by Debra Bennett
On the Sunday morning after Thanksgiving, Rabbi Satz announced that our post-Shacharit bagel-and-coffee conversation would have to move from the boardroom in 15 minutes, unless we wanted to stay to join the new Chai Mitzvah class. My mother and I, being curious women, stayed to join the class of eight.
The topic of that first class was "Adult Rites of Passage," a fitting way to begin since what falls between ages 13 and 113 is part of what Chai Mitzvah addresses, and Chai Mitzvah itself is a new adult rite. That morning, words from the Mishnah resonated with the class, holding up well as a life cycle prescriptive and descriptive in the 21st century: at 15, one should begin study of the Talmud; at 18, the chuppah; at 20, pursuit; at 30, strength; at 40, understanding; at 50, counsel; at 60, old age; at 70, fullness of years; at 80, strength—that one gave us pause until my mother, in her 80th year herself, offered that age means loss, and that dealing with that takes strength.
Over the next eight months, we eight added our names to the 1,500 others across North America who have journeyed the Chai Mitzvah course. Each month brought a new topic, from Judaism and the Environment to Philanthropy, Interpersonal Relationships, Mindful Living, Gratitude, Adding New Meaning to the Pesach Seder, and Israel and the Jewish Spirit. The curriculum is designed by educators, using diverse sources in Hebrew and English, to create a loosely structured look at Jewish life and at what Jewish Life means to us as individuals and groups.
In addition to monthly study, each of us made a specific commitment to deepen or extend our Judaism in three areas: worship, ritual, and social justice. For me, this means my journey toward leading Shacharit has accelerated (worship); Havdalah has become part of my Shabbat (ritual); and I walked with fellow Chai Mitzvah, and new friend Andrew, as part of Holy Blossom’s first ever contingent in the Toronto Pride Parade (social justice).
I arrived “accidentally,” but what brought my classmates? That answer to that is likely similar to the answer to the question of what brings each of us to synagogue at all. It’s rarely only one reason, but often we can identify a main attraction: Jill may go for prayer, Linda for study, and Rosalie to visit with Jill and Linda! Chai Mitzvah combines all three, and was a welcome addition to my Jewish learning, ritual, worship, and community.
Debra Bennett is a member of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, ON, Canada, and Bube to 10-month-old Nia.