How Oorah’s TorahMates Program Became My Spiritual Self-Care

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Anniel Nagler is a physical therapist. She lives in Hollywood, Florida with her three teen-aged daughters. For two years she has participated in Oorah’s TorahMates program. She reached out to share her experience.

As if women juggling kids, jobs and spouses don’t have enough to worry about, it seems that we now have to pay attention to self-care. Every magazine I open or podcast I listen to warns that if we don’t make time for self-care, we will somehow roll off the rails. By “self-care,” they usually urge women to spend a day at the spa, get a make-over at Sephora or scarf down a box of chocolate.

Over the past two years, I have learned that the most important aspect of self-care, for me, is nurturing my spirituality and connection to Judaism. It has done more to improve my self-confidence and my family life than a massage ever would. But this journey to discovering my spiritual self was not one that I started willingly.

Several years ago my children began participating in Jewish education programs run by the Oorah organization. Instead of letting the kids do their Jewish thing while the parents did business as usual,   the group leaders recommended a different kind of self-care. They felt that to support my children’s Jewish growth, I needed to enroll in Oorah’s TorahMates program and spend two hours a week studying some point of Jewish observance with a partner Oorah would select.

It was kind of a spiritual Tinder without being able to swipe left – Oorah would select the partner for me.

I have to be honest. When I received the news about TorahMates, I was more than a bit skeptical. As much as I appreciated the concept of Torah study and growing for the betterment of my children’s education, I didn’t really see how my learning with a stranger would strengthen their Jewish identities.

I wondered if I couldn’t do some sort of community service instead.  Or some self-guided learning? I couldn’t imagine how I was going to carve out the time and work out a schedule for me and some unknown partner to sit down and learn. It really was a challenge.

But for some reason – which I now attribute to Hashem’s hand — I was partnered with this really remarkable woman named Chumi.  When we first started learning together, we were both drawn to strengthening our emunah (faith) and found some books we could study with. Some of the books were good; some better than others.  I was always amazed at how Chumi made learning with me such a priority in her hectic schedule,

When we began, Chumi was a mother of five (now six), working full time as a nurse and attending grad school to further her education. I was so awe of her and felt that I had no reason to grumble about the time commitment given everything she was shouldering. If she could do it, I certainly could, too, I reasoned.

As the weeks flowed into months and the months into years, we grew closer and shared more about our personal lives and the ways our emunah is such an integral part of our day-to-day functioning. The hour weekly phone call has expanded. We now speak or text almost every day.  It became abundantly clear, to us both, I believe, that it really was Hashem who brought us together to learn and grow from one another.

I am abundantly grateful to Oorah for providing an opportunity to develop my own spiritual growth and learning of Torah. Oorah’s Torah Mates coordinators were amazing – pairing me with a woman who was a perfect match. Torah learning had not been a priority in my life for many years.  I was always so busy worrying about my children’s growth and education. I put my own development on the back burner. I understand now how important it is for me, as the mother of my household, to have a strong foundation in Torah and emunah.  This is the only way I can influence my children in a positive way.

I am also incredibly grateful for, and amazed by my partner, Chumi. She embodies a person who lives a life that revolves around her emunah.  During the few years that I have known her and have witnessed her countless struggles, I am inspired by the way she is able to call upon her belief in Hashem to and her strength of character, to get through them. She is truly an inspiration to me! I am blessed to be able to learn from her. She teaches me far more from the way she lives her life than I will ever learn in a book.

By studying with Chumi, strengthening my relationship with this woman I admire and increasing my own attachment to Hashem, I have repaired a spiritual part of myself that I had not even realized was damaged.

This is the ultimate self-care. It has restored my inner life and made me a better mother. Doesn’t that beat spending $200 for a face cream at Sephora?

 

TorahMates Partners Learn From One Another

Two women

There is an old saying: if you want something done, ask a busy person.

That would describe Chumi, a mother of six children ranging in age from one to 13 who also has a fulltime job as a nurse. And, by the way, she’s enrolled in a master’s program.

