Rabbi Baruch Halevi
Congregation Shirat Hayam

Rabbi Baruch HaleviGrowing up I was completely uninspired by Judaism and unengaged by my synagogue or the Jewish community.  And so it was no surprise that when I came of age I walked away from Judaism: engaged to a non-Jewish woman, interested in other religious traditions and about as alienated from Judaism as a young, modern Jewish man could be.

However, before I checked out of Judaism entirely I decided to go to Israel and give my birth religion one last chance.  And through a stroke of both luck and good fortune I found my way not only to Israel but to Tzvat and Livnot U’Lehibanot.

I can honestly say that if it were not for Livnot, today I would probably not be a rabbi and might not even consider myself a Jew.  It was at Livnot, after all, that I fell in love with Judaism for the first time in my life.

Instead of talking about tefilah (prayer), for the first time in my life I was experiencing tefilah, dancing on the rooftops as the sun dipped below the mountains as we joyfully brought in the Shabbat.  Instead of studying Judaism in some distant, obligatory, theoretical way, at Livnot we engaged relevant, inspiring texts and we were given permission to wrestle with the ideas and make up our own minds on what we believe.  Tikun Olam was not abstract but very concrete, literally, as we built parks and gardens or painted apartment buildings of elderly Russian immigrants.  Judaism was not for a classroom but took place out on the trails as we hiked and studied our way crisscrossing the land itself.  But perhaps most of all what I fell in love with at Livnot were the faculty and staff and the chevre, the other participants.  Livnot is many things not the least of which is a family of interested and interesting people, seekers and Jews.

Although there are many worthy programs today engaging young Jewish adults in their religion, nothing, in my experience, compares to Livnot U’Lehibanot.  It helped build me into not only a rabbi or a better Jew but in many ways it helped build me into the man I have become today.

Sincerely,
Rabbi Baruch Halevi
Conservative
Congregation Shirat Hayam
Swampscott, MA
www.rabbib.com

Originally published in the booklet Livnot Chevre-Rabbis, 2009