Stepping up to the plate: Engaging Jewish teens through collaboration

So the bottom line of this $200,000 2-year study by the Jim Joseph Foundation ( is that collaboration of groups dealing with Jewish teens is vital.

Point taken.

And what is collaboration? Indeed, when is the last time one can recall nearly 30 large international Jewish organizations coming together under the one umbrella organization for Jewish teens, putting differences aside and joining forces for a common cause? The answer lies with Lapid – The Coalition for High School Age Programs in Israel, which was established in 2008. Every year, more than 12,000 Diaspora Jewish teens come to Israel on a range of Lapid high school-age programs.  Lapid is an effective collaboration of many programs that have converged from across the Jewish religious and political spectrum.

The Jewish community is sadly losing masses of teens who can engage with Israel earlier while still living with family and community. Fewer Jewish teens than ever before are entering college today with readiness and motivation to be “involved” with Israel, let alone any Jewish causes.

To address this pressing issue, the Lapid 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 (alongside Masa Israel Journey and Taglit-Birthright Israel), Lapid seeks equal recognition and institutional support on par with comparable programs for university-age participants.

The bottom line is simple: because Lapid programs deal with a younger crowd (Grades 8-12), the logic goes that the experience in Israel creates an attachment to Israel and Judaism at a formative period, when it will have more of a long-term, spiral impact on the individual and on the community at large.

“Collaboration” — that magic word that these kinds of reports love to churn out, and which foundations love to hear (and spend a lot of time and money on doing so), is indeed a crucial factor for enhancing opportunities. Be it “partnerships”, “co-operation”, or “joint initiatives”… these are more than just buzz words and should not be thrown about willy-nilly or overlooked, particularly when notable institutions dealing with Jewish teens are collaborating in commendably diverse and creative ways.

A great example in point and a timely reminder, what with Yom Hashoah around the corner: So many organizations out there target the Jewish teen community for a myriad of programs and opportunities. Two such notable leaders among those programs are the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) and March of the Living (MOL). This year the leadership of both organizations have officially collaborated in order to provide Junior and Senior High School students with the opportunity of doing both and saving a significant amount of money, rather than deciding between the two or participating on each program independently.

The March of the Living, as many know,  is an international, educational program that brings thousands of Jewish teens from all over the world to Poland on Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), for a three kilometer silent march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, and then to Israel to observe Yom HaZikaron (Israel Memorial Day), and Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israel Independence Day).  The journey is then continued for seven weeks with AMHSI, a unique and fun academic experience, where college preparatory skills are gained and education is imparted through first-hand experience. Israel becomes a living classroom without walls as students travel across the country, absorbing the rich history, culture, land and people of Israel, while gaining a better understanding of themselves and their place in history. Why should these two life-transforming experiences be mutually exclusive?

Expensive studies and reports aside, what is truly needed is for the funders to put their money where their mouth is and step up to the plate now that collaboration really is taking place. Furthermore, we need to see more cooperation and more inclusive, collaborative dialogue between Lapid, Birthright and Masa. By investing in and supporting high school programs, making them more affordable for families to send their teens to Israel, we can increase the number of participants on high school age programs, ensuring 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 stronger, more involved, Jewish future.

It is not every day that so many heavyweight Jewish organizations of this calibre cooperate on the same page. As a unique cooperative initiative for the sake of Jewish continuity, Lapid, with the pledged 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 high school age programs in Israel.

About the Author
Sarah Vanunu is Marketing Communications Manager at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel and Director of Communications of “Lapid” – a fast growing coalition of 30 international Jewish member organizations bringing 12,000 high school age teens to Israel every year through a range of programs. She was instrumental in establishing the Lapid Coalition as a non-profit organization in Israel. Sarah chaired the Lapid World Jewish Teens Councils in Israel in 2010 and 2011. Formerly Deputy Editor of Time Out Israel, Sarah holds an Honours Degree in Film Studies, Media & Communications from UNSW, Sydney, Australia, and is a 2012 graduate Cum Laude of a Masters Degree in Government, specializing in Diplomacy, Strategy and Conflict Studies from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.