Lappin Foundation just completed its new Robert Israel Lappin Jewish Youth Leadership Seminar for high school and college students on July 13. More than 70 students from 11 states enrolled in the virtual, six-session seminar focused on developing inspirational Jewish leaders.
The seminar was inspired by the Foundation’s founder, Robert (Bob) Israel Lappin, who died in April 2020. “Bob Lappin inspired generations of young Jewish people to serve as leaders in the Jewish community,” said Deborah Coltin, the Foundation’s executive director. “Beginning with the creation of Youth to Israel Adventure 50 years ago, and the Foundation’s current Jewish leadership and Israel advocacy seminars for teens, Bob Lappin’s legacy lives on,” she added.
The seminar, which met weekly on Monday evenings on Zoom, was led by prominent Jewish leaders, including Dr. Noam Weissman, senior vice president of OpenDor Media; Rabbi Marc Baker, president and CEO of CJP; and Ariela HaLevi, co-founder and director of SoulCentered.
During the third session, Dr. Weissman led students through a leadership journey, incorporating stories from the Talmud to teach emerging leaders about the meaning of leadership and differing leadership styles. He brought a new perspective on leadership for the students by defining leadership as a learned behavior instead of a personality trait. Dr. Weissman believes leadership is too often seen as a personality trait. He explained that leadership is about developing certain behaviors and ways of thinking. “If they can learn to be humble, learn to listen, learn about themselves and master self-awareness, I believe each of them can become tremendous leaders,” he explained.
Ariel Greenberg, a high school junior from Hamilton, took his advice to heart. “What I learned from the seminar is that leaders aren’t always the most popular or famous people. Leaders are people who have stepped up, taken chances, sacrificed themselves for others and weren’t afraid to be themselves. Leaders are willing to learn, willing to fight, willing to be alone, willing to take the criticism and the blame. Leaders are inspired and inspire others.”
Dr. Weissman commended the students on their commitment and engagement in the seminar. “I’ve learned that young people really do give a darn, and that adults need to make space for the younger people. If we give them the tools, they will take it from there. I’ve also learned that regardless of Jewish background, they appreciate learning from text. Our tradition has so much to offer in this regard. We should never sell them short.”
A certificate of achievement will be awarded to students who participated in all six sessions and who completed two independent assignments—interviewing a Jewish leader and interviewing a Jewish veteran. For many students, these interviews have been incredibly inspirational and impactful.
Ben Kahn, a high school junior from Marblehead, shared that his interview with his grandfather, a Jewish war veteran, brought them closer together. “The Jewish war veteran interview was a great way to talk to him about his experience in general, but especially how his religious upbringing affected his life while serving the United States. It was really nice because I have not been able to see him lately, but I gained a greater appreciation for the difficulties Jewish veterans faced in terms of antisemitism.”
Several students further developed the leadership skills they learned on Lappin Foundation’s free Youth to Israel Adventure (Y2I). College student Alyssa Ardai said her participation in the seminar branches off from her experience in Y2I. “The Jewish Leadership Seminar allowed me to further my Jewish education, and to connect with other like-minded teens. I am glad to learn different ways I can be a leader, and use it with my friends, education and my career,” she said.
Sofia Vatnik, a high school junior from Marblehead, summed up the goal of the seminar in a simple sentence: “It’s important for kids my age to know leadership skills because they will be useful in our future, and we can use them as a way to advocate for Israel and to stop antisemitism around the world.”
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