The United States today is facing a time of the erasure of its history; “cultural misappropriation” and confusion; fractioned families; identity confusion. Colleges and universities have been taken over by waves of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, and Boycott, Divest and Sanction programs against Israel. There has been an ongoing bias in the UN and in the media against Israel. Also, there has been a growing shift towards secularism and away from any and all religion. How then to connect the Jewish young adult to his/her heritage? How does one foster a connection to Judaism, to the land of Israel, to awaken a dormant spirituality, to create a sense of heritage, belonging, and identity?
Aaron Botzer, who immigrated to Israel in the late 1970s has done exactly that. From humble beginnings in the scenic mountain town of ancient Tsfat in the Upper Galilee, Aaron has cobbled together an amazing program for Jewish young adults. Livnot U’Lehibanot, Build and Be Built, is a program like no other in Israel. It is a holistic, physically and spiritually challenging Jewish experience that connects the participants to their heritage and community in an open environment. Combining hiking through the beautiful countryside while learning about the history, the land, the ecological balance, and the flora and fauna is only one experience to feed the soul. Through nature, hands-on experiences, seminars, connection to the local community, field trips, and unique cultural opportunities, the soul is elevated and can make connections not otherwise drawn.
Situated in the mystical city of old Tsfat, which is literally built atop layers and layers of history provides another advantage. Not only are the youth able to enjoy the artsy and spiritual vibes of this unique place, but the Livnot Center itself, is built on a most amazing archaeological site, the Kahal. Located on a 700 square meter site, in the heart of Tsfat’s ancient, Jewish quarter, are underground stone passageways and tunnels leading to rooms, structures, ritual bathing pools (mikvaot), synagogues, and homes from the 16th century, Tsfat’s Golden Age. The participants in this program spend time actually working on the ongoing excavations and renovations of the site. It provides a unique hands-on opportunity to connect with the past as well as to enjoy all that it offers in the present. There is a large communal hall that has been unearthed and restored. It contains wood-burning ovens from the 1500s, where today, pizza is made and challah is baked. The carved-out stone seating area along the walls of this spacious stone room is lined with richly colored Middle Eastern pillows and cushions – a perfect place for seminars, musical concerts and just hanging out.
Livnot U’Lehibanot is not only concerned with the past, but community service programs and opportunities to volunteer within the local communities provide a link to present-day Israel. There are seminars and group discussions led by leading experts in different fields. Also, there are interactive workshops, in art and music, challah making, cooking, folk dance, ecology and sustainability, and spirituality. Fantastically fun and spirit-filled Shabbat celebrations are another highlight of the program. There are classes in leadership training as well, as the future leaders of society make up the different groups.
This life-changing program is not affiliated with any particular denomination of Judaism, which is very unique here in Israel. The philosophy behind this is that all denominations have the ability to influence one another for the good of all. There is no pressure on the youth to go one way or another, just to enjoy and grow from the experience. There are many different paths of Jewish spirituality that vary from individual to individual. It is quite open-minded in its holistic approach, which helps bridge many gaps. Ultimately, to form a bond with the Almighty, with Judaism, and with the land of Israel is the ultimate goal. Here, the young adult will meet many different people from all over the world – not just the States, but Europe, South Africa, Canada, Australia and South America. Trained mentors oversee the activities in a safe and fun environment.
The Livnot programs consist of short term 1 week, 2 weeks, and 6 weeks intensives. Each group consists of no more than 24 youth. The intensives are highly subsidized by generous patrons, making it very affordable indeed (a full week including room and board is only $195/ a six week course runs $500). It is perfect for the person who has made a Birthright trip and wants something more – to take that adventure to a higher level. There are winter programs, running from December through February; summer programs from May through August; and special holiday programs. Perfect for the university student as well as the post graduate, who is looking for a different kind of spiritual experience. To date, over 1000 alumni of Livnot have completed the program and have gone on to become active young professionals and lay leaders in their own communities back home.
“In retrospect, there has probably been no single life experience that has had such a profound effect on my life. I was able to discover what a gold mine was out there for Jewish souls. Shabbat evening, with its candles and sensual setting, was a profound experience of peace and belonging, connection and fulfillment. My life has been forever transformed.” Avi R., Program T25
” I am reminded of how one week in Tsfat set me on the path of personal legacy. Livnot has been the catalyst of my Jewish journey…my program showed me that being Jewish isn’t about scrambling to save people from being washed out by modern society, but rather that we are privileged to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We are connected to a thriving, growing family and culture that is infused with thousands of years of spirituality and wisdom.” Abigail C., Program 256
“Life altering is an understatement!” David B., Program 126
For more information, as a potential participant, or to donate – contact www.livnot.org