I started my Jewish learning at an Orthodox Synagogue learning Hebrew when I was ten years old. When a Reform emple opened three blocks from my home, we became Reform Jews. I have been a Reform Jew ever since.
My wife, Lee, and I never had children so we never experienced teaching a child about Judaism and the Jewish rituals as they went through life. Shortly after marriage in 1976, we joined a Reform Temple in Wayne, New Jersey and have been members of a Reform Temple ever since. However, we were never active members and, other than attending High Holiday services, we did not attend services on a regular basis. When we joined Temple Israel in 2003, we began attending Friday night services once a month, usually on the third Friday, which is the Friday Night Live musical service. I always enjoy singing the blessings and the other musical aspects of the service.
While I have been the Treasurer of the Men's Club for several years and this year joined the Temple Board as a Trustee, I felt there was something missing and I wanted to do more to enjoy being a Jew.
When I first received the email about the Chai Mitzvah program, I thought this might be just what I needed. I wanted to improve my Hebrew and thought as part of the Chai Mitzvah learning requirements, I would join the adult Hebrew Class. However, I wasn't sure I wanted to commit to a weekly Hebrew Class and the work involved to become proficient, as well as a monthly Chai Mitzvah class. Well, the deadline for both came and went and I did not sign up. Several weeks after both classes started, I woke up one day and decided to "go for it". I had missed one Chai Mitzvah class and two Hebrew classes.
Chai Mitzvah asks that you make some changes in your life through three areas.
My Jewish learning experiences is to relearn Hebrew.
We are also asked to do something to help our community. For several years now, I have been a volunteer every Friday morning in the Florida state program called SHINE, (Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders) where I counsel seniors on Medicare/Medicare Advantage Programs/Supplement Insurance, and Prescription Drug Insurance. While this has been a very gratifying experience, it made me aware of how many seniors barely exist on their Social Security check and have very little left over to pay for the cost of health insurance and drugs which are not covered by Medicare. For these clients, we assist them in finding state funded programs to assist them.
When I was growing up, my Mother always lit Shabbat candles. The blessing and glow of the candle always made me feel good. I have never done this in my home. As a way to grow spiritually, I am now lighting candles every Friday night in my home. Lee and I have also started coming to Friday night services twice a month.
As part of Chai Mitzvah when we meet once a month, studying various aspects of Jewish Life. For example, at the first meeting, which I missed, they studied "Adult Rites of Passage"; the second meeting dealt with "Tzedakah/Philanthropy" and the last meeting "Individual and Community". While the readings are interesting, what I find most interesting is the Rabbi’s contributions and the discussion with the other members of the group. We all have different backgrounds and perspectives on the topics and the lively discussion/debate is a real learning experience.
So, what I have learned so far in my Chai Mitzvah experience. I have begun my journey to add more meaning in my Jewish life. The lighting of Shabbat candles have bought a glow to my house and a feeling I haven't had since I was a child. I am growing as a person as I counsel seniors on their health insurance needs and meet and help people who have very limited means. In addition, my interaction with the Rabbi and other members of the Hebrew and Chai Mitzvah class, as we discuss the many aspects of Judaism and how to be a good Jew, have opened up my mind to other points of view.