Livnot, one word, so much more than that! I left Chicago without any idea of how Livnot would affect me. I never imagined a one month program in Israel would be so influential in my 20-something life. Traveling to Israel was the best decision I’ve made. When I walked in the doors of Livnot I felt welcome. Tzfat would be my home for one month of my life. I immediately felt comfortable and almost forgot this was all new to me. The night I arrived we got ready for a short night hike. I would be hiking at night, mind you hiking at all! I was ready to take on my first ever night hike. There were challenges along the way but I enjoyed them. I never knew what my eyes were capable of seeing in the darkness. The moon shined bright that evening and our eyes grew accustomed to the night. There was something more than our eyes to rely on. We relied on the sounds of our fellow participants ahead and behind us. I also relied on some help from a new friend who held my hand when we were going down the steep hills in a forest area. We soon reached two paths and were given directions to pick an adventurous path or a simple one. I chose to follow the “simple” path. The next part of the hike was done in complete silence. This silence was different from any other silent moment in my life. I was aware of my surroundings, listening to each animal sound, every footstep and the sounds of nature. What followed this hike was a month of learning, more hiking, new friendships and volunteering.
Over the course of the month program I noticed a change in myself. Back at home I was a busy planner and living life in a rush. Each day in Israel I continued to learn to live life at a slower pace and let things just happen. I tried not to plan my day and go with the flow. Another big change was my thirst for Jewish knowledge and traditions. Upon learning the meanings behind some traditions as well as hearing many stories I felt a yearning to learn more. Someone shared an important message with me. They said, “It’s not all or nothing. You don’t have to incorporate every aspect of Judaism into your life.” This helped me realize that I could start new traditions little by little and base it on what I was comfortable with. I’m looking forward to continuing certain customs and traditions when I get back to Chicago.
When Shabbat came along I didn’t know what to expect or even how it was celebrated at Livnot. Little did I know that my first Shabbat in Tzfat would be the most meaningful one that I’ve experienced. Shabbat started with a candle lighting ceremony in our “living room”. Each of us went up to the candle ledge and lit a tea light candle. We recited the blessing individually. That was the only component of Shabbat that would be done independently. This was just the beginning of an amazing Shabbat to come. Now it was time to welcome Shabbat with songs on the balcony. As I peered down to see the town of Tzfat and the surrounding towns I was in awe. I kept thinking to myself, “I’m in Israel, it’s Shabbat and I’m so lucky.” I can’t even put into words what I experienced on Shabbat. It’ll be one that I’ll always remember. I kept looking at the scenic view of the mountains as we danced to Shabbat songs together. This was an integral moment that reminded me of the community that we formed. One week ago I had met all my new friends and now they were like family. We shared meals, conversations, challenges and memories. Through many more hikes, intense conversations, classes, personal experiences, study sessions, volunteer projects and songs we ended our Livnot program as one big family. In the end we all felt connected to each other, each in a different way.
–Jennifer Swimmer, Galilee Fellowship Winter 2014
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