SALEM – The pivot to Zoom in March due to the pandemic proved to be a silver lining for the Salem-based Lappin Foundation, because it allowed the foundation’s programs to better reach the young and old, and people around the world.
And while the pandemic forced the postponement of its signature Youth to Israel Adventure in 2020, the foundation is planning its 50th anniversary trip next year, either in the summer or in December, depending on when it’s safe to travel.
“Certainly, the darkness of this is overwhelming, it’s tragic,” said Lappin Foundation Executive Director Deborah Coltin about the toll the pandemic has taken on families. The aim of the foundation’s programming is to add “the little bit of light we can find.”
The foundation offers programs to the Jewish community to enhance Jewish identity across generations. Its programs, including Y2I, are free to remove cost as a barrier to participation. ‘’The trip itself is fully subsidized,” Coltin said. “Airfare, accommodations, meals and sites are all subsidized. What we ask parents to pay for is trip/medical insurance and a program fee.”
The foundation’s latest initiatives include planning for an Introduction to Judaism course with local rabbis, and it is forming a Teen Antisemitism Task Force.
While the pandemic meant the foundation could not offer programs in person, Jewish people from around the country and the world have been tuning in on Zoom, well beyond its 30-community service area.
“It’s opened a whole new market, it’s huge,” said Coltin, with participants Zooming in from Israel, Germany, Poland and South Africa, and from states including California and Florida.
This past summer, Lappin offered a virtual six-week Jewish Youth Leadership Seminar that attracted nearly 70 college-age and high-school students from 11 states and South Africa, something that would not have been possible if the seminar had been held in person. The youth seminar involved a project in which teens interviewed dozens of Jewish war veterans, the creation of an online exhibit and a remote panel discussion held on Zoom on Veterans Day.
“Virtual programming is making it easier for intergenerational programming. Grandparents are joining PJ Library families at our PJ Library programs. Teens are participating in programs with adults,” Coltin said in an email.
PJ Library is a Jewish book-of-the-month club open to Jewish children, newborns to 12 years old, on the North Shore and Merrimack Valley. The program is now offered remotely.
Funded by the Lappin Foundation with support from Epstein Hillel School in Marblehead and Combined Jewish Philanthropies, children are sent age-appropriate books in the mail that coincide with dozens of free online enrichment programs. About 1,000 children participate each month, and the program allows grandparents to participate along with their grandkids, Coltin said.
When in-person programming resumes, the foundation plans to continue offering a remote component, says Coltin, who has served as the foundation’s executive director for 24 years.
“We’ll keep the best of the virtual,” she said.
Phoebe Potts of Gloucester, Temple Ahavat Achim’s director of Family Learning at the Sylvia Cohen Religious School, said Lappin had an intergenerational component well before the pandemic.
“Lappin has always co-sponsored our Shabbat Circles, and they were always intergenerational,” said Potts, who has a 10-year-old son. A Shabbat Circle is a PJ Library program that provides a Shabbat service for young kids and their families, and Coltin led them for many years, she said.
While parents and grandparents took part in them in-person, they are doing so again on Zoom.
“In this way, if you have grandparents who are far away, in other states, they can be together,” Potts said. “I think in general, Lappin has always been intergenerational because they are involved with the entire family.”
Art therapist Sara Roizen of Beverly serves on the Lappin Foundation’s PJ Library Board of Advisors and is a member of Temple Ahavat Achim with two boys, Rohin, 7, and Kai, 5. They have been receiving PJ Library books in the mail since Rohin was a baby.
With the switch to remote programming, Roizen said she has not been as involved with Lappin’s programming as much as she would like, given the initial stress of the pandemic and the amount of time her kids spend online doing school work. She hopes to get them more involved in upcoming programs. However, Roizen has been impressed with Lappin’s offerings.
“It’s been really comforting and grounding to get these emails and opportunities from the Lappin Foundation,” Roizen said.
Coltin said they are planning Y2I in 2021 for teens who couldn’t go in 2020, plus a group eligible to go in 2021. A decision on whether the trip will go in the summer or alternatively in December has yet to be made.
“The plans are done. We have hotels, we have the flights, we have the tour guides. We need the pandemic to be over,” Coltin said.
The foundation would also like to offer the trip to Jewish teens in the Greater Boston area, and they have hired Sarah Ovadia as director of development to raise funds to accomplish this.
In April, the founder of the Lappin Foundation, businessman and Jewish philanthropist Robert I. Lappin of Swampscott, died at age 98.
Coltin said Lappin’s passing left “a huge hole in our hearts,” but he kept the Jewish community in his heart and mind when he planned for the future of the foundation, whose board of directors include Coltin as the president; Stacey Comito of Peabody, Jody Kipnis of Middleton, Jacklyn Lappin (Robert Lappin’s granddaughter) of Beverly, and Howard Rich of Marblehead.
The foundation’s annual operating budget is about $1.1 million, Coltin said, and it is funded by an annual campaign which pays for direct program expenses, and the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation, which supports personnel, overhead, fundraising and other expenses, Coltin said.
“He made it possible to keep it going and I thank him every day for it. I think about him every day,” Coltin said.
Learn more about Lappin Foundation at lappinfoundation.org.