Chai Ceremony

A Jewish way of sending young people off to college

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Suggested outline:

A) The program may open with a song or niggun [wordless melody].   

B) The leader introduces the ceremony and explains its meaning. 

C) The leader invites each young adult to speak, whether with the whole group or in smaller sub-groups. It is recommended to provide a list of a few questions in advance that  the participant may talk about for a minute or two. (Examples: Do you have a favorite Jewish memory from growing up? What Jewish activities do you plan to pursue in college? What Jewish values will guide your course in studies and life? How will you affirm the value of life?)  

college students summarizing

College is a new stage in one's life

D) Parent(s) of the chai participants (followed by other relatives and friends, if desired) are invited by the leader to share their thoughts, feelings, blessings, or wishes for their child. Parents may wish to present their child with a family memento, Jewish gift, or other keepsake. Some may wish to share a poem, prayer, or song.

E) The community may wish to present each chai participant with a gift with a chai motif, such as a key chain with a chai (I found glass pocket stones with a chai symbol) that the participants can keep as a concrete reminder of their home community, their dedication to life-affirming values, and their participation in the chai ceremony.

Other options: The community may also wish to give practical gifts for use at college, such as a siddur [prayerbook], Jewish calendar, portable candlesticks, etc. Or the community might wish to give the chai participants subscriptions to a Jewish periodical; send them Jewish care kits or cards while at college; or plan a homecoming event during a vacation period.

F) The leader invites everyone to rise, join hands or link arms, and say or sing a blessing together. The family members may be invited to contribute spontaneous words of blessing to the entire group at this point. The priestly blessing in Hebrew and English may be used to conclude the blessing. 

Options: This ceremony requires little prior preparation. If a more formal program is desired, the chai participants and/or the families could have a period of preparation in which they undertake a meaningful and relevant project, such as Torah study, a tzedakah [charity] endeavor, gift to the community, or a presentation of Jewish arts.  

Part Two: Havdalah

 A traditional havdalah ceremony is held, led by the chai participants. Special readings are included to highlight the themes of this lifecycle event. They can be read by individual readers or by the group.

The Wine: Wine symbolizes joy. At this time of celebration, our cup of joy runs over. It is a Sephardic custom to smile or even to laugh joyfully as we look into the kiddush cup, anticipating a delightful week ahead. As we say the prayer over the wine tonight, let our smiles and laughter be not only for the week ahead, but for the upcoming years of growth and learning. To Life: L’hayim!

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Rabbi Julie H Danan

Rabbi Julie Hilton Danan is spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel in Chico, California, and an instructor in the Modern Jewish Studies program at Cal State Chico. She is author of The Jewish Parents' Almanac.