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Our History

In 2008, Scott Shay, our founder and Board President, wrote “Getting our Groove Back: How to Energize American Jewry,” in which he tackled some of the challenging issues facing contemporary Jewish life. One issue he wrote about was how to keep people meaningfully connected to Judaism at every age and stage of life. Shay recognized that Jewish engagement involves spirituality and social action as well as study.

In 2009, piloting in Hartford, CT, Chai Mitzvah was formed as a 501 C(3). Since then, the Chai Mitzvah program has enriched over 3,500 lives throughout the United States, Canada, and Israel. Upon completion of the program, surveys indicate that Chai Mitzvah participants continue to be engaged in a sustainable and meaningful way in subsequent years. 

Chai Mitzvah is a simple model. Like a book group, Chai Mitzvah network groups meet monthly with beautifully designed text-based source books on Jewish topics of interest. In addition to these monthly discussions, each person in the group commits to engage in a social action project, to identify something to learn, and to adopt or deepen a ritual or spiritual practice of their choosing. 

The source books are clearly laid out and accessible to those of all backgrounds and styles of practice, offering texts in Hebrew and English, from contemporary and traditional sources. There are source books for adults, teens, and families. Source book topics range from business ethics, family education, teens, Mussar (character development), to Women of Reform Judaism ( WRJ). Everyone doing the Chai Mitzvah program is on the same monthly topic (although from a different perspective) creating a global conversation.

Our tradition tells us that a full Jewish life involves our head, heart, and hands. The Chai Mitzvah program is unique in that it is experiential involving both communal and personal opportunities for growth, and works collaboratively with communities to deeper engagement. 

At the end of the program, each person celebrates the Chai Mitzvah journey with a certificate of completion, and has a tree planted in Israel from the Jewish National Fund in their honor. Groups celebrate their Chai Mitzvah commitments and accomplishments in extraordinary ways and participants continue growing Jewishly for years to come.

Sun, October 21 2018 12 Cheshvan 5779