I am undoubtedly overwhelmed, overextended, and stretched too thin on any given day, at any given moment. A 3-year-old son, almost 10-month-old twin daughters, a home to maintain, a small business we are trying to grow, a new photography venture, articles to write, a cooking club, and a few other activities all make my life insanely chaotic and wonderful.
Then why did I commit myself to one more thing? Because, if you notice the list above, there was nothing dedicated to being Jewish. I am committed to raising my children in a Jewish home, but was I doing enough to achieve that just by sending my son to the daycare at the local JCC? So when I was invited to join Chai Mitzvah, a women’s learning group at my synagogue, I jumped at the chance.
I have made a year-long commitment to attend a monthly study group with our rabbi and will further commit to a goal in three different areas: ritual, Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and learning. Only one month in, I can tell this is well worth my time. So far I have had new insights into:
1. Family Traditions.
I have chosen for my ritual goal to celebrate Shabbat and say the blessing for my children every Friday night. I might have to revise my goal from every week to three times a month because, alas, I didn’t do it this past week. I also want to bake four vegan challahs once a month so my husband can partake in the ritual as well. Making the challahs takes hours, but seeing everyone in my family enjoy them adds to the specialness of Friday night.
2. Prayer and Intention.
I love that the rabbi, the other women, and the discussion topics keep me on my toes. I love to hear others’ perspectives and personal stories as well as share my own. (What is said in the group stays within the group, so the only stories I can share are mine). When we last met we discussed prayer and intention and what that means. I talked about how when I recovered from Crohns disease (after being in bed for two years), I kept a promise I made to myself to learn the Asher Yatzar prayer. (If you have not heard of it before it is the Jewish prayer recited after going to the bathroom). I learned it word for word in Hebrew and in English. After two years of my body not working properly, I made it a point to be grateful and say the prayer several times a day, with intention. But at some point since then, going to the bathroom became a routine activity, something I probably take for granted again. I am hoping that this study group helps me reconnect with my Jewish spirituality and be a mindful Jew.
3. Collective Wisdom.
I really like the women in the group. Most of the other women I interact with on a day-to-day basis have kids around the same age as mine, but the women in this group have kids of all ages! I love, love, love this. In response to all the banter as to what makes a good parent, I have always said: let’s get together in 15 to 20 years and compare notes about how our kids turned out (and ask them what THEY have to say about our parenting). In the meantime, these women with their diverse backgrounds provide a wealth of wisdom for me because between them all someone has seen it and done it already. They know from experience what has worked for them and what hasn’t. I look forward to peppering them with questions and learning tips about how to survive the next few years!
I don’t feel like I have much time to do this study group, but I also think that I can’t afford not to. I want to fortify my Jewish values and traditions and thus instill them into my family. Because, in the words of R. Hillel: if not now, when?
If you are interested in learning more about Chai Mitzvah and leading a group in your community, please check out their website at chaimitzvah.org.