Joshua Mikofsky’s place on a May Birthright trip was completely serendipitous or, as it’s known in Hebrew, “beshert” – meant to be.
He was waitlisted for a spot on the summer trips but happened to see a notice that a May 14th group had an extra spot. The rest of his Israel encounter also seemed to include a number of coincidences, from the trip’s first day –the trip landed in Israel on his birthday — to his participation on a Birthright extension Livnot Northern Exposure program and subsequent Tzfat experiences.
What is your Jewish background?
My mother is Jewish and my father is a Native American of the Chippawa/Cherokee Nation. I was raised in Atlanta and then we moved to Allentown where my family still lives. My mother raised us as Jews in a Conservative synagogue. Over the last few years I’ve worked in home renovations and in sales in Allentown.
What is your Jewish affiliation?
When I was about 13 I started to read about the Holocaust and had a lot of “how could God let this happen?” types of questions. These doubts eventually drew me to disconnect from active Jewish involvement.
My brother went on Birthright a few years ago and both he and my mother encouraged me to sign up for a trip. As I was approaching the cut-off age of 26, I decided to apply for the trip and luckily, got a place.
How was your Birthright Experience?
It was amazing. I chose my provider, Mayanot, because it didn’t seem to push religion, even though it’s Chabad-affiliated. This was important to me. I was clear that I didn’t want to be around anything that would pressure me regarding religion.
How did you find out about Livnot? Why did you join the program?
During the BRI trip we came to Tzfat for a day and went to the Mikve HaAri. It was a very powerful experience and after the trip, I came back to Tzfat with seven other guys from the trip specifically to go to the mikve again. While I was walking around the streets I heard about Livnot and decided to join the program.
I was interested in the Livnot program because I wanted to explore Northern Israel. We hadn’t had much opportunity to do that on our Birthright trip. Also, I liked the idea of doing a program that didn’t include a religious agenda or religious pressure. Finally, the subsidized price made the program financially affordable.
What was it about Livnot that you enjoyed?
I loved Livnot. In many ways it complimented Birthright and took us beyond what we had gotten on Birthright. It was enriching to the soul to do community service and I really liked the pace of the program. I especially enjoyed points in the program when we’d just stop whatever we were doing, like in the middle of a hike, and sit in a circle an discuss issues or learn something new. I also appreciated the opportunity to meet local residents on a personal level. Cooking our own meals together was a highlight of the program.
Any final thoughts?
I fell in love with Tzfat. It’s a beautiful, mystical place with tremendous energy. The people are so friendly. Being in Tzfat really brought me closer to my Jewish heritage and the rich history of the Jewish people, the strength of the Jewish people and ability of the Jews to persevere over all odds. I decided to stay in Tzfat for awhile to learn Hebrew and study a bit more.
Josh has again extended his ticket and is presently living and studying in Tzfat.