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Idea #16: Chai Mitzvah

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This installment of the 28days28ideas comes from Jewcy.com, but is appearing today on the Fundermentalist because of technical difficulties. When Jewcy is back up and running, we’ll put the post back where it belongs.

Life is a process of continuous growth.  

While the age of thirteen is indeed a Jewish milestone, Chai Mitzvah believes that one’s exploration and learning of their Jewish commitments should be experienced throughout life.  Whether it be on the 31st, 49th, 67th, or 80th birthday, this is a unique opportunity for one to partake in an experience of learning, and recommencement that defies age.

While we acknowledge that as we grow older, our train of thought takes different courses, Chai Mitzvah provides individuals a chance to "grow their Judaism" throughout different stages of their life; a refresher course in faith if you will.  

As a Chai Mitzvah, participants identify something personally meaningful that they want to study, adopt or deepen the practice of a Jewish ritual, engage in a social action project, attend once a month classes that are especially created for Chai Mitzvah participants, and celebrate. Generally, the Chai Mitzvah experience begins around the High Holidays in the fall and continues through the late spring.

Chai Mitzvah is currently being piloted in Hartford Connecticut, with all 19 local Synagogues, JCC, Federation and Foundation involved.

Originally conceived by Scott Shay in his book Getting our Groove Back: How to Energize American Jewry, Chai Mitzvah is seen primarily as a synagogue based program and designed to encourage adults to evaluate their personal Jewish connections at regular intervals throughout their lives as they engage in a variety of Jewish activities that are personally meaningful, and correspond to unique life challenges: starting out, middle age, retirement, and reflection on a life hopefully well lived and contemplation of how to live the remaining years.

“Chai Mitzvah is about grappling with the complexities of human life. It is an opportunity to investigate where we’ve been, where we are, where we’re going. and how Judaism has affected our lives” says Shay.

Chai Mitzvah’s ultimate goal is for this right of passage to become a new Jewish minhag or tradition, as normative as bar or bat mitzvah. As individuals are living longer and more vibrant lives, the Jewish community has an opportunity and a mandate to offer ways to keep people connected and engaged throughout their lifetimes.

“This is a simple, time bound program that is individualized, relatively easy, and inexpensive for communities to adopt. The program is multifaceted, involving study, social action and ritual life. Don’t forget the celebration,” adds celebrations coordinator Fanny Cohen. “Celebrations are important to acknowledge a renewed commitment and to serve as a model for others to become a Chai Mitzvah.”

Audrey Lichter, the executive director of Chai Mitzvah, was the director of the award-winning Yachad Jewish Community High School in West Hartford, CT, for fourteen years. She is a founding member and past Board President of the Hebrew High School of New England and the   recipient of a number of community awards including the Grinspoon Lay Leadership Award and the Charter Oak Vision Award.  For more information about Chai Mitzvah contact  Audrey@chaimitzvah.org. 

Visit The Fundermentalist  to read "Idea #15: Return of the Matchmaker" and stay tuned to ejewishphilanthropy for Idea #17. You can also visit 28days28ideas.com for the full list of ideas as they progress.

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