What happens after the Israel experience is no less important than what happens during it.
By Shayna Rehberg
Winding down from a busy summer season, followed by a smattering of holiday programs, there is one sentence jumping out at me from the hundreds of post-program evaluations sitting on my desk:
“Birthright made me more informed, Livnot made me more in touch.”
Dr. Zohar Raviv once wrote: “The strength of this A-Z in 10 days approach is that it opens up Taglit-Birthright Israel participants to experiences and connections that they may not have made without touring the country.”
And this is true. Birthright is an amazing, eye-opening adventure. What is also true, is that a well-designed extension program which gives participants time to reflect on their initial tour, deepening their connection to Jewish spirituality and community, will result in an even greater impact. After all the effort and resources invested in bringing the participants to Israel, it is worth our while to ensure that the experience is maximized.
Israel is a paradigmatic entry point to a path of Jewish exploration and discovery. However, we have to ask ourselves: are we sending participants home with sufficient tools and resources, to help them stay connected after the experience?
After being one of the original Birthright trip providers for the first nine years, Livnot U’Lehibanot began offering extension programs instead. These programs have run for the past six years, without a major sponsor, due to the determination of a team of dedicated educators and staff, with support from alumni and long-time friends of Livnot. We are grateful that the Jim Joseph Foundation has now awarded a grant to help support our one-week Northern Exposure extension, which enriches the Birthright experience.
Livnot is a Jewish supermarket of ideas and resources. Participants are encouraged to take an item ‘off the shelf,’ read the ingredients, ask questions, taste and smell, then put it in their cart, or not, and try something else. Jewish heritage, culture, religion, and spirituality can speak to anyone’s soul if presented in the right setting. Our message is simply to ‘do Jewish;’ there are many ways, and it’s not ‘all or nothing.’ And, with the pressure off, and no religious agenda, real growth and connection can begin. No one leaves with an empty cart. Livnot alumni carve their own Jewish path, and we’re proud of them, wherever it leads to. It doesn’t have to look the same … I would even say that it shouldn’t look the same. It’s pluralism at its best.
Alumni engagement is a hot topic now, though at Livnot it has always been the center of our program construction. For decades, our mantra has been: what happens after the Israel experience is no less important than what happens during it.
As I turn the pages of participants’ feedback, this mantra is echoed:
I had a really wonderful introduction to the homeland on Birthright. Livnot introduced me to how community feeds the soul.
It made me rethink my connection with Judaism and how I will express it in the future. It highlighted the more spiritual aspects of Judaism, and how I can incorporate them into my life to help make me a better person.
Knowledge is not power; it is potential power. Action is power.
As an organization with 35 years of experience, Livnot’s program components have been refined and developed (and are constantly being further developed) to ensure that each and every element of the program works to meet the objective of creating a significant tie to Jewish identity. Livnot’s holistic model combines community service, learning through nature, experiential Jewish content and community living. The emphasis is on building a personal and communal link to Judaism through action.
Meaningful service projects create a special bond to the Land and People of Israel. Jewish values, relevant to today, are ‘harvested’ from nature while trekking through waterfalls and 1,500 year-old synagogues. The climax of transmitted Jewish content is found in a unique and authentic Shabbat experience. At Livnot, Shabbat is not a spectator event where you watch someone else go through the routine. Even though, for most, this is the first traditional Shabbat of their lives, they are active participants in creating its celebration. Some are preparing physical food, while a few are cooking up ‘food for thought,’ and others are gearing up to lead the songs, etc. We welcome any of you who would like to view the programs ‘in action’ to visit our Tzfat campus and join the activities.
Livnot has an organizational culture of innovation, and adapting to the ever-changing needs of the Jewish world. We currently provide programming services to participants of Taglit-Birthright Israel, MASA Israel Journey, BBYO, Alexander Muss High School, Project Beyond, Young Judaea, Project TEN, JDC Entwine, and Shishi Yisraeli. Over 20 percent of our alumni have become active professional and lay leaders in many of those organizations, as well as Jewish Federation, JCC, Hillel, synagogues, day schools, and more.
Budding partnerships are developing with Hazon, Kevah, and Moishe House; all with the intent to keep the flame burning brightly, long after the Livnot program has ended. At the Birthright Mega-Event this summer, the rep at the Moishe House table across from ours referred to Livnot as the ‘gateway drug to Judaism.’
“You get people hooked,” he told me, “people who never even knew they were interested.”
But we aren’t possessive of our alumni and, if you’re ‘in the business’ of making inspired spiritual Jewish expression an accessible part of life, we would love to work with you too. We’re all in this boat together, and it’s not sinking.
Shayna Rehberg straddles the Gen X/Millennial divide in Tzfat with her four unique and creative children as an ‘unlabeled’ Jew. Shayna is Director of Marketing & Development at Livnot U’Lehibanot and is organizing a new initiative within the Onward Israel framework for communities who can’t send a bus-load of participants, to reap the same rewards by joining a partnership of five communities bringing five participants. You can reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org