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About Lev Yehudi
Approximately 60,000 young Israelis a year embark on a voyage of discovery following their discharge from the Israeli army. These thousands of young adults, mostly non religious, between the ages of 21 and 35 seek refuge and the “meaning of life” in strange forms of idolatry in the far East and try to discover happiness induced chemically, in three-day long full moon trance parties on the beaches of Goa. Most spend long weeks trekking South America and the East, some opting to stay months or even years away from home.
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What most of these backpackers have in common is openness to new ideas. Far from the everyday pressure of life in Israel , isolated from news reports, there is a calmness that allows for introspection. They are open to foreign cultures, as to their own, especially in the setting of a home away from home.
Lev Yehudi seeks to provide a Jewish alternative to Israeli young adults, who seek spirituality from foreign cultures during extended periods of travel to India and South America, through the establishment of “Jewish Homes” abroad, which are run by an Israeli religious Zionist family, and through a series of follow-up outreach programs for travelers who have returned to Israel .
Lev Yehudi strives to set up a Jewish Home in places with many Israeli backpackers and invite the backpackers to drop in on a daily basis for a kosher meal (which they help prepare), a shiur or a chevruta, and they are welcome to a friendly chat or to playing with the children. They stop by for special occasions, such as a sederTu B'Shvat, Purim party, Shabbat prayers and meals, etc.
In the year 2003, Itzik and Ravit Cohen of Ramat HaGolan with their three children, led the mission as part of a pilot program to explore the effectiveness and validity of such an idea. In 2004, Gilad and Zohar Choter of Atzmona with their two children led the project between January-March with much success. Approximately 50 visitors would stop by daily for meals opting to stay for a shiur, or even sign up for a course on spirituality or kabbala. On Shabbat the family would host an average of 100 guests for candle lighting, kabbalat shabbat and Shabbat meals. We plan to send an additional family for a project in Northern India for the period of July – October 2004.
Upon their return, the backpackers continue to seek – on their own initiative – the taste of Judaism that they encountered for the first time in India . There is a genuine desire to maintain contact. The families that ran the program, speak to them to telephone or visit, midweek or on Shabbat. Not long ago about eighteen “post-India” Israelis got together for a Shabbat at the family from the Golan whom they met while in India . All of them want to continue exploring and learning, experience Shabbat again and, most importantly, to once more feel the power of the encounter with religious family life. Get-togethers have occurred before Rosh HaShana, during Sukkot, Hannuka, Purim, the Iyar holidays, Shavuot, as well as ongoing Shabbatot and chevrutot.
Lev Yevudi, is based on keruv levavot in the spirit of religious Zionism. Having served in the army, and believing in the importance of a Jewish state, the emissaries of Lev Yehudi have so much in common with the Israeli backpackers. We are active in society together, live in the same neighborhoods, and do not believe in “brainwashing,” but rather in openness and setting a personal example of family life. Recruiting a family with children for this mission is most crucial, in light of the challenges that must be faced. The home is designed as a relaxed drop-in center in the spirit of religious Zionism, which is open at all hours. We emphasize mainly spiritual growth, and deal with addiction only when the need arises, as opposed to the ADA (Anti-Drug Authority), which deals solely with addictions.
The main goals of the program are (a) to provide Israeli backpackers with a warm, home-like, Jewish environment (b) to enable Israeli backpackers the opportunity to explore their Jewish identity, and (c) to give initial psychological and social support to Israeli backpackers suffering from drug abuse and cults. The strategiesused are manning the home with a qualified and warm family, with a significant background in Jewish study, and some background in the treatment of drug abuse.
Lev Yehudi evaluates the program by measuring the degree of participation in classes and Shabbat meals and services, and through the collection of qualitative data obtained through the use of a guestbook, and feedback from the backpackers and the emissaries. The success of the pilot program has sparked a demand for follow-up activities in Israel (with much participation). The impact so far has exceeded our expectations and dreams.
Our future plans are to establish additional Jewish Homes in India and South America and broaden activities in Israel. We must create a genuine Jewish alternative, with high-level courses, thereby providing an answer for people who have halted the rat race of their lives to devote some time to self-development and learning through a large spiritual center whose fame extends far and wide. We must invest here where these young trekkers are ripe and concentrated, eager to discover their roots.