Lapid Mega 2010; photo eJP archives

Lapid, the Coalition for High School Age Programs in Israel, will cease operations as of January 2018.

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There have been many initiatives to bring more young Jews to Israel during their pre-college years. In recent years Lapid has been the main force to do so. As a coalition of about 25 international programs, Lapid spans the spectrum of Jewish communities and brings 12,000 teens to Israel every year. Closing Lapid due to lack of financial support ten years after its establishment was a very painful, but necessary step. While we are profoundly disappointed, there is a lesson for the broader Jewish community in the story of the creation and dissolution of Lapid.

Lapid was founded in 2008 on the basis of solid research: sending teens to Israel is more essential for adult Jewish identification then sending young adults to Israel after high school or during and after college. Lapid was thus established in order to raise awareness of the importance of teen programs and to increase the number of high school age participants in quality Israel experiences. According to the research Israel teen trips play a vital role in helping young Jews forge connections with their peers, with Israelis, and with their Jewish identities at a developmentally formative time in their lives. Teen programs also play a pivotal role in the preparation of Diaspora youth for college where they face the greatest challenge to their Jewish identities and views of Israel. A teen program in Israel encourages them to enter the doors of Hillel and to select colleges that have meaningful Jewish and Israel resources. Further bringing teens to Israel is the surest way for young Jewish students to learn firsthand about Israeli politics and society in a safe and empowering environment. This experience is essential since more than half of American Jewish college students experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism during the academic year, according to a Brandeis Center and Trinity report. Given the importance of teen trips, Lapid strived to make the high school programs more accessible and more affordable for all young Jews. In particular, the Lapid programs spanned the wide berth of organizations from stoutly secular to religious across all the major movements.

Despite the research on the importance of teen Israel trips, in recent decades the trend has been for young Jews to wait until after high school for their first Israel encounter. Birthright Israel and Masa, which have the financial support of both the Government of Israel and major Jewish philanthropies are the most successful of these post high school initiatives. While we hope these post high school trips continue to grow, the side effect of this trend has resulted in the Jewish community missing the most important years in the lives of young Jews’ identity formation and the years when college choices are made. This is all the more unfortunate since the organized travel to Israel is one of few educational alternatives for non-orthodox Jewish teens.

When we formed Lapid in 2008 we were hopeful that we would fill the gap and radically raise the number of available teen programs. With research in hand, we offered partnerships with Keren Kayemet, Birthright Israel, the Jewish Agency and directly with the government of Israel to fill this gap and work with us to increase the number of teens going to Israel. All these offers went nowhere. Mosaic United did make an effort to raise funds for this initiative. Unfortunately the funding formula required by the Ministry of Diaspora Affaris was so complicated that it made it frustratingly hard to explain let alone to justify to the donors who were interested. While we are unreservedly happy that the government of Israel and major US Jewish philanthropies heavily invested in Birthright Israel and in Masa, we have remained perplexed they more or less ignored the teen travel programs. Despite studies which demonstrate that teen travel is more important for Jewish identity than post-high school or college travel we failed to convince the main players and donors.

In the end, the lack of support of the philanthropies and of the Government of Israel and Diaspora Jewish organizations led us to the conclusion that further efforts and expenditures of funds on trying to convince these groups was futile. The constituents of Lapid decided in late 2017 that the situation was unlikely to change and set a closing of Lapid for this month. We want to thank philanthropists such as Stephen Muss and Robert Lappin and those Jewish Federations which have supported the teen Israel programs agenda. We also want to thank the constituent members of Lapid who contributed not just dues but time and effort.

Though Lapid will cease its operations, the problem we hoped to address will not go away magically. What, if anything, will Israel and the organized Jewish Diaspora do to offer educational experiences to Jewish teens? How will they better equip young students who enter college and find themselves suddenly on the front lines of Anti-Semitism and defending Israel? What if anything is the organized Jewish Diaspora doing to encourage young Jews to study in colleges where they can nurture their Jewish identities. Our constituents will continue to work hard on their own to bring more young Jewish teens to Israel. The lesson of Lapid is of the dangers of inertia and group think. We must be able to rely on credible research to make policy decisions as a community. We cannot afford to ignore what we know because it is less complicated to keep doing what we are doing.

Mr. Scott Shay, Chairman of Lapid
Avi Reich, PhD, Chairman of Lapid Israel
Mr. Gideon Shavit, Founder of Lapid

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