The staff of Livnot U’Lehibanot has compiled these resources so that:
This is only a gateway; it’s only the tippy-tip of the iceberg. But it might just whet your appetite.
Before using these resources, we wanted to make a few points:
Anybody who tells you: “Let me tell you the real truth about Judaism” might only be showing one angle. For this, we have a saying that comes from the Talmud (a Jewish book of wisdom written thousands of years ago): “There are 70 faces to the Torah.” Torah, which is also an ancient Jewish book, can also be used as a generic term for Judaism, or for a particular teaching. For instance, somebody who wants all of Judaism summarized in a soundbite might ask: “Teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one foot” (That’s an actual request, recorded almost 2,000 years ago). Or, specifically, someone might say: “Yesterday I heard this great Torah.” The saying “there are 70 faces to the Torah” can mean: Judaism has many different faces, many different ways to be interpreted, many different ways to be practiced.
At Livnot, we don’t mind diversity. In fact, we celebrate it! We encourage different viewpoints, debate, discussion, etc. So: speak your mind. And be open to other people’s minds, too. Plants often do something called “cross-pollination.” And bio-diversity is a buzzword that hints at strength-through-differences. We believe that diversity is one of the great strengths of the Jewish People.
And you know what’s cool? Some people don’t like diversity! And that’s a valid opinion, too…
There is no “accepted way” to judge “how Jewish” a person is (First of all, why should we want to judge people and give them scores on their Judaism? Is this the Olympics?). And according to the Jewish tradition, once you’re Jewish (and anybody can potentially become Jewish, as long as you’re human)…you’ve been “Jewed” for life. And you can’t get out of it. You can convert to any religion you want, but you’ll always be Jewish, too. You cannot be kicked out. By anybody. And even if you go on Yom Kippur to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and eat a ham sandwich, with cheese (on white bread), and bow down to idols, and dance naked around a Christmas tree while chanting verses of the Vedas…you’re still Jewish. Nice try, though.
On the one hand, it is a bit of a cage; what if you don’t want to be Jewish anymore? But on the other hand, you never need to say things like: “I’m not very Jewish, but I still wanted to ask…” Who’s to say how Jewish you are? It’s like saying how pregnant you are. You either are or you aren’t. You can’t be half-pregnant. So remember… life is not the Olympics. And neither is Judaism.
Some people have come to Livnot and think they can never be good Jews. We want to erase this myth. Some have told us: “I love cheeseburgers and will always eat them. How can I ever be a good Jew?” Or: “I’m a homosexual; can I be a good Jew?” Or: “I don’t plan on marrying a Jew; can I be a good Jew?” Or: “I don’t believe in God; I’ll never be accepted as a good Jew.” Or: “I’m sympathetic to the Palestinian side of the conflict; can I still be a good Jew?”
So – who’s to say what “good” means? If “good” means “nice,” then what does nice have to do with food or sex or belief or politics? And if “good” means “following the rules,” so – at Livnot, we encourage you to pick and choose the rules you want to follow. There are so many Jewish laws and traditions, and we believe that for people taking their first steps in Judaism, it’s actually a good idea to take upon yourself only those things you can really identify with. And what you don’t like, you can leave for later, if at all. It’s not “all or nothing.” There are shades of gray. Livnot is like a supermarket: you can go up and down the aisles and take (or leave) whatever you want.
But don’t be like Mrs. Lot! She kept looking back until she turned into a pillar of salt (it’s in Genesis). Try to be in a constant state of growth (at your own pace).
Hopefully, there was *something* nice you saw in Judaism/Israel that you’d like to adopt into your lifestyle. Maybe just lighting candles? Not speaking Lashon Harah? Giving Tzdakah? Taking time each week to introspect? Doing senseless acts of kindness (Chessed)? Find your thing, and take off.
Some people are so passionate about their beliefs, that they want to convince you to follow suit and do as they do. Perhaps this comes from a good place in the heart, wanting to help others see a new angle. But often it comes off as preachy, offensive, and downright insulting. Please be at least partially prepared to hear people telling you what to do with your life, while in Israel – if you’re staying. Although the Jewish tradition is clearly against hurting people’s feelings (especially with words), sometimes passion overrides sensitivity. Here are a few things you might hear:
How can you dress like that? Cover your shoulders, you’re disgusting!
Cover your head, don’t you know *anything* about being Jewish?
You’re not *really* Jewish, you know.
You might be a nice human, but you’re a bad Jew.
Israel is a racist, apartheid, Arab-hating country.
All settlers want to kill Arabs.
All Arabs are terrorists.
The Jews are the Chosen People, which means we’re better.
A good Jew has to live in Israel. The Diaspora is a graveyard.
Let me tell you the *real* truth.
Keep an open mind; but don’t keep it so open that your brain falls out. Listen to people, see things with your own eyes, and decide what resonates with your kishkes (your insides). Form your own opinions; sometimes this is a process that takes a long time (and sometimes those opinions change). And don’t take it personally, okay?
So…if you haven’t noticed yet, we’re kinda “laid-back” here at Livnot, and try to allow each person find their own comfortable path in Judaism with their own personal flavor. And how do we find? We learn!
And how do we learn? In many ways. Formal classes with a teacher and students is one way. A movie and discussion is another way. A hike can be a learning experience, as can community service, and even toranut (rotation) in the kitchen. Talking to another person can be full of learning, as can just sitting and watching the sunset, and reading a book or a website.
But there’s an ancient Jewish tradition of learning one-on-one, and it’s called “Chevruta” (accent on the ROOT). If you’ve ever seen the movie “Yentl”, you’ve watched people do chevruta. Rid your mind of images of silent library catacombs with shooshing librarians. Conjure up the following image: two people sit next to each other and read a text out loud. Then they tear it to pieces; or they pledge allegiance to it. They find it incredibly relevant to their lives; or they say “hmph” and go on to the next quote. They analyze it. They dissect it. They take sides (especially sides with which they don’t agree).
It’s as if they are holding an orb, and while it’s in their hands they’re trying to see it from all angles. They squeeze all the drops out of the lemon, and then move on. It’s a great way to learn: there are no teachers, we’re all students, and there’s no right or wrong way to look at the text. (Afterwards, in some learning traditions, all the students get together with a teacher and cross-pollinate.)
Not only is this the ancient traditional way to learn in Judaism, but it very much fits the mindset of Livnot U’Lehibanot.
Livnot Tu B’Shvat Companion
A handbook for the New Year of the Tree. You’ll be amazed how much depth there is to different concepts of nature within Judaism. Flip through and you’ll quickly see what kinds of things you’ll need to make it a tasty and interesting gathering. Let the conversation flow with the discussion questions at the bottom of each section.
Tastes Of Learning
This is a series of chevruta and discussion topics prepared by your amazing Livnot educational staff geared toward giving you a taste of six different areas of Judaism.