But even with so much on her plate, Chumi had a deep desire to give more. So she signed up for Oorah’s TorahMates program. She and a woman she had never met, Anneil, began having weekly phone conversations, discussing the concept of emunah (faith) and studying texts on the subject.

Chumi wasn’t even expecting to benefit from the mentoring experience herself. She just wanted to give to someone who needed her. But, to her surprise, she has ended up learning as much from Anneil as Anneil is learning from her.

“I never thought in a million years it would turn out this way,” says Chumi. “The fact that we study emunah really it brought it to life. I thought I was stronger in emunah before, but I have learned so much.”

Chumi says that Anneil has recommended online lecturers that Chum listens to regularly and describes as “life changing.”

Fast forward two years, the two women have developed a deep relationship over and beyond their learning experience. Although they have never met in person, Chumi says they text and email almost every day.

“It was definitely a personality match.  We’ve become very close. It is more than just the learning,” she adds.

We often hear that mentors receive as much as they give. But until we spoke with Chumi, we didn’t know how true that is.

“I didn’t think I would get anything out of it,” admits Chumi. “I was very altruistic. I wanted to be a giver. But I have learned so much from her.”

 

The fruits of a meaningful relationship with a TorahMate

A recent thank you letter we’ve received:

Thank you and Oorah for the Chanukah box of goodies I received  (last YEAR!! Happy New Year!)

An awesome mitzvah took place last month; I accepted the invitation to attend the Bar Mitzvah of my TorahMate partner’s son in Monsey, New York. It was also my first truly-observant Shabbos. And it was Chanukah! My visit may turn out to be life-changing, too! One example: I baked challah for last week in my own kitchen – Malky’s small challah rolls inspired me to make some, too!

Her family really enjoyed the Oorah box which I brought as a gift to them. As we were doing dishes in the kitchen on the 5th night of Chanukah, we popped the CD into the player and it seemed more like a continuation of the party rather than a chore. Thanks again for adding that special touch to this amazing time.

The Giving Ripple-Effect

chanuka

Below is a recent email we received with an incredible story and powerful lesson! When we read it – we were blown away!

I wanted to relay to you a very positive experience that I had after receiving your Hanukkah gift box. because my children are in their twenties and we have plenty of Hanukkah ft material I really had no use for the very generous gift that you sent me. I therefore took pictures of everything that was in the box and posted it on Craigslist for free to anyone who wanted it. within about 30 minutes I received a text message from someone asking if it was available..I told them to meet me at the furniture store that I work at the next day. I took note of the fact that this person lives in the same area that I work in, which is a very non – Jewish area. what a lovely lovely young lady showed up to claim the box, she told me the following story: she is the step mother of a six year old boy. she is Jewish, as is the boy’s natural mother. so the six year old boy is Jewish by law. Herr husband the boy’s natural father is not. there is very little Jewish education in the home because the father is not Jewish and the mother is not religious. She is more of a ” mother earth” type of person. the little boy is very eager to learn more about his heritage. believe it or not, what excited the stepmother the most was the Oorah [Chanuka] guide that was included, which explained the prayers :what they meant and why they were being said. I invited the stepmother and the little boy to a community Hanukkah dinner this Friday night so the little boy can experience for the first time the warmth of a Shabbos dinner along with the explanations about Hanukkah. this would not have been possible without your sending me the Hanukkah gift box. you are sending me the gift box, and it ending up in the possession of a little boy who desires to learn about his Judaism is clearly no accident. thanks to Hashem for connecting me with you. have a wonderful holiday

Age Shouldn’t Make a Difference!

TorahMates coordinators always question whether they should set up a volunteer with someone old enough to be their mother- or grandmother?

They decided to try it 5 years ago when they set Ruchi and Barbara up. They are still in touch, learning and very close- as you can see from the email below.

“…bh all is great.. she is like my my kids third Bobby these days.. we talk often.. I am making bar mitzvah soon and she and her husband are flying in iyh. I get to see her on my vacations when I go to miami..so its really sweet.”

Just goes to show if it’s a match- age shouldn’t make a difference!