In a moving and deeply personal post, Maya Weinstein, shares her transformative experiences on Livnot’s Northern Exposure program during the winter of 2016.
“I desperately needed a break from reality and to surround myself with people who knew nothing about me. Back in the United States, I had become vocal about my experience as a survivor of rape on my college campus. I knew that I had the opportunity to go to Israel and connect with my fellow chevre without feeling as though I had to identify myself as a survivor or activist. I needed to separate myself from that life for a bit in order to find the best way to remain an empowered advocate without wearing myself down. I could dig back down into my roots, refresh my soul, and come out stronger and ready for whatever would come my way.
“During my (last-minute) second week of Livnot, I decided to open up about my experience. I knew I could trust my new friends to not change their views of me and to help guide me through ensuring that my final week reached its maximum potential. As public as I had been with my experience, I was still looking for ways to heal. A few of the incredible women I had grown close to accompanied me to a mikvah. I was entering a pool of water completely bare in the mountains of Israel, vision guided only by starlight, surrounded by women who had become family in just a week – and it was there that I regained a sense of self. Though it was a cold winter night, it had been years since I had felt so warm.
“In the subsequent days, I was told I looked lighter, and that my eyes were shining in a way they hadn’t before. I felt it, too. I vowed to never allow that feeling to leave me – on my most difficult days to bring myself back to that night when I felt the power of a world greater than myself, but also felt my own power to make a difference in that world.
“It turned out that I would need that feeling more than I could have anticipated. Just a few weeks after returning from Israel, I had the incredible honor of being invited onstage at the Academy Awards alongside 50 survivors of sexual assault while Lady Gaga performed “Til It Happens to You” (from the documentary The Hunting Ground, which I had been a part of). I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Vice President Joseph Biden, a man who is making an enormous difference in the way the nation views sexual assault. Every soul that I met there had an impactful story. When I returned home, I received a flood of emails and text messages from people who wanted to share their experiences with me. I used the energy I regained on Livnot to keep myself going in order to keep helping others.
“As a member of RAINN’s (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) Speakers Bureau, I have the opportunity to share my story and education with others. I have worked with universities, members of Greek life, high school students, football teams, and politicians. My main focus has been encouraging universities to reevaluate their sexual assault policies, provide better resources for survivors, and openly support survivors instead of sweeping cases under the rug.
“I recently returned to the URJ Kutz Camp, the summer camp I attended and worked at, to run programming on healthy relationships and consent. I am partnered with MTV, RAINN, and change.org to push a petition in favor of a piece of bi-partisan legislation that would greatly support survivors on college campuses (Campus Accountability and Safety Act). In August, I will begin working for The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism as a part of the Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Fellowship, where I will connect my passions for Judaism, social justice, and policy.
“I feel strongly about the tie between Judaism and social justice. This is a concept that was reaffirmed through Livnot. Activism and advocacy is ingrained in the culture of Livnot, from staff to chevre. I felt that I was sent back into the “real world” (i.e. away from the mysticism of Tzfat) with a mission. I was charged with the undertaking of making the world a better place, in a world where having friends over for Shabbat dinner and singing at an old-age home influences, not just my life and the lives of those directly touched, but makes the world better. I was taught that every little thing that reaches even one person has the ability to fix the world.
“If sharing my story helps one person, then it is worth it. I intend to continue my activism, share my voice, and contribute to making the world a kehillah kedosha.”