Lapid Gets It Together

[In response to Chip Edelsberg’s article “Getting it Together” (Nov 23rd)]

by Gideon Shavit

I read with interest Chip’s article regarding the Jewish community’s “struggle to work collaboratively with each other”.

Indeed, when is the last time one can recall nearly 30 large international Jewish organizations coming together under the one umbrella organization, putting differences aside and joining forces for a common cause? Scratching your head? Lapid – the Coalition for High School Age Programs in Israel, has done exactly that. Call it revolutionary or call it idealistic, the aims are very practical and the facts are plain to see: Every year, more than 12,000 Diaspora Jewish teens come to Israel on a range of Lapid high school-age programs. Close to thirty organizations that run high-school age programs and encompass among them the majority of teens coming to Israel annually have already joined the Lapid coalition.

The coalition was built on the concept that a strong relationship with Israel begins with a meaningful Israel educational experience and is vital to developing and fostering collective Jewish identity in youth. As one of the three primary organizations bringing youth to Israel from abroad, Lapid seeks equal recognition and institutional support on par with comparable programs for university-age participants.

Over the past 40 years, high-school programs are estimated to have brought over 500,000 teens to Israel. But a lot of the focus today is cast to the college age years and MASA and Birthright dominate the field of public interest. As Stephen Muss, Lapid’s Honorary Chairman, has written here in the past, “There is now a built-in incentive for delaying the first trip to Israel [from the high school years to the college age years] … We are connecting with our youth later in their lives and we are losing them along the way.”

Lapid, (meaning “torch” in Hebrew), was founded in 2008 and today is an official Israeli non-profit organization comprising international organizations which seek institutional and governmental recognition and funding for short-term program participants, who usually stay in Israel for three to six weeks and pay anywhere from $1,000 to $1,750 per week. Lapid is made up of heavyweight organizations like Young Judaea, JCC Associations, Ramah, Maccabi World Union, Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation, JNF and Bnei Akiva, as well as the Reform Movement’s national youth group, NFTY, among many others. For years, these organizations have been bringing upwards of 12,000 teenagers annually, but have received no recognition, let alone any streamlined funding. This is precisely why we united, out of necessity.

We at Lapid see a serious problem with the shifting of the norm from longer programs during high school to shorter trips in early adulthood. Furthermore, if one has been on a high school age trip, they are not eligible for Birthright, so the message of exclusion to participants and parents of high school programs puts high school programs in an undesirable light. We have said it before and we still maintain – with this current set up, the Jewish community is losing masses of teens who can engage with Israel earlier while still with family and community; fewer Jewish teens are entering college with readiness and motivation to be engaged with Israel, and not enough is being done about it.

Lapid is an effective collaboration of many programs that have converged from across the Jewish religious and political spectrum. The bottom line is simple: because Lapid programs deal with a younger crowd, the logic goes that the experience creates an attachment to Israel and Judaism at a formative period, when it will have more impact. High school age, after all, is when political ideas are examined for the first time, when dating habits are formed. When Lapid participants encounter the virulent anti-Israel propaganda that we see today in campuses, they already know it and they know how to counter it thanks to the youth leadership development and Israel advocacy contents of many of our programs.

We know what we need to do and we just need help doing it: “Collaboaration” is key – unite forces and let’s increase the number of participants on high school age programs in Israel so that our future Jewish leadership can engage with Israel and with their heritage and identity at an earlier time in their lives that will pave the way to a more meaningful future. What we need are the funders to step up to the plate now that we have collaborated. Furthermore, we need to see more cooperation and more inclusive, collaborative dialogue between Lapid, Birthright and MASA.

It is not every day that so many Jewish organizations of this caliber cooperate on the same page. As a unique cooperative initiative, Lapid, with the support of the Israeli Government, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish world, will continue to raise awareness of the quality and importance of the high school age programs in Israel.

I echo Chip’s final urging of “stakeholders in Jewish education – funders, organizations, institutions, and start-ups, academics; bloggers, and pundits; traditionalists and innovators alike to create new spaces and more inviting places for us to directly and strategically interact with one another.” I firmly believe Lapid could be one answer to your quest and I encourage others to step on board.

Gideon Shavit is Co-Chairman of Lapid and CEO of Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI).