A message from Josh Katz (T61), Chair of American Friends of Livnot U’Lehibanot:

shanatovaI am now back from the Livnot Retreat over Labor Day weekend, and once again I am coping with the challenge to balance my reality with my yearning. This weekend I got to remember the feeling of connection. Connection to my Judaism, connection to my fellow Jews (Jews like me), connection to meaning, connection to Israel, connection to my teachers, and connection to Livnot. I got to remember what it felt like to sing with passion (regardless of how it sounds), to dance with joy, to study text with meaning. This weekend, I awoke my yearning the same way I did after my own Livnot experience in 1999.

The past few days have been hard. Even those closest to me, including my wife and children, have difficulty understanding what I experienced with Livnot. I yearn for the spirit, I yearn for the joy, I yearn for the connection to my homeland and people. Since my first trip, I have tried to build things around me that can make me feel this connection, but I cannot. I bake and braid challah, sing the Shema each night to my children, perform Shabbat rituals at home, attend synagogue, help my children with Hebrew school, and serve on this board. But the void is still there. I can suppress the empty feeling after a few weeks of work, education activism, community involvement, watching football, and mindless entertainment from glowing rectangles. I have done it before. But this weekend has awakened my deep yearning once again to live a life filled with passionate song, joyful dance, and meaningful study. Once again I struggle with the gap between where I am and where I want to be. I struggle with remembering where I have been and reconciling it with where I need to go. I struggle with feeling there is more for me to do. My struggle is my journey, and we all know life is about the journey. This is the power of Livnot U’Lehibanot.

Livnot 35 RetreatI had the chance to speak to the chevre who joined us for the weekend. I pointed out that we all have something in common: we are all on a journey. We are all travelers on a path searching for meaning. We are all in constant states of transition. That is what all chevre have in common. We are not the usual Jews. We seek, we yearn, we feel, we question, we sing, we cry, we dance, and we love. And we do all of this because Livnot woke us up.

This retreat had perfect timing for me. It has been 15 years since I have felt this prepared for the sound of the shofar. I got to sing in a way where I felt it resonate from my belly button to my toes, just like I have done before. I got to share deeply with chevre (and staff) like I have done before. I got to share words of wisdom like I have done before. I got to study with Michael Even Esh like I have done before. I got to dance with Aharon like I have done before. I got to wake up again. So, I thank you all for your contributions of time and treasure. I may be a board member, but I always will, first and foremost, be a chevre.

Shana Tova,
Josh