Four years ago I went on a Taglit-Birthright trip to Israel and I had a good time. I really did. But there was without a doubt something missing. I did not feel like I had gotten a full understanding of what it meant to be a Jew or what it meant to be connected to Israel. So after college I decided to join a Masa funded Israel program called Oranim Israel Teaching Fellows. I am currently writing during my last month on this year long program and I can say I have no regrets.
The ways that I have grown as a human, as a Jew, as an informed adult, and as a friend are innumerable. I love working in my diverse city (Ramle) where I can make a difference in the lives of all types of Israel children Arab and Jewish, Religious and secular. However, my year here in Israel would not have been what it was without Livnot. I was planning a trip for Chanukkah to Turkey with a couple of my friends on my program but sadly it fell through. I heard from other participants about this program in Tzfat called Livnot that teaches about Jewish identity.
At first I was extremely skeptical. I was (and am) a proud Reform Jew from an LGBT background and I had more than one criticism about Orthodoxy. However, my time here was for seeing new things and learning about new people as well as myself so I decided to trust my gut as well as the words of my friends. I am forever grateful that I did. So many programs are so externally motivated and dedicated to showing you Judaism through the lense of Jewdaism as it is on the outside. And they should. It is important for Jews to have the opportunity to see and understand Jerusalem, the Kotel, Yad Vashem, the famous battle grounds of modern and biblical times. But Livnot is an expert at showing you the most important and most basic Jewish site of all… your soul. I know that this sounds a little corny. But its true. No other program I have ever been part of has cared so much about who I was on the inside and what it was that made me Jewish. The people who work at Livnot wan’t to teach you as much as they want to listen to you.
We had workshops about our fears, about our earliest Jewish memories, about songs, about holidays. Everything was imbued with such Jewish and such personal spirit. Immediately I felt I had friends and memories for life. That’s what it means to be Chevre at Livnot. We even had a Chanukkah party at the end of the week where I felt as if I knew every single member of our crew as if for my entire life. A girl on our program from Russia had a birthday celebration where she was in tears because she had had no idea that it could be so meaningful to have a birthday with people she had met only days before in a place where she felt in some ways so foreign yet so at home. Upon returning home to Ramle from Tzfat I had developed a keen interest for Kabalah and had decided to take observance of Shabbat back with me to Portland, Oregon where I am originally from. None of this would have been possible without exposure to Livnot. Before Livnot Judaism was sort of something I carried around.. like a problem that I needed to figure out. Now I know it’s not. Its actually a tool that I can use to help me grow at any point in my life. It’s really a gift that I can’t wait to share at any opportunity. Most importantly whenever I meet people in Israel who don’t know what to do for the holidays I say “try Livnot.” When they ask me what it is, I usually say “oh nothing much, but it will totally change your life.” I smile because I know they think I’m joking.
–Sam Hedine, NE77Learn more about Livnot’s Northern Exposure program.