Transcript: What’s Compelling Us?

Peretz: Okay!

Chanie: Welcome to a new conversation with Chanie and Peretz. Today,

Peretz: Hold on, I’m gonna pour myself some wine.

Chanie: (Laughs)

Peretz: All right, start again.

Chanie: Will this remain on the podcast?

Peretz: Yeah! 

Chanie: Welcome to a new conversation with Chanie and Peretz. And when we use the word “new” we are compelled to look at things in a new way. And today we want to share with you what is compelling us to focus on exploring the intersection between life and Judaism and Judaism and life. Okay. They’re in a circle dance, waltzing, tangoing, and everything else. And when thinking about this question, I go back to when I was a daughter, a young girl, and how I absorbed Judaism. And in my particular context a Hasidic Judaism in a community in Brooklyn, as well as growing up from the age of zero to twenty in a home. And if I would generalize, Judaism and a Hasidic way of life took priority over my own life – it was an important feature to remain a healthy part of a community, to do well in school, to be a role model for others, to make it into the right seminary.

Chanie: And how I was doing was secondary. So as long as everything looked good and appeared well, then that blending was considered healthy. And as a sibling, now, some of my adult siblings choose another way of living where Judaism is put away and their own personal lives and their own pursuits are priority. And I’ve been impacted by both of these experiences in a way where I’ve come to deeply understand that a person needs to be able to live and express themselves and simply be alive in a vibrant and healthy way. And Judaism needs to come second, though it doesn’t play out first, second, first, second. But the priority on the– the number one thing on the list is the health of a person, in a wholesome way.

Peretz: This actually reminds me of a conversation we once had with a mentor who was an expert in children– in education. And we were exploring with one of our kids what school to send him into or his condition in school. And we were taking apart his state as a kid and his Judaism, and this mentor says you’re doing the right thing. And he actually referenced a verse that is said in the daily prayer. It goes “leolam yehai adam,” a person should be a person, one should be a person. And then it says, “yerai shamayim b’sesser,” God-fearing in modestly, or within themselves. And it says, first, be a person. And then you could be God-fearing and have that relationship with God.

Chanie: I like the word in a modest way, which we’ll leave for an entire other podcast. And so, yes. And so it has informed me so much now as a mother and also your wife how we raise our own children, where we have deeply come to understand the importance of recognizing that they don’t belong to us, knowing that we cannot manipulate them or mold them. And the healthiest way is to live as a role model with this integration of Judaism and life, done in a wholesome, healthy way. If I can do that, and when my children see it – and they see it every moment – that will be the best way that they will learn how to do the same.

Peretz: So you’re describing what’s compelling you to explore this because of your personal experience and also because of how you’re actually living your own life. But what about as your role as a teacher, as a shlucha, so to speak, towards others. Why do you think this is relevant or important for them? I’m sort of like– I’m thinking out loud.

Chanie: It’s a good question. And it has been an evolving experience for me when I was younger and less comfortable and knowledgeable within myself. I’m in my early forties, that’s 20 years later after I first officially took the role as Chabad shlucha. My kind of conversations that I seek and pursue and cultivate with students and adults is not one that is: let’s open a text and see what the weekly Torah portion says, rather, it’s: what’s going on with you? How can we explore a Jewish idea using your experience and your interests and, you know, carefully cluing into these nuanced words and statements that are said, extracting through careful questioning what kind of relationship people have with different dynamics of Judaism?

Peretz: And it comes to mind that we were younger and we weren’t that experienced, and we’ve sort of approached it from, “let’s share as much text and as many ideas– make the ideas of Torah more accessible to people and not engage with the intersection.” There were people who became deeply committed to Yiddishkeit – Judaism – and became religious. And because we didn’t guide them in that intersection – not at our fault, because we were not sufficiently experienced – they went on to having complicated lives, marriages, and some of them come back to us and say, “why didn’t you– why did you let this happen?” to which we say,

Chanie: Are we talking about a whole lot? Many?

Peretz: No, no, no, no, just a few individuals, just a few individuals. 

Chanie: Okay, just wanted to clarify that. 

Peretz: But I know if they would have been in our lives today, it would look a lot different, and they would be in a lot better position.

Chanie: Correct. And also, we have also been able to successfully nurture a healthier relationship with Judaism, with others. So I know we reflect a lot and sometimes it may sound like we’re very hard on ourselves, in our deep desire to continuously grow and improve. And sometimes we are, but I also need to remind us both that we’ve been blessed, thank God, to also help others navigate that well, and we find ourselves actually doing that a lot more with the alumni, our friends, and adults in our lives. Now we don’t just talk about– we’re not just sitting in a Jewish class. We talk about marriage and raising children and relationships, relationships with their parents, siblings. And we have 40 years of life, which is very rich and deep. And we bring that forward in our own lives. And we are therefore able to explore these ideas with others who are in similar life stages.

Peretz: Yeah. And then there are those with whom, again, asking what’s compelling us to go in this direction is seeing that if we want to get people to learn about Yiddishkeit, to learn about Judaism, absorb Judaism, we have to bring their whole self into the conversation and not compartmentalize it. Often Jewish education is compartmentalized in the sense that, “learn this text, learn this idea, follow rituals, enter into the space of the rituals, enter into the space of the texts and the ideas, and then believe it, or only bring a part of yourself into it.” And that’s generally how Jewish education operates. Well I mean all education operates that way.

Chanie: Well, it’s just a few hours. It’s just part of the day

Peretz: And also a particular point in your life. 

Chanie: Yes.

Peretz: And what’s really important is to bring your whole self into it. So with students, we want to help them, show them, or nurture them into this engagement of Judaism, bringing their whole self into it.

Chanie: And when you mean whole self, you said that a few times, what do you mean?

Peretz: I mean, it’s not only about a conversation about observing Shabbat for instance, but it’s about what does observing Shabbat look like on the day itself? And what does it look like during the week? Who are you, or what part of you– I’m sounding abstract?

Chanie: Yes. Perhaps what you mean to say, or how I understand it is that we would talk, we would explore: What does your relationship with time look like, right? How are you productive and how are you distracted? How much do you like to own your time and how much do you kind of let it go and then say, “Oh my gosh, where did my day go?” Right? Those are different kinds of attitudes to have. How does that play out in observance of Shabbat?

Peretz: And then how do you sanctify time? Because that essentially is what Shabbat is, is sanctifying the time. Good point, thank you for clarifying that.

Chanie: (Laughs) Well, yeah. We can have a wonderful grand idea, but if we can’t bring it down, it just stays up there floating along with all the other people who have wonderful grand ideas. So I also understand that this kind of conversation may not have been a fit 20, 30, 40 years ago when Judaism and Jewish people had a different kind of relationship, or it was assumed, right, this is what you’re going to do. Now people are engaged in themselves in a whole other way, and we need to honor that and dignify that and engage it. So I understand why my parents raised me differently than the way I raise my children. And I anticipate my children will raise their own children and it will look different as well. I want to strive to pay attention to the rhythm of life and to the rhythm of Judaism, which looks different in America today. 

Peretz: Yes, I mean, the world is so different today than it was 20 years ago when we arrived here in Waltham. And a lot of it is due to technology, it’s not just, “oh, we were better then.” The world of technology that we live in today has transformed the world and that transformed how we interact in so many ways and what you’re saying is, yes, we need to respond to that and live within that and honor it. 

Chanie: So as we sit here and have this conversation, and it continues to excite me to reflect on the wonderful and sometimes difficult conversations we’ve had and the ones we are in the middle of creating. And so,

Peretz: We invite you to join us in a conversation. And that’s why we created M54. M54 is a space, an invitation for people to engage with us in conversations individually, or as a couple, or in a group – a social group, a synagogue, a community – to engage in a conversation that explores the intersection of Judaism and life. And Judaism is so broad and life is so broad and so multi-layered, and so can each conversation be.

Chanie: So to explain again, M54, M stands for the magic of 54, 54 is three times 18 – one life that engages with another life allows for a new liveliness to emerge. Three times 18 is 54, and 54 is our home address, which is just great. Have a great rest of your day.

Peretz: So visit M54.co. M54.co. Not .com., .co. Have a wonderful day.

2 Comments

  1. Liat Fischer on 02/04/2021 at 4:18 PM

    Thank you so much for sharing Peretz and Chanie! It’s really inspiring and fascinating to hear you reflect how you both have changed over time and how your changed perspective has changed your interactions and conversations with students and alumni!

    • Peretz Chein on 02/10/2021 at 2:39 PM

      Liat! Your attentiveness to our conversation and awareness of its nuances is a reflection of your depth and sensitivity. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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