Registration Opens for Livnot’s 34th Year of Israel Programs
Hiking, Volunteering, and Spiritual Exploration Haven’t Gone Out of Style
When Livnot U’Lehibanot began in 1980, in the home of Miriam and Aharon Botzer, Tzfat was regarded as a dusty old pile of rubble on a forsaken hill. Today, 1.2 million visitors flock to the holy city annually, drawn by its spiritual vibes and thriving artist community. In the past third of a decade, over 25,000 Livnot volunteers and 6,000 program participants have poured their energy into reviving and rebuilding Tzfat and, in the process, ended up building themselves.
Livnot programs are geared for young Jews in their 20’s that are unaffiliated or haven’t remained actively engaged in a Jewish community into their adult years. Varying in length from a one-week Birthright extension to a four-week intensive community-building experience, these short-term programs are easy to fit into the schedule of most graduate students and young professionals.
“Livnot’s Israel programs fill the gap between picking bananas six days a week on a kibbutz and sitting in yeshiva,” says Shayna Rehberg, Admissions Director at Livnot. “And while we have a lot of fun, it’s not a ‘party’ trip; groups are smaller and participants slightly older. The focus is creating a warm and open environment which allows for community building and spiritual exploration, without a religious agenda or dress code.”
Based in mystical Tzfat, participants have the opportunity to explore the Old City on their own, share meals and music with their new neighbors, and see the impact of their volunteer projects. Especially on the four-week Galilee Fellowship, a Jewish service-learning program supported in part by Repair the World, participants become members of the community that they are helping to create.
“You have adventures outside the realm of a traditional program,” according to Paul DeMarco, a recent Galilee Fellowship participant in June 2013.
Hiking is a central element at Livnot, with participants blazing the trails of northern Israel multiple times each week. More than just physical exercise, the outdoor excursions offer a chance to connect to Judaism and Israel through nature while fostering a sense of unity despite differences in personal Jewish expression.
“A Livnot moment I feel sums it up,” related Louma Levin, after her July 2013 Galilee Fellowship program, “was on the second day of our yam l’yam [sea-to-sea] hike. I was able to observe the rest of our group trickling down the mountain, supporting each other, laughing and singing together…the fear was overthrown by love and amazement for each other and the universe.”
There is a saying around Livnot that “when the program is over, the journey has just begun.”
A recent study by Repair the World, and a Livnot alumni survey in January 2013, both show that Galilee Fellowship participants significantly change their attitudes and behaviors toward social justice and Jewish communal involvement. After a transformative experience at Livnot, thousands of alumni have gone on to work or volunteer in Jewish organizations including Federations, JCCs, Hillel, synagogues and more.
“The Livnot trip was the start of my experience of living a life of radical amazement,” reflects Megan Goldman, who joined Livnot five years ago and is finishing rabbinical school at JTS. “Before Livnot I did not realize that I was a Jewish educator who could actually pursue a career in the rabbinate. I thought my lack of day school education or yeshiva year put me too far behind.”
The grounds of Livnot contain an archaeological dig from the 16th century, known as “The Kahal,” which was declared a National Heritage Site in 2011. Connecting past, present, and future is a core part of Livnot programs. Whether working in excavations of Tzfat’s Golden Era, building parks for local children or caring for the elderly, every activity is related back to Jewish values and community through hand-on learning.