Y2I: Helping to Keep Our Children Jewish

by Amy Powell

Comparing Robert I. Lappin to a “modern day Moses,” leading 2,200 Jewish teens to the Promised Land for 40 years, Debbie Coltin kicked off the 40th anniversary celebration of the Youth to Israel program and welcomed back the 98 teens from 19 communities who went on the 2010 trip.

The key to the trip’s success over two generations was to make it free. Y2I, though known under other names in the past such as LGI, precedes birthright-israel and “is the envy of every Jewish community,” said Coltin, executive director of the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation, sponsor of the Y2I trip. “It represents the best in our community.”

Robert I. Lappin, trustee of the Robert I . Lappin Charitable Foundation, whose mission is helping to keep our children Jewish, welcomed back the group from 2010. Traditionally teens write essays or thank-you letters to Mr. Lappin upon returning from the trip. These letters capture the passions of the teens as they experience the Jewish homeland, many for the first time.

“Please know that I have read every word of every letter and essay you have written and it warms my heart to know that you will stay Jewish and raise your children Jewish. That you will stay connected to Israel and remain part of the Jewish family whose mandate is to care for each other no matter where we are,” said Mr. Lappin.

Alumni from the various trips spoke of the trip’s impact on their lives. Nate DeGroot, 22, grew up in Hamilton and went on the Y2I trip in 2005. After growing up in a town where he was the “only Bar-Mitzvah” in his school, the trip “opened my eyes to what it means to be Jewish and form a sense of identity and Jewish pride.”

One result of Y2I was that DeGroot’s Jewish world expanded and he actively sought Jewish community when he attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. Active in Hillel and the Jewish fraternity, AEPi, DeGroot began a gradual journey that he says started with Y2I and has now taken him to rabbinical school, which he began this August. “Y2I was the spark and the catalyst for this journey,” he said.

Amy Forman of Swampscott, went on the Y2I trips as a counselor in 1979 and 1983 and in the last three years, two of her three children have gone. “Y2I imbued in me a desire to be part of the Jewish community. It is a gift of the longest lasting kind. It is given as a teen and continues to reap rewards long into adulthood.”

Mr. Lappin spoke of the “evil” of the Madoff scandal that robbed the Lappin Foundation and the Lappin family of their assets. “Our darkest moments are sometimes our greatest opportunities,” he said.

Two days after the Madoff scandal broke in December of 2008, he was contacted by a friend he had not heard from in a decade. This person described his respect and admiration for Mr. Lappin’s work and offered $100,000 toward the $500,000 needed to resurrect Y2I with the condition of anonymity. After the conversation, Mr. Lappin said, “I gathered my wits and thought that other people might be similar to my anonymous friend and might want to support the resurrection of Y2I.”

Thus the campaign to resurrect Y2I was born and with Coltin at the helm, the Foundation raised the money to send the trips in 2009, 2010 and they continue to raise the money for 2011. As such Coltin and Lappin thanked the campaign chairs … and the many donors, both corporate, individual and anonymous who helped make all the trips possible.

Coltin acknowledged the generous support of the Jewish Federation of the North Shore, which allocated $70,000 to the 2011 Y2I program. A special plaque, commemorating the 40 year partnership between the Foundation and Federation, was presented by Lappin to Robert Salter, Federation president.