Bring Youth Israel Trips to the Next Level

Photo courtesy Y21 (pre-Covid)

By Deborah Coltin

It’s seven months into COVID-19 and our students haven’t been going to Israel. The cornerstone of our Jewish continuity initiative at Lappin Foundation – Youth to Israel Adventure (Y2I) – has been put on pause. In its stead, we began the Jewish Youth Leadership program, where more than 70 students from 11 states and South Africa met virtually over six weeks this summer for Jewish learning; a chance for connection and engagement with their Jewish identity and heritage. I was blown away by a key partner in the success of this seminar, OpenDor Media (ODM), and specifically Unpacked for Educators

OpenDor Media’s specialty and mission is in educating and engaging young people, in an exciting and relevant way, about Israel and Jewish identity. Their content is especially unique because in a world that is more and more partisan, their videos, podcasts and resources are substantive, thoughtful, nuanced and responsible. My students trust their material because it allows them to make their own informed decisions about Israel and their Jewish identity without being told what to think.

This past September, ODM released their 2020 Impact Study, where I (among many others in the community) learned of the impact of their media content. I wasn’t surprised when I learned of the successful nature of their content, but there was a certain data point that struck and resonated with me. Dubbed “The Compounding Effect,” they discussed the complementary nature of their digital content with Israel programs: For youth that go on an Israel trip, the success and impact on their knowledge, attitude and behavior towards Israel is 12% greater.

After seeing firsthand the impact OpenDor Media has on our students, it makes sense that this is how our youth trip program – and I believe all youth trip providers – could increase chances of success enhancing Israel and Jewish identity with the next generation. The Jewish community has many tremendous programs, run through organizations and schools, for youth to travel to Israel, but too often young people go on trips to Israel and then do not continue their education afterwards. I wholeheartedly believe that the Jewish world is at the point where we need to combine experiential programming with digital content. The two together make for a powerful educational experience.

ODM’s unique offerings can span all of our programs – and help create a shared language for youth, with an understanding and ability to connect to others through a nuanced lens. This library of well-researched, entertaining, and nuanced videos, accompanied by expertly developed resources are all at the ready.

Of course educational institutions have their own content and educational methods and materials. This is not to replace those methods and materials –  it is a way to expand upon them.

And, that is why I am writing this piece. If all our Israel trip programs could take advantage of these offerings, it won’t matter that the youth went on different programs, because there will be a common base of knowledge and understanding to connect with others across the world.

If you don’t know about OpenDor Media, it’s time to check them out. They publish new content weekly, from their YouTube channel, Unpacked to their podcast, Unpacking Israeli History. These low barrier to entry learning opportunities are easy for youth to access before, during and after their travels. As I mentioned, their division Unpacked for Educators provides extensive resources for the educators working with the youth and there is a team in place to be as hands-on or hands-off as you need. 

We can no longer afford to miss opportunities to collaborate and we must leverage digital media for our educational purposes. I’m excited for Y2I to reactivate as we have a lot more to offer these youths with OpenDor Media as our partners, from their media content and educational resources to their professional, expert support. As the director of Youth to Israel Adventure, a teen Israel experience celebrating its 50th year, I am so pleased with our collaboration with OpenDor Media, and I hope this collaboration can become a model for all youth groups moving forward. If you’re looking to enhance your Israel trip with meaningful education, look no further.

Deborah Coltin is the executive director of Lappin Foundation, headquartered in Salem, Massachusetts. She directs the Foundation’s Youth to Israel Adventure (Y2I), which includes: pre-trip Israel programs for teens and parents; a fully subsidized community teen trip to Israel; and post-trip Israel and Jewish advocacy programs for teens. Y2I is celebrating its 50th year. More than 100 teens go to Israel every summer on a fully subsidized Youth to Israel Adventure.