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.”
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.