Re-Imagine Your Judaism
Chochmat HaLev Member Story
Nitzan Pelman, Rosh Hashanah 5784

I grew up in the Orthodox Jewish community in Los Angeles. We kept kosher, refrained from using electricity on shabbat. We walked to friends’ homes for meals and spent many hours in synagogue. Synagogue was one of the most familiar places for me in the world. Sure, there was a partition between the men and women, and there was no live music. But it was joyous and benevolent.

Orthodox Judaism has a lot of Dos and Don’ts. 613 commandments in fact. Our community was one big bubble. When you go to Orthodox schools and synagogues and eat kosher, it’s hard to know anyone that doesn’t have the same practices in life. I met my first non0Jewish friend when I was 21 years old. 

As I got older, the Dos and Don’ts started to feel limiting, and so were the expectations. And the values didn’t feel aligned. I left that world pretty angry. It stopped feeling relevant, values-aligned, and meaningful.

So then there was the next 20 years, where I mostly had very little to do with Judaism. I filled the vacuum by fighting hard for equity in education through Teach For America and a whole set of other educational organizations I built, led, and ran. I funneled my leadership skills into being a CEO of social impact organizations for the last two decades. 

I am a walking cliche in many ways — and willing to acknowledge it. I met my amazing husband and we had a daughter named Orli. She’s now nearly 7. For the first nearly 6 years of her life, we started doing cultural Jewish things like eating apples and honey on Rosh Hashanah and lighting candles on Chanukah. But we didn’t really have a place. There wasn’t a synagogue or a community we felt connected to or a part of. 

About a year and a half ago, our dear friend Zvika assumed the role of Spiritual Leader here at Chochmat HaLev. We followed him here, not sure what to expect. My daughter and I lit shabbat candles At Chochmat together for the first time about 15 months ago. She had never been inside a synagogue before. 

Some of me feels like while every part of my mind and heart have grown more sophisticated over the last 25 years of life, my Jewish identity and knowledge was frozen in time. Until I found this place…

It’s a positive place. Not a lot of Dos and Don’ts (other than Orli not be allowed to climb the tree in the courtyard). Most of the time I find myself in tears during some part of the service that touches my soul. I wonder how many of you are feeling that way tonight. Sometimes I come to Chochmat wearing leggings/yoga pants, sometimes I dance next to my husband, sometimes my child sits on my lap and sings with me. I’m reinventing Judaism for me and for the way I want it to live in my life and my family’s life. I feel free. 

I was recently reading a description of Chochmat’s amazing new B’nei Mitzvah program, and I thought it perfectly encapsulated Chochmat’s unique vision of Judaism. Here’s a snippet:

Empowering: A Judaism that is a toolkit they can use to create their own meaning and navigate the world, rather than a static rulebook handed down from their parents and grandparents

Relevant: A Judaism that helps us intentionally design our approaches to self-care, consumption, romantic relationships, sexuality, work, money and other core parts of an intentional life?

Dynamic: A Judaism that is meant to change as we age — and we have the tools to update our knowledge?

While I know that the vast majority of you haven’t experienced the Judaism I lived and breathed in my life, how many of you had an experience as a child or an adult where it felt like an obligation as opposed to a vivacious, thrilling, introspective experience? How many of us have a model of Judaism that is frozen in time? 

While each part of us has grown up and become more sophisticated in our thought, our Jewish identities tend to stay fixed from childhood. Chochmat is a place for us to reinvent our relationship to Judaism. It’s for the heart, mind, body, spirit, and soul. It’s a place to reimagine our relationship with God and prayer. If praying to the traditional liturgical God doesn’t resonate or a God that has a long beard with a cane in heaven doesn’t resonate, it’s time to re-imagine. Chochmat is our place to do that — with Jewish texts, with our history and culture, with our spirit and soul. With a God or without a God. There’s something here for everyone.

This place operates on as close to a shoestring budget as possible. If you believe that it’s time for Judaism to play a different role in your life, please support us. If you love this place and have been coming for years, please support us. If this is the first time you’ve experienced this level of depth in a service, come back, come often, come for more. And please support us. 

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