03 Jun Alumni Spotlight: Peter Rothbart
Peter Rothbart is a singer-songwriter, editor, freelance writer, sustainable agriculture advocate and the founder of a lawn-sharing communal gardening project. He came to Israel for the first time in 2007 with Livnot U’Lehibanot when Livnot was still running Taglit-Birthright trips. He came again to Israel with Livnot and Birthright two years later as a trip leader. Coming back as a trip leader was thrilling to him, because he was able to experience the first time he did certain things again–this time through the eyes of one of the participants.
Before coming to Israel with Livnot, Peter’s Jewish background was very minimal–although his religious background was very extensive. His mom is a Zen Buddhist teacher and his family often attended local Quaker meetings. His experiences with Livnot awakened his sense of Judaism and made him more interested in Judaism as part of his heritage.
Peter is predominately a musician and freelance writer, although he also edits at Found Magazine, a collection of notes, letters, pictures, and all sorts of other things that have been found all around the world. Additionally, Peter is the founder of an urban gardening project called We Patch that connects people looking for space to garden with those that want people to garden in their space. He also plays an enormous amount of dodge ball.
The way that Peter comes up with his songs is always evolving. His songs used to be more general or about vaguely defined feelings. Now his songwriting focuses more on telling stories. His third album, released this past fall, is very much focused on narratives. His favorite song on the album is a long story about an experience he had in high school when he met someone who he felt was an angel.
When asked how his experience with Livnot impacted what he does professionally, Peter responded, “Any travel outside of your known surroundings is enlightening. It brings you a sense of interconnectedness, of the simultaneous strength and fragility of interpersonal bonds around the world. It breaks down stereotypes and prejudice and should be looked upon as a duty to every citizen.” When you are traveling, “you have an opportunity to go out and do well in the world. Don’t just to take it in and soak it up. You can put good vibes out there.”
He mentioned a quote by Mark Twain which states, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime,” saying that it pretty much summed up how he feels about the importance of traveling and the experience he had in Israel with Livnot.
Peter isn’t really connected to any Jewish community in particular, because he doesn’t necessarily want to be. “Along the same lines of what I said about travel and how it opens your mind– I don’t want to just be in the Jewish community. I want to be in a community of humans. I think it’s important to see all sides of the coin.”
Peter is the type of guy that goes out of his way to do right by other people. He is proud of who is his and where he comes from, and he believes that it is always important to make a good impression. He has two messages that he’d like to leave.
To those going on trips to Israel: “If you are going to take the time to come to Israel on Birthright or any other trip, you may as well take the time to extend your trip. Birthright is a handshake. With Birthright you are only scratching the surface.”
To everyone: “We are all citizens of the world. When you travel you meet people that led very different lives than you. When you meet someone on the other side of the world, it improves the world for everyone. People have a duty to not only see the world but to always put your best foot forward in it.”