Rabbi Howard Goldsmith
Before embarking on Livnot, I had an extensive conversation with someone on the staff, I explained that I was a Reform Jew, that I was not interested in becoming Orthodox and that, if at any point I felt that Livnot was disparaging Reform Judaism or my Reform outlook, I would leave the program and request a refund. The very patient person on the other end of the phone reassured me (again and again) that Livnot was not interested in creating Orthodox Jews; that their goals was to create involved Jews. The proof was in the pudding.
I spent two amazing weeks in Jerusalem and Tzfat with Livnot. We learned about Israel by hiking the Land and digging the Land and building the Land. We learned about Judaism by doing Judaism. We celebrated Shabbat, studied text, drew connections between the volunteering and our tradition, and we sung…a lot. This was a Judaism that I could buy into. At no point did I feel pressure to be a certain kind of Jew, to think a certain way, to act a certain way. It was instead a nurturing environment. I was asked to explore all the Judaism had to offer and to make it my own-in my own way. Livnot gave me tools I needed to see Judaism as alive and relevant. The message I received from them over and over again was: You don’t have to do Judaism a particular way, we just want you to do Judaism. And I did.
In the Reform movement we take pride in our pluralistic perspective. We try to be the pluralistic movement, to accept people where they are and show them multiple ways to be Jewish. We attempt to help people find their own expression of our tradition. Pluralism is an ideal that we in the Reform movement strive for while Livnot has already perfected it. More than any other Jewish organization in which I have been involved, Livnot accepts people where they are on their Jewish journey and nurtures their Jewish soul. They do it without coercion and without judgement. They offer people the tradition in an accessible, open, interesting, dynamic, and engaging way.
I have been blessed to serve a wonderful Reform congregation for the past three years in no small part thanks to Livnot. As a rabbi, I encourage my congregants, friends, and family members to participate on Livnot programs over and above other Israel experiences. I cannot recommend them highly enough.
Rabbi Howard Goldsmith
New York, NY
Originally published in the booklet Livnot Chevre-Rabbis, 2009