Full Subsidy is the Only Way to Go

The Jewish Agency’s belief that a heavily subsidized trip will significantly increase teen travel to Israel is an illusion.

by Deborah Coltin

As an experiment to significantly increase teen travel to Israel, The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) invested funds in Epic Israel, Los Angeles’ new teen Israel experience. JAFI’s belief that a heavily subsidized trip will significantly increase teen travel to Israel, is an illusion. Sadly, only 13 teens have registered for the program, demonstrating what few of us know to be true, that anything less than a full subsidy will not attract teens en masse to travel to Israel. Los Angeles set a modest goal of 20 in the program, hardly enough to claim success in a Jewish community the size of Los Angeles.

Some will argue that JAFI’s dismal failed experiment in Los Angeles is not a reflection of the subsidy. Rather, it is a marketing issue, or that the program is new and it takes time to build it. Nonsense. My Jewish community of an estimated 16,500 Jewish people is sending 102 teens to Israel in July 2014 on the Lappin Foundation’s Youth to Israel Adventure (Y2I), our community’s fully subsidized teen trip to Israel. This is success, and key to our success is the fully subsidized trip.

In 1996 the Lappin Foundation changed its course from partially subsidizing the teen Israel experience to providing a full subsidy. The first year participation doubled, and ultimately has more than quadrupled since then, making Y2I the most successful community teen Israel experience, per capita, in North America.

Fact is parents do not look at the amount of the subsidy funded for a trip. What matters to them is much more practical – how much does the trip cost. A $10,000 teen Israel trip subsidized at thousands of dollars still costs parents thousands of dollars. For most, this is an expense they cannot afford, especially with the high cost of college tuition around the corner.

To be sure there are critics who claim that if the trip is free, teens will not value it. This is nonsense too. We have an enormous amount of anecdotal data that demonstrates the value and life-changing impact of our fully subsidized teen Israel experience on teens.

Another important dimension of our success is that Y2I is a community trip. Teens are all about what their peers are doing. In addition to the appeal to parents of the full subsidy for Y2I, the appeal for teens is that Y2I is a community trip where all teens travel together. Sharing a common experience is enormously influential on a teen’s decision to participate.

Partially subsidizing the teen Israel experience renders it inaccessible to more than 70% of underserved Jewish teens (not involved in an intensive Jewish experience, such as day school or overnight Jewish camp), who are at the highest risk for assimilation. The partially subsidized model is elitist, since only those teens who are from affluent families can afford the opportunity. This is morally wrong.

Now is not the time to give up on getting more teens to Israel. Implore funders in your local communities to align themselves strategically with local Federations to fund fully subsidized community teen trips to Israel. The Lappin Foundation is available to share our decades of success, including pre and post trip programming ideas.

Deborah Coltin is Executive Director at the Lappin Foundation. Deborah can be reached at dcoltin@lappinfoundation.org