To Build and Be Built

As I prepared for my Taglit-Birthright trip, I suspected I might enjoy spending more time in Israel than just 10 days. I researched for a productive, meaningful program I could do to stay longer and explore my rich heritage. I came across Livnot and it seemed a perfect fit. I thought “one week in the beautiful Tzsfat of northern Israel, what more can I ask for,” and I signed up.

Hiking northern Israel LivnotWhen I arrived for my first day of Livnot, I was tired from Birthright and not sure what to expect. I walked in around 8 pm and found Doron playing guitar, a group of Americans from every region singing, laughing and talking. Instantly I was approached by the bnot sherut and welcomed, offered dinner, and given a grand tour of the 16th century campus. I thought I had 7 days to enjoy this atmosphere, but I had no idea how it would impact me. By day two, less than 24 hours later I was convinced that one week was not nearly enough time. I changed my plane ticket and wished to stay an additional two weeks. By only the second day we hiked across the beautiful region of northern Israel, contributed in renovating the citadel of Tzsfat, explored the Old City on a scavenger hunt, learned new songs, and filled up my camera with pictures.

The bonds we formed were instant. Every member of the group grew close together and I felt like I had known them for my entire life. The bnot sherut answered any possible questions we could come up with, participated in every activity and enjoyed us as much as we enjoyed them.

Every meal we would all participate and cook, sing, goof off, and gather like a large family and eat together discussing the activities for the next day. Never before had cooking been so much fun.

That is of course until Shabbat came around.

Before Shabbat we baked challah, cooked massive amounts of food to accommodate ourselves and our guest—and prepared for the legendary Tzsfat Shabbat. We welcomed Shabbat on the balcony as the sun set over the northern mountains, and “shul hopped” to observe the unique experience each one offered.

I had my first traditional Shabbat with Livnot and I had no idea what I was missing out on. It was memorable, exciting, meaningful, and inspirational. I forged a bond with every member of Livnot, its founder, its director, its activity coordinator, and the Israeli volunteers. They helped me discover an admiration for Judaism and Israel that I could have never dreamed of.

Judaism and nature LivnotDid I mention I planned on staying for two more weeks? Yeah or so I thought, it turned into two and a half months.

I became a full time volunteer and did any projects I could manage; I visited nursing homes, I painted underprivileged houses, I talked with Birthright groups along with countless other acts of charity. I managed to learn a few Hebrew words, I traveled, met the families of nearly everyone that is involved with Livnot with loving open arms. The hospitality was something I could never forget.

Our friendship grew and I felt as if my family grew. Members of our groups came from America, Canada, Italy, England and Australia. And despite having this distance between us from our birth countries, we all had one thing in common, the desire to learn, grow, and volunteer. Livnot provided us this environment and that is priceless.

Now, months later after leaving Israel, I don’t think a single hour goes by when I don’t mention something or someone I experienced at Livnot. And my quest for knowledge was has only begun. I learned more about myself and other than I ever had before. Livnot U’Lehibanot translates into to build and be built, and a more fitting name could not be used.

-Kyle Place (NE79-81)