In truth, I didn't have any desire to go to Israel. I had done a lot of traveling and Israel wasn't high on my priority list after I had an unpleasant Hebrew school experience. My cousin and I wanted to travel together, however, and she insisted I come on this program with her. She had been to Israel before and had a special connection to the country that she wanted to share with me. I decided it would be worth it to see a new place and get to bond with my cousin but had no high hopes for my experience. I was happily very mistaken.
Morning: Our day to day activities consisted of waking up and taking turns cooking breakfast for the whole group (which can vary anywhere from 5 - 25 people). We ate most of our meals together as a community and watched and discussed the news every morning.
Afternoon: Afterwards, we either went off to do some community service in the area or a beautiful hike. Some examples of the community service we did were cleaning up a low income, immigrant village, singing to elderly people in a home, playing with children in an Ethiopian Absorption Center, painting a school, and helping to renovate a bomb shelter. The hikes we went on were guided by some of the most amazing guides and people I've ever met. Not only did they know seemingly everything about the area we were in (which is impressive in a land with so much history!) but were interested in our lives, what had brought us here, and open about their own experiences. I had many conversations about the meaning of life while hiking down the side of a mountain on that trip.
The program also consisted of some Jewish learning. It was so important for me to be in a Jewish environment that was also so open and diverse. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to join the discussion, no matter what point of view he or she has. This sense of openness and safety in this community allowed for incredible bonding and insights.
Returning to Israel: When I left Israel after this trip, I knew immediately that I had to come back. For a year and a half, I impatiently waited and planned to come back to Israel and explore what this feeling was that I had about being in the land, connecting to these people. I finally made it back, with no plans of what I would do during my four month stay. I wound up studying with a wonderful community in Jerusalem, traveling around the country, and eventually going back to work for Livnot U'Lehibanot.
It was there that I met my fiance, another Livnot alum who had a very similiar experience to my own and had decided to move to Israel. We are getting married at the end of this month and planning to live and start a family in Israel. Because of Livnot, I have gotten to know myself in ways I never thought possible, have met some of my favorite people in the world, and have found where I am truly at home. I could not recommend this program more for someone who wants an off the beaten track, meaningful way to experience Israel and meet an amazing community of people.