Creating a happy, healthy New Year with ancient Jewish wisdom and modern wellness practices
“We are lucky to have a fresh start every year,” said Chabad’s Ella Rapoport, speaking to 30 women attending a program at the Chai Center last month entitled A New Year, A New You. “The shofar is like an alarm clock that says: Start getting ready! The New Year is coming! Wake up! Take stock of your life—what did I do last year, what can I do this year? What can I improve upon?”
A New Year, A New You— the first in a series of programs that will be team-taught by Rapoport and local health coach Kim Schwartz—offered attendees, who ranged in age from 16 to over 70, an introduction to the building blocks for creating a healthier, happier New Year. Those building blocks included nutrition, fitness, a positive mindset, spiritual practices, and creating meaningful connections with others. Although the Rosh Hashanah program was just for women, Schwartz and Rapoport are hoping to reach out to people of all ages and sexes during the year 5777 through a series of wellness programs that integrate Jewish wisdom and spirituality with contemporary approaches to creating a healthy lifestyle.
The New Year is an ideal time to adopt a healthy lifestyle and new, healthier habits, stressed Rapoport.
“Rosh Hashanah is about not getting stuck in the past, but moving forward instead,” she said.
Several Jewish traditions reinforce this: The Tashlich service is about letting go—the bread we cast into the water represents not only our sins but also other kinds of negativity that weigh us down. This letting go helps get us get unstuck, freeing us to look forward. That is why many traditional Jews have the head of a fish on the table at Rosh Hashanah: It reminds us that “we want to lead with our head and not with our tail” as we come into the New Year, Rapoport explained.
Although Yom Kippur, “the Day of Atonement,” has become synonymous with repentance, it is also about going through a process of “teshuvah”—which literally means “return,” she added. What do we return to? Ourselves, said Rapoport.
“We return to the good inside of us. We never have to get rid of who we are. We return to that part inside of us that truly wants to do good, to connect to G-d. You don’t need to develop a new persona, you just need to get back to the real you,” she noted.
Similarly, wellness is also about returning to your natural state of wellbeing, by examining how you live and making adjustments, according to Schwartz. “I want to put health and happiness into people’s hands, to motivate people and give them tools.” Her goal: “to teach people how to create their happiest, healthiest, most successful and spiritually abundant life.”
Schwartz calls this a “delicious lifestyle.” Some of the key ingredients that determine its quality and flavor are one’s relationships, work, home life, spirituality, and physical condition. During the course of the recent Rosh Hashanah program, women were asked what their ideal delicious lifestyle would