When Max Blake of Peabody texted his mother, Amy, from the Y2I trip in Israel, he expressed what many teens and parents seem to feel.
“Due to the unfortunate circumstances, I was unable to see everything Israel has to offer. I still got to visit my homeland and make great friends along the way so what more could I ask for?” he wrote.
Sarah Rosenberg, 16, of Salem, was tired when she reunited with her mother Cindy early Wednesday morning, but before heading to the shower and her bed, she made it clear that the trip had been a success on many fronts. “She told me she made really great friendships and wants to go back and see the things she was unable to see. As a parent, I am thrilled she still found the love. Even though she didn’t have the full experience, she walked away wanting to go back which is beautiful to me,” Cindy Rosenberg said.
The 101 teens on the Lappin Foundation’s Youth to Israel Adventure returned this week on several different flights, slightly before the planned return on Friday, July 18. The decision to return early was made because the violence between Israel and Gaza prevented the group from seeing some major sights such as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Dead Sea.
“It has been very difficult for parents who have been worrying, I think not out of necessity, but it is the natural instinct of parents to worry about children who are far away in a land where there is violence nearby,” said Robert I. Lappin, trustee of the Lappin Foundation. “However, having said that, I think the trip will prove to be a wonderful one and it will make a lasting impression on the participants, perhaps somewhat different from our usual trips. But, in terms of their feelings about Israel, it will be positive.”
Debbie Coltin, trip leader and executive director of the Foundation, believes the trip was a true success despite being a different trip than originally planned. “Teens want to return to Israel to experience what we missed,” said Coltin. “Most importantly, sparks of Jewish pride have been ignited… and connections to our Jewish family have been strengthened.”
Most parents were supportive of the Foundation and its extreme efforts to both keep the children safe and the parents informed.
Alyse Barbash of Middleton, whose 16-year-old son Max was on the trip, said, “I know he had a good trip, but a different trip. I never questioned whether he was safe and never advocated for him to come back early. I had all the confidence in the world in Debbie Coltin and the leaders of the trip, but he had a much different experience than my older child.”
Like many parents, Barbash understands but laments that Max and the others didn’t get to Jerusalem.
“They planned for a year to go to Israel and see the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem, Masada, Ben Yehuda Street, the Dead Sea, and I feel badly that they did not see these things. But safety (comes) first,” Barbash said.
Amy Blake said her son Max and the other teens made the best of the situation. “I am really thankful for the relationships (Max) formed. He was fortunate to go. He wants to go on Birthright.”
Coltin said that bonding with Israeli teens from Petah Tikvah was a highlight, as was meeting new local friends that they wouldn’t have met without the Y2I trip.
“The teens explored the beautiful northern part of the country and they experienced, firsthand, daily life in Israel, including what occurs during times like this,” Coltin said. “They learned about how Israel’s neighbors feel about Israel, and about the resiliency of Israelis and the need for a strong bond between American Jews and our family here in Israel. They learned about Iron Dome and its critical role in Israel’s survival.”
Both Coltin and Lappin explained that the decision was made to return early because the Israeli government advised the group to stay in Northern Israel and not venture to those areas where sirens could be sounded, forcing the group to shelters. Since they spent a week in the north seeing and doing so much with no chance of going to the major cities, they decided to depart earlier.
Jonathan Cohen, president of the Eli and Bessie Cohen Camps (Tevya, Tel Noar and Pembroke), said that they too will be sending the 107 teens on the Dor L’Dor trip home five days earlier than planned, starting Tuesday, July 22. The teens have been in Israel for four weeks and have seen all the major sights except Yad Vashem. Their original plan was to return to Jerusalem, but since they are not able to do so, they will return home and then go to back to their respective camps as planned.
“This is not an emergency exit. Knowing we would not go back to Jerusalem and focusing on the security and integrity of our trip, we made the decision to begin rebooking our tickets a few days ago,” he wrote to parents on Wednesday. He praised the parents for their support throughout the four-week trip. “Our parents have been supportive of all the decisions we have made,” Cohen said.
Lappin praised Debbie Coltin for her leadership of the Y2I trip and the Y2I parents for their support and trust in the Foundation’s leadership during this challenging time.
“Debbie Coltin is an extraordinarily competent person. In the face of challenges, she is calm, collected and creative. She, at the same time, is full of passion for what she does and she has talked to many of the parents during the trip, and her attitude has had a very calming influence on many of them. Their confidence is rewarding to me and I want to do everything to deserve that,” Lappin said.
Steven Stoianov of Swampscott, a teen on the trip, explained his feelings in his blog post from Israel.
“Although this trip was not at all what I expected it to be, it was like a fairy tale to me. … Eventually I realized that no matter how terrible and unfair a situation is, it is up to the people within the dilemma to either sink to misery and despair, or stay afloat smiling happily. And for the most part, no matter what happened, no matter where we went, everyone made the most of it and made every second count. Having lived and breathed Israel for a little over a week has me head over heels for this little, yet unbelievably, strong country. The cities, the citizens, and the company came together to paint a beautiful mural that I will hang forever in my heart until the day I die.”