From Livnot Galilee Fellowship to Kent Hillel

Taking the Tzfat experience home to Ohio

When Jacob Rosen, a native Ohioan, began his search for an immersive Israel program, he had not yet heard of Livnot U’Lehibanot.  Happening upon Livnot’s site in his internet search, he was thrilled to see that the new Galilee Fellowship program lasted a solid four weeks and–importantly–ended right in time for his prearranged jaunt to Spain in the middle of Summer 2011.  Knowing now that he met his girlfriend of almost two years during his first week in Tzfat that spring, one might say that Jacob’s timely discovery of the program was a characteristic example of this mystical city’s well known habit of hosting inexplicable coincidences.  The dates matched, the price was right, and the program description intrigued him.  He arrived in Tzfat on May 22, and had the experience of a lifetime.

Jacob grew up as a Conservative Jew and attended day school.  Though he went on to study at a Catholic university (the University of Dayton), he remained involved in his Jewish community all the while: in April of 2011, for instance, a little over a month before he came to Israel, Jacob organized a Passover seder at his school.  The event was extremely successful, with about 300 people in attendance from many different faiths.  While it is clear that Jacob already had an active relationship with the Jewish community, however, Livnot proved to be a formative experience for him in other ways: it strengthened his personal connection with Israel, and he says it “gave me a more refined understanding of a different side of Judaism that I hadn’t really explored before”–namely, “Kabbalah and Tzfat.”  His experience at Livnot helped him flourish as a Jew at a Catholic university, since he left Livnot better able to explain Jewish customs to his fellow students.  In Jacob’s words, Livnot was “my first influential adult Jewish experience, and it really meant a lot to me.”

While religious Tzfat might seem like an unexpected home for the typical American, secular Jew, Jacob looked past the stigmas that his peers associated with the ancient city and fell in love with the program and the place.  Livnot bustled with people from different places and backgrounds: “It was amazing to interact with so many different kinds of people in such a short and immersive experience,” he says.  Shabbatot in Tzfat came to be a favorite time for Jacob.

“Tzfat and the Livnot program really can have a huge impact on people’s impressions of Judaism and their relationship with Judaism as Jewish adults…Livnot is [about] more than just going to Israel.  It’s about connecting [people] to their Jewish identity…it’s that immersion that meant a lot to me, and it can mean a lot to other people, too.”

Now, Jacob works as a development associate at Hillel at Kent State University, fundraising and working with alumni and parents.  Would he be there if it weren’t for Livnot?  Probably not, he says.  Until Livnot, he had never really thought about pursuing a career at a Jewish organization.  While he plans on getting a masters degree in business in the future, Jacob is happy at Hillel.  The experience has been a positive one.

Any messages for future program participants (chevre)?

“Cherish your time in Tzfat.  It ends too quickly every time.  I can’t wait to go back myself.  Cherish all the moments, stay up late, talk to people, talk to more people.  Enjoy those conversations because you only get to be [there] once…enjoy every moment…”

 

From Ohio? Read about Israel scholarship opportunities here!

~Ariel Hirsch