Chai Ceremony

A Jewish way of sending young people off to college

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Option: Based on an old tradition, put a drop of wine on the eyebrows for wisdom and on the pockets for prosperity. You’ll need both for college!

The Spices: Tradition tells us that the spices at havdalah console us as our “Sabbath soul” departs. It is also said that the sense of smell is one that is most closely linked to memories. As we smell the havdalah spices, may their fragrant scent recall our many memories of growing up. May we take these special memories with us as we go on to the next phase of our lives. May the sweet scents of memory console us as we face the tender partings that are part of growing up.

Option: Participants bring a scent that reminds them of home or of Jewish experiences.

The Candles: The havdalah flame is made of two intertwined wicks. They blend together to form a bright flame, yet each one stands independently of the other. So, too, our lives are interdependent. We weave together and share the warmth of love and friendship, but we must also grow and become independent. As Shabbat departs, the glow of the havdalah flame reminds us of the productive work ahead. May this candle light our way as we go on to a new phase of life, and may God establish the work of our hands.

Option: In a larger setting, provide havdalah candles for each table or small group.

Responsive Prayer, prior to the final Hamavdil blessing: A responsive reading:

Chai participants say: Havdalah means separation. It is the ceremony separating the Sabbath day from the week ahead.

Parents and relatives say: Tonight’s havdalah has a special meaning. It is time to acknowledge a separation in our lives as our young adults grow up.

We celebrate chai, 18 years that mark the fulfillment of one phase of life and the beginning of another.

It is a time of releasing and letting go.

It is a time of growing up and experiencing the new.

It is a time to remember that life is a dance of comings and goings, like the light and shadows formed by the havdalah candle.

Just as Shabbat will return next week, we will return many times to our families. But each time, we will be different. All of us will grow and change. 

All: Let us bless the letting go and the letting grow. Let us bless the new phase in our lives upon which we now embark. Amen.

Prior to singing "Eliyahu Hanavi" (a song about Elijah the Prophet traditionally sung at havdalah):  Even as we bid the Sabbath farewell, may its essence infuse our week and inspire us to work for a messianic time when all may enjoy the blessings of life. According to tradition, Elijah the Prophet will herald this world-that-is-coming. We express our hope for the future as we sing together:

Sing "Eliyahu Hanavi" and "Shavua Tov" (a good week).

Part Three: Social/Simhah

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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.