As I sat on the bus to Efrat, I started to really reflect on my time since I last saw the Bowmans. It has now been a month since I participated in the Livnot Passover program, an eight day program in Tsfat consisting of volunteering, hiking, and learning, of which the Bowmans were in charge. It was there that I celebrated Passover, a Shabbat, and my “Hebrew birthday.” My fellow participants included men and women in their 20s, mostly from other MASA programs. The eight days proved to be incredibly spiritual; there was never a moment in the day that someone wasn’t singing.
Now, typically I roll my eyes at spirituality, but I tried to really challenge myself to get into it. I wasn’t afraid to dance when a song really moved me or shed a tear when taking in the beautiful view of the Galilee from the balcony on campus. Letting myself accept this spirituality was one of the best things that could have happened to me.
I felt renewed. I wanted to sing all day. I wanted to pray, dance, and laugh.
The spirituality mixed with volunteering at an elderly home (singing songs, of course), hiking Israel’s wondrous nature, and discussing issues of amazement, fright, and self-appreciate, awakened me. I had already, in my opinion, changed a lot over the course of my time in Israel, but this program motivated me to change much, much more.
I was surrounded by unbelievable role models. Coincidentally or not, each of them modern Orthodox, I was consistently inspired by their spirituality and love of Israel, God, and the Jewish people. The Bowman family, as well as the b’nat sheirut, were accepting of each of our stories and opinions and were incredibly knowledge about a variety of topics. I envied the beauty of their souls. I tried to express my admiration, but even now, I am finding it difficult to put into words. They just took so much pleasure in following G-d’s commandments.
I had always loved going to services, but within days, I took taken on many new religious practices that I did not regularly do before. This includes reciting the shema before and after sleep, washing before a meal, and keeping Shabbat (to the best of my ability at this point). I can proudly say that each practice I wanted to add to my life, I have consistently done for the past four weeks.
While I continuously struggle with the idea of G-d, I am not actively doing these actions directly for G-d; they have proved to be beneficial for me. Praying after a meal makes me stop and really appreciate the meal I just enjoyed, just as the shema in the morning gives me a moment to be thankful simply for waking up and for having the amazing life that I live. And Shabbat has been one of the greatest gifts I have received. I am an incredibly active person, and while I enjoy that, having an entire day where I do not feel guilty taking a long mid-day nap or sitting in the sun reading, has been more than rewarding. I know it has only been four weeks, but I hope, no, I know, that this change is permanent.
So, as I was on my way to the Bowman’s, a family that I describe to my friends as having some of the “most amazing souls I have met,” I wondered if they knew how much I appreciated them or looked up to them. I wondered if they knew how much I had changed since I last saw them and if they knew that they had such an impact on that change. I was excited to show them the “new me,” but I also didn’t want to seem like an amateur. From the minute I walked in the door, hugged each of the five children (well, only the three girls), and handed the mother, Leah, a bouquet of flowers, my soul sang. I had an amazing Shabbat with this family (my first Shabbat following every single Shabbat rule) and it completely solidified the choices I had made. I definitely thank Livnot (and recommend it to anyone looking for a short-term program in Israel) and the Bowmans for changing my life.