The Robert I. Lappin Youth to Israel Adventure (Y2I), a program of the Lappin Foundation, was established in 1970 and includes a fully subsidized 12-day community teen trip to Israel for Jewish teens, who are sophomores or juniors in high school and who live on the North Shore of Massachusetts.

On June 9, 2015 I made the last minute decision to attend part one of a two part lecture series entitled “Amazing Journeys of Brave Jewish Women”. This was a free program sponsored by the Lappin Foundation, whose mission is enhancing Jewish identity across generations, and several other Jewish organizations. I had the profound privilege of hearing Dr. Yarden Fanta-Vagenshtein tell her story.

In her Jewish village in Ethiopia Yarden had two dreams: the first was to make Aliya to Israel, and the second was to have the ability to write her own name.  Yarden faced extreme hardship as she fled from Ethiopia. She fulfilled her first dream by making Aliya to Israel in 1985. However, upon arrival at age twelve, Yarden was completely illiterate.  She held tight to her dream and started her formal education at age fourteen. She excelled and eventually become Israel’s first Ethiopian woman to earn a Doctoral Degree.

As a recent college graduate I was particularly inspired by her educational journey, and even more so by her religious journey. In the beginning of her talk, Yarden expressed that she had been born three times. Her second birth was when she realized that Jews from America were donating money to Israel so that they could send planes to The Sudan to bring refugees to make Aliya to Israel. She spoke about the unwavering support of the Jewish people, a fact that is undeniable upon arrival to Ben Gurion airport when people arriving, read a sign that says “Welcome Home”. This sentiment literally gave me chills as I sat listening to this inspirational talk and thinking about my future.

As I search for my first real job I am faced with a very  difficult decision: that of staying here in the North Shore, with a supportive Jewish community that adds so much to the place I call home; or relocating to a place unknown that could offer me wonderful new opportunities. I often worry that I will never be able to build a support system as strong as the one that I have cultivated here. However Yarden reminded me that no matter where I go in life, as long as I continue to surround myself with a Jewish community I will be supported.

Thank you to Temple Beth Shalom of Peabody for hosting this life changing talk, and to the Lappin Foundation for sponsoring it. Most importantly, thank you to Yarden Fanta-Vagenshtein for reminding me of the power of my dreams and the importance of a Jewish community wherever I go.

Gillian Cowen, 21, lives in Lynnfield and will soon graduate from The University of Massachusetts Amherst. She will be completing her double major in public health and political science at Oxford University this summer.  She is an alumna of Lappin Foundation’s 2010 Youth to Israel Adventure and is a member of Lappin Foundation’s Board of Advisors.