MAY 18, 2017 — On Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) in May of last year, Debbie Coltin was reading a story to a group of children and their parents when a little girl turned to her mother and asked, “Mommy, does Israel really look like that?”
The mom, who had never been to Israel, panicked and made eye contact with Coltin, the Lappin Foundation’s executive director.
“I thought to myself, ‘We’ve got to get these parents to Israel,’” Coltin said. And get them to Israel she did, with the creation of the first PJ Library Parents to Israel Trip (PJLP2I).
“We get the teens excited about Israel [with Y2I, the Lappin Foundation’s teen trip], but this hits a different generation,” she said. “If we didn’t organize it, when would they go? Our dream is to have this missed generation of young parents who didn’t do Birthright, who are busy professionals, go to Israel.”
Less than a year later, from April 25 through May 4, Coltin led the first PJLP2I trip with 29 participants, including 10 interfaith couples.
PJ Library is a family engagement program that focuses on the bond created between children and parents during story time right before bed. Jewish children ages 6 months to 8 years are eligible to receive a free Jewish book and CD of the month. The Lappin Foundation partners with Cohen Hillel Academy as local funders of the international program created by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.
PJLP2I’s immediate goal is straightforward: to educate and empower parents to speak about Israel to their children from firsthand experience.
“That generation is all about social media,” she said, referring to the many participants who posted daily pictures during their trip. “Their friends and parents of other kids were already commenting on their postings. So it works.”
Participants were from three geographic areas: Newburyport, Swampscott/Marblehead, and Beverly/Peabody.
Sara Weisman, a Beverly mother and member of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott, was initially hesitant to go. She returned “totally blown away by the experience,” with plans to return.
“This trip changed my impression of Israel completely,” she said. “In some sense, I didn’t learn anything new, but I gained insight that can’t be learned at a distance or read in a book about the value of having a Jewish nation.
“What happens in Israel feels very personal in a way it didn’t before.”
Al Pica of Swampscott is the father of two young children and a member of Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead. He was most surprised by the unwavering patriotism among all Israelis – Christians and Arabs as well as Jews – and how that differed from his preconceptions.
He returned home “with a sense of duty to do even more: spread the good word, clear up myths and misconceptions about Israel, the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, etc.,” he said.
The trip affected both Weisman and Pica as parents. “I had previously been to other Holocaust museums, but a tour through Yad Vashem, and in particular the Children’s Memorial, had a tremendous impact on me as a parent of Jewish children,” Pica said.
Weisman believes she now understands Jewish history a lot better after visiting places where some Biblical events took place. “The mental scale I had of cities, distances, landscapes, and so on wasn’t connected to physical places before,” she said.
Coltin is delighted with the parents’ post-trip evaluation comments, especially the number who said the trip was life-changing.
“The goal was to bring it home and instill it in your kids,” Coltin said. “I’m sure those conversations will take place.”