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Newsletters: September 2018

September 2018​​​


• IGNITE CITIES: Heating Up Around the Country


   Reb Deb Ordained Maggidah
• IN GOOD FAITH: Special Book Offer for

   Friends of Chai Mitzvah

A Happy and Healthy New Year to You from the Chai Mitzvah Family.


NewCAJE was held this year at the University of Hartford. With close to 500 attendees, it is one of the largest Jewish education conferences. Chai Mitzvah was there, manning a table in the Exhibitor’s Hall, teaching workshops, and hosting the Teen Educator’s Luncheon. Chai Mitzvah also

sponsored a great night of entertainment with the author of our newest curriculum, Jewish hip-hop artist Matt Bar.

One of the workshops Chai Mitzvah offered featured Matt’s new Chai Mitzvah Mixtapecurriculum, an innovative teen curriculum that uses rap as a pedagogical tool.

This year NewCAJE had one morning focused on teaching Hanukah to a wide range of students, and Chai Mitzvah was asked to do the workshop for teen educators. The workshop, Funny, You Don’t Look Jewish: Hanukah and Jewish Identity, will be featured in The Jewish Education Journal.

For more information about Chai Mitzvah Mixtape, contact Nina Woldin,


Heating Up Around the Country

What do Ann Arbor, Michigan, Houston, Texas, Tampa, Florida, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Indianapolis, Indiana all have in common? If you guessed that they are all doing the Chai Mitzvah Ignite Program you would be correct!

What is Ignite? Simply, we partner with communities (usually through an umbrella organization such as a Jewish Federation or JCC) to bring many Chai Mitzvah groups into the community. Chai Mitzvah provides a stipend to hire a coordinator and works in collaboration with the community to create  the Chai Mitzvah groups. These groups are found throughout the community – in formal settings such as congregations, JCC’s, Federations and schools, and in informal settings such as friendship groups, affinity groups – such as downtown professionals, Jewish artists, or even a condo group.

Just like a book group, Chai Mitzvah groups can be embedded in many settings. What makes Chai Mitzvah unique is that it is experiential and emphasizes collaborative community engagement. Not only do we provide excellent engaging source materials, but we ask participants to look into their communities to identify something Jewish they want to learn, a ritual to take on or deepen, and a social action program in which to engage.

We believe communities are full of exciting and interesting opportunities for Jewish engagement. Chai Mitzvah provides the incentive for people to get connected and involved in opportunities that they find interesting and meaningful. Chai Mitzvah groups are appropriate for teens through seniors and all streams of Judaism. Chai Mitzvah is inexpensive and easy to implement. Our motto is “Grow your Judaism”...  And that’s our commitment.

For more information about how to become an Ignite City please


Eliel Safran is an eleventh-grade student from Portland, OR.  This past summer she was one of the recipients of the Chai Mitzvah Teen Program's grant towards a summer trip to Israel.

Students in good standing in the Chai Mitzvah teen program are eligible for $2,000 towards a summer trip to Israel. The grant is not needs-based and can be combined with other grants.

Read Eliel's letter to Chai Mitzvah about her life-changing summer trip.
For more information, contact

can’t even begin to thank you for Chai Mitzvah’s immense generosity in gifting me with this past summer. Because of you I was able to embark on the voyage of TJJ Ambassadors. I live in America surrounded by non-Jews at a public school. I often feel isolated in my Judaism among both non-Jews and Jews who don’t understand the importance of their Judaism. When it comes to Israel the amount of people I see daily who share my passion is even smaller. To me Israel is my historic homeland and a huge part of my Judaism. Around me at public school it isn’t uncommon to walk into my math class and see that someone has drawn a Palestinian flag with the words Free Palestine written on the white board. Looking around me, I see that no one else seems to notice or care at all while I’m panicking inside. I often feel defenseless when people attack Israel and I know that what they are saying is wrong and I know why in my head but am unable to articulate a response out loud and don’t have a secure thought to express. Especially when outnumbered by peers or talking to someone like a teacher who has authority.

Every jam packed day of TJJ Ambassadors I stood on dirt my forefathers stood on surrounded completely by my nation who spoke my language. I was able to connect and feel at home. TJJ Ambassadors was not only just a fun trip with fellow Jewish peers and learned staff. It was also a five week long training course on Israel. The land, the history, the politics, the spirituality, the conflict, the importance, and everything else. I gained a more rounded and complete understanding of every aspect of Israel. We spoke to guest speakers who had various priceless unique experiences and opinions. We saw
archeological sites that proved our historical existence in the land. We went to checkpoints and saw why they were important and necessary. We went to holy sites and further cemented my soul’s connection to the land. This wasn’t only a trip that deeply enhanced my personal identity. It also left me with a full tool belt of responses to give to anyone wanting to ask about or challenge Israel. A way more thorough understanding of the current and past issues, and an even stronger drive as to why they are important to know in the first place. I am now confident that the next time someone says something ignorant in school I can confidently and factually articulate a response. Thank you for that.


Eliel Safran

TELLING TALES OUT OF SCHOOL: Reb Deb Ordained Maggidah

Once upon a time there was a Jewish Renewal rabbi who was part of the enchanting program known as Chai Mitzvah. Ever since she was a child, and listened intently to her grandmother’s tales, she was fascinated by the art of storytelling and how words could magically transport her to another time and place. 

Then one day, Rabbi Debra Smith (Reb Deb as she is called) learned about a man who was a maggid, a special kind of Jewish storyteller. And she realized that she, too, could become such a weaver of tales (a maggidah, the Hebrew feminine) by studying with him. The man’s name was Jim Brulé, and she joined his two-year online course. Now, after two years of study, she was the first person to earn his blessing and his smicha — ordination — as a maggidah in her own right. Henceforth, she will be known as Rabbi and Maggidah Debra Smith (although she will continue to simply use the title of rabbi).

Reb Deb was ordained on July 27th. At the ceremony she recited a blessing that she wrote for the occasion which, among several stanzas, asks of God, “May I never forget that the transmission of these tales/Is a sacred act intended to better all lives/And to bring a piece of heaven down to us on earth.” 

Her personal experience with online learning gave Reb Deb a basis for teaching Chai Mitzvah online. Last year she led two virtual Chai Mitzvah groups, and a new virtual group for 2018/2019 is forming now.  

To join the new virtual Chai Mitzvah group, please contact

To read more about Reb Deb's ordination in the New Jersey Jewish News,  click here .

IN GOOD FAITH: Special Book Offer for Friends of Chai Mitzvah

Scott Shay, Chai MItzvah board chairman and founder, has written an exceptional book, In Good Faith.

Shay has had a successful business career spanning Wall Street, private equity, venture capital, and banking. He co-founded Signature Bank of New York and has served as its Chairman since its formation.

He has been a provocative commentator on many financial

issues, including how the banking system should best function to help society. Throughout his life, he has been a student of religion and how it
ought to apply to the world outside of the synagogue, church, or mosque.
Having founded a Hebrew school, he has authored articles relating to the Jewish community, and the the best-selling Getting Our Groove Back: How to Energize American Jewry.

Religion can be both inspiring and distressing. And many critiques of it are simultaneously compelling and dubious. In his book, Shay examines atheist arguments with a refreshing modern eye and looks at our most fundamental questions about faith and reason.

If you are interested in starting an In Good Faith discussion group, Chai Mitzvah will send you a copy of the book and discussion guide at no cost.



We welcome these new & returning groups to the Chai Mitzvah family:

Temple Beth Or Dayton, Ohio
Congregation Beth Am Tampa, Florida
Congregation Beth Yeshurun Houston, Texas
Temple B'nai Jeshurun Des Moines, Iowa
Medallion Assisted Living Houston, Texas
Temple Sinai Houston, Texas
Congregation Beth Sholom Rochester, New York
Women of Temple Sinai Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Congregation Anshei Israel Tucson, Arizona
Temple Beth Tikvah Roswell, Georgia
Congregation B'nai Israel Sacramento, California
Congregation Shirat Hayam Swapscott, Massachusetts
Emanuel Synagogue West Hartford, Connecticut
Temple Kol Emeth Marietta, Georgia
First Hebrew Congregation Peekskill, New York
Joint Jewish Education Program Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Beth Israel Congregation Florence, South Carolina
Temple David Monroeville, Pennsylvania
Congregation Etz Chaim Lombard, Illinois
Tamps Jewish Community Centers and Federation Tampa, Florida
Congregation Emanu-El Houston, Texas
Temple Ahavat Shalom Sisterhood Northridge, California
Congregation Shir Shalom Buffalo, New York
Kehillah High Houston, Texas
Temple Israel Cape Town Cape Town, Kenilworth, South Africa
Louisvillle High School of Jewish Studies Louisville, Kentucky
Congregation Shaarie Torah Portland, Oregon
Congregation Beth El Austin, Texas
Congregation Beth Israel New Tamid School of Jewish Studies
Glendale, Wisconsin
Havurah Shir Hadash Ashland, Oregon
Temple B'rith Kodesh Rochester, New York
Kulanu School of Jewish Studies Margate City, New Jersey
Temple Israel Religious School Charlotte, North Carolina
Marlboro Jewish Center Hebrew School Marlboro, New Jersey
Congregation Beth Torah Richardson, Texas
Temple Beth-El Hillsbourough, New Jersey
Congregation Beth Israel Austin, Texas
Beth Sholom B'nai Israel Manchester, Connecticut
Hebrew High of Harrisburgh Harrisburgh, Pennsylvania
Congregation Beth El Austin, Texas
Temple Emanu-El Sarasota, Florida
Congregation Beth Hatikvah Summit, New Jersey
Congregation Shaarei Kodesh Boca Raton, Florida
Congregation Tifereth Israel Columbus, Ohio
Congregation Bonai Shalom Boulder, Colorado
Tifereth Israel Synagogue Des Moines, Iowa
Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel Elkins Park, Pennsylvania
Temple Akiba Culver City, California
The Temple Congregation Adath Israel Brith Sholom Louisville, Kentucky
Temple Beth El Madison, Wisconsin
JT Connect West Hartford, Connecticut
Congregation Bnai Moshe West Bloomfield, Michigan
Beth Shalom Congregation Columbia, Maryland
Temple Beth Sholom of Flushing Flushing, New York
Romemu New York, New York
Temple Ahavat Shalom Palm Harbor, Florida
Mifgash Jewish Community High School Albany, New York
Seattle Jewish Homeschoolers Seattle, Washington

If your new or returning group is not listed, please let us know!



Webinars are held every month for the standard Chai Mitzvah curriculum and the Mussar curriculum. There are also webinars for teen educators. All of the webinars are recorded and the links are posted on our website.

Rites of passage mark transitions between different stages of life. Jewish tradition wisely understands that rites of passage, even those that are filled with joy, can be both exhilarating and disorienting. Explore rites of passage through this lens.
When: Sep 13, 2018 12:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Register in advance for this webinar:
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

While Judaism emphasizes Torah learning, it also values wisdom that comes from life experience. True wisdom derives from “applied Torah,” from our ability to truly live out Torah values in our own lives. We will discuss how every experience can be an opportunity for personal and spiritual growth.
When: Sep 14, 2018 12:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada) 
Register in advance for this webinar:
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

If you participated in Chai Mitzvah in the past, think about being a facilitator for a new group.  Starting a new group is an opportunity to share meaningful conversations and deepen bonds with new and old friends. 

Fri, September 21 2018 12 Tishrei 5779