Not Your Everyday Volunteer

I could argue that it was an odd thing for me to end up in Tzfat, at Livnot, in winter.  I certainly am not the exact prototype of a Livnot volunteer, as I am considerably older in age. However, while I was in Tzfat, I learned that nothing happens by accident.  I was meant to come to Tzfat and participate in the Livnot Volunteer Program at this time in my life.  I had retired from being a Jr. High English teacher in June 2011.  After our 2 daughters graduated from high school, I found myself drifting from our Reform congregation.  My parents have been deceased for 14 years.  The Jewish holidays mean less without them and our daughters being present in Cleveland to celebrate the holidays.  Thus, I found myself adrift from my Jewish roots.

Community service projects are what drew me to Livnot in the first place.  I participated in many different projects during my 3 weeks in Tzfat.  I helped gather recycled bottles and cans and then repackage them into packages of 100 units that would be reclaimed for money to benefit the Ethiopians.  We visited the Ethiopian Absorption Center where we worked in small groups with the 4 and 5 year old children, preparing mini cheesecake treats.  Then we sang songs with the kids.

I also worked at the lower income housing where I helped to repaint an apartment as well as clear the yard of trash and rocks.  Then we moved soil to the cleared area so that trees and flowers will be planted soon.  We also sang Shabbat and Israeli songs for the residents at a home for the aged.  Finally, I worked at the English lending library, filing books.

When asked the question, “How was your experience?” my response has been the same.  “Participating in Livnot and living in Tzfat has been life altering.”  I received so much more than what I had expected to gain from this program.

I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend time with young “chevre” on Livnot’s 1-week educational programs.   I participated in hikes that were simply amazing.  Although I had visited Israel three times earlier, the beauty of these hikes, the insightful comments from Micha’el our guide, and the group discussions during the hikes have etched permanent memories in my mind.  Sharing these experiences with the other wonderful group members is another rich layer for me.

Having taught teens all my life and being a youth group advisor at my temple, it is easy for me to relate to this younger age group.  However, the Livnot experience is in a league by itself. Livnot attracts the highest caliber of young adults.  Each is adventuresome, curious, intelligent, enthusiastic, honest, and quite verbal and willing to explore his/her feelings.  Consequently, these attributes facilitated bonding quickly and provided a warm communal spirit for all Livnot participants.  My 3 weeks at Livnot were magical.  I met some of the nicest and most interesting young people.  Their adventurous spirit is contagious and they encouraged me to experience Shabbat in Jerusalem by myself.  This trip was out of my comfort zone but so well worth the effort.

Tzfat provides the perfect environment for learning what Judaism means to each of us and how we want to build our lives around it.  Livnot’s approach is very gentle and open.  Nothing is forced upon us and certainly there is not just one Jewish approach for us to follow.

Before I left Tzfat, I gathered contacts for my return.  I plan on returning to Tzfat next March or April.  I hope to continue community service opportunities with the lower income apartment building and teaching English in the schools.. My work is not done on myself.  I fell in love with Tzfat and I want to discover more about what is in my future in Tzfat and Israel.

Chip Kogan, from Cleveland, OH