still do that.”
The experience Robbins had on that kibbutz in Kfar Szold, about 500 yards from the old Syrian border in the northeastern corner of Israel, working in a factory as well as picking fruit, did much to shape his attitudes.He recalls taking breaks from the hot afternoon sun, sitting with the elders of the community and sipping on iced tea as they told stories of the history of the kibbutz, of Israel, and of their experiences migrating to Israel in the 1930s. One woman kept waving her hand at Robbins dismissively, saying, ‘You won’t even remember this, you’ll forget all about us,’” recalled Robbins. “But I promised her I wouldn’t, and the fact that I made that promise is always with me.”
At the Lappin events that he has spoken at over the past few years, Robbins has been struck by the passion of the young students he meets “in these pre or post-trip programs.” As if looking at a reflection of himself, he sees great power in the devotion inspired by the sense of identity they gain from their visits. “The most prized person of all for those who care about Israel are young people who are committed to learning and have the guts to stand up in the public square and make Israel’s case in one fashion or another.”
Robbins became involved with the Lappin Foundation, which offers dozens of free programs to thousands of North Shore teens each year designed to connect them to Israel, when someone from Lappin heard Robbins talking about Israel one evening on WBZ radio as a guest on the “Nightside” program with Dan Rea. His analysis of the Middle East and his ability to articulate its case so clearly led to an invitation to speak to a group of Y2I students.
Being with the young people made a big impact on Robbins, but so did his exposure to the foundation’s mission. “I learned what the Lappin Foundation has achieved, that they’ve sent something like 2,600 high school students to Israel – roughly 100 or more each year – to educate them before (they go to Israel) and to get them involved when they come back.” The result is young people who’ve developed a firsthand love for Israel and a heartfelt desire to fight on its behalf who are traveling the same path that Robbins took. But he thinks now their role is even more important. “Since people’s views about Israel are being formed earlier and since these kids are shortly going off to college campus’, and the value of having them arrive ready, unfortunately, to do the necessary battle is so high, it’s really an exciting program. I talk to these kids, and I listen to their questions, and I think – boy, we could stand to have a lot more programs like this around the country.”
The result has been great for Robbins, who is energized and made hopeful by his exposure to the Lappin kids, and for Lappin, which also needs high level professionals like Robbins advocating for its mission. The result is recognition for Robbins from the Lappin Foundation, which will give him its 2017 “Youth to Israel Award” in August. “Jeff’s passion for his volunteer work is deep and it is contagious,” said Robert Lappin in acknowledgement of Robbins. “He inspires and he leads by example, exuding love for Israel and for the Jewish People. What better role model for our youth to emulate than Jeff Robbins!”
Robbins describes how he sees the seeds being planted by the Lappin Foundation growing into a movement. “Each of these young people, savvy about social media and willing to speak up, can affect with the click of an index finger tens of thousands of other people. And then what happens?” Robbins answers his own question. “People whose names they’ll never know see them standing up for Israel in inhospitable places and they think to themselves, “If that person can do it, maybe I can do it as well.” So some percentage of them will themselves do it and they will affect other people, and then you’re off to the races.”
And that, according to Robbins, is how, “grassroots political movements get started, and that’s how they grow.”