When a group of eight couples in their 40s and 50s meet once a month to discuss different Jewish topics with Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman, co-director of Chabad of Richmond, no subject is off limits. The program is called Toward a Meaningful Life.
“I set the agenda for discussion each month, but if there are other subjects the group is interested in exploring, they’ll send me their questions ahead of time and we can have a meaningful, focused discussion when we meet together as a group,” said Baitelman.
The group of friends meets in the privacy of their homes, and rotates houses from month to month. The rabbi is open to any subject on which he can offer an insightful Jewish perspective. So far, topics discussed have included discovering your personal mission statement; marriage, love and intimacy; home and family; and purpose in life. Upcoming topics will include work; charity and wealth; pain, loss and anxiety; and religion and faith.
Jill Topp, a member of the couples group, values these sessions with the rabbi.
“He’s not judgmental at all, and we’re not even members of Chabad,” she said. “I love his style of guided learning, and what’s important to me is that he allows us to be the Jews that we are, and want to be.” She said they discuss issues related to being in healthy relationships of all sorts, from a Jewish perspective.
Debbie Aarons, another participant, said, “Our group is mixed, we’re not all Orthodox Jews, but we’re like-minded Jews and lifelong learners. Being part of this couples learning group sends a good message to our kids. It tells them that being Jewish is not just about going to shul once a week or a few times a year. It’s about continuing our Jewish learning and having meaningful conversations.”
Shay Keil, who also attends the group, finds it interesting to see how the other couples, who are his friends, respond to discussions about relationships from a religious perspective.
“It’s not something we talk about when we socialize, so it’s fascinating to hear their points of view on these topics,” said Keil. He commented that he finds it beneficial that they’re friends coming together, because it adds that social element to it. “I also like that our kids see us going on a Sunday night to a class that’s connecting us to Judaism, and that it’s not just about going to shul,” he added.
“As Jews, we struggle with all sorts of religious and other issues,” said Baitelman. “We’re a people that questions everything and wants to know why – or why not. Life is about purpose and meaning, and people want to understand their role in the world. So, during these couples classes, we explore all kinds of Jewish subjects and everyone has a chance to contribute. Hopefully, by the end of each meeting, couples have a better insight and understanding of Jewish topics, both personally and as part of the Jewish people.”
Anyone interested in joining this group, or starting one of their own, should contact Baitelman at 604-277-6427 or [email protected]. This informal program is open to all Jewish couples, regardless of age or religious affiliation.