28 Jan My Livnot Experience | EJLP – Lauren Kessler
35 years of Experience Sit upon Four Centuries of Jewish History
By Lauren Kessler
I flew to Israel to attend Livnot’s first Emerging Jewish Leaders Programme (EJLP); a new initiative to develop young Jewish communal professionals around the world and promote avenues for Jewish communal engagement. The organisation – Livnot U’Lehibanot – is an icon of Tzfat. To build and be built as the name translates is their mission and is cultivated in a multidimensional process of building. Livnot aims to build up and build on the Jewish identity of young adults through connecting them to their heritage and to each other. They nurture within these budding young leaders a sense of Jewish unity, community and responsibility to Jewish continuity. Building is done in a literal sense too as Livnot builds on Jewish heritage and history through its excavation and preservation of a 16th century Jewish community centre in the heart of Tzfat’s old city. As a nondenominational Jewish organisation, Livnot aims to offer young Jews opportunities to explore Judaism particularly through text based learning, chavruta discussions and interactions with a variety of different Jewish educators and professionals. Each interaction had a leadership ‘take away’ and was reflected on in terms of both the participants’ personal and communal Jewish identity. From a security tour of Israel’s’ northern border that lead to a discussion about political and military leadership to a tour of Tzfat’s famous artists colony’s to prompt a discussion about creativity and spirituality within Jewish leadership structures. Through this we were given a holistic understanding of how to creatively innovate the Jewish experience of our communities back home. During the two weeks that I was there, Livnot’s beautiful centre saw well over 100 young Jews from all over the world come through their doors. In true Livnot style, diverse leadership models and modalities were explored through a dual process of intensive lectures and extensive experiential practices. This approach pushed all the participants to get out of their comfort zone and challenge themselves and the presuppositions they brought with them. Livnot’s unique programme themed each day as a process of building on various components of leadership through a uniquely Jewish lens. Thus in the experiential sense, for the theme of ‘Vision’ each person was challenged to lead a section of a hike for the rest of the team. This involved having to problem solve ways to forge a path through mountain and thicket and carry the safety and best interests of their peers on their shoulders. Simultaneously, discussions were also held for each theme such as learning about Jewish leadership models from historical Jewish struggles under the theme ‘Growth and Challenges’. Another example as part of the theme of ‘Community Connections’, members of the Livnot staff along with participants in the programme each presented various young adult based community organisations and projects from their own communities. The EJLP was just one of many summer programmes the organisation offered this past (northern hemisphere) summer. Livnot’s flagship programme, Northern Exposure runs throughout the year this year was the second Onward Israel 6 week internship programme and Alumni weekends and events take place regularly. Participants came from Israel, the UK, Argentina, Australia, Colombia, and Canada and of course all over the United States. The sheer number of brilliant young people to network with and learn from was staggering. You found yourself engaging with a different person every day, learning their Jewish story, their community’s story and their vision for the Jewish future. It is a proven phenomenon of Jewish communities worldwide that young Jews find educational Israel trips catalysts in igniting their Jewish identity and empowering Jews to act on it. Thus, the relevance of exposing youth to the land, people and history of Israel becomes a valuable framework in which young Jews can see Jewish communities and identity play out at their best, at their most frustrating, innovative, nuanced, multidimensional, complex and colourful , opening them up to the idea that they are part of a broader Jewish people – am Yisrael. Israeli society gives these young Jews a taste of what they can initiate and what they can change within their own community and within themselves. It is with this premise that Livnot U’Lehibanot has cultivated over the past three and a half decades a powerful, active and engaged alumni network of proud Jews, committed community leaders, Jewish professionals, rabbinical scholars and activists from around the world. Livnot U’Lehibanot is offering two sessions of EJLP for summer 2016. See dates and more info here. EJLP is generously subsidized by the Jim Joseph Foundation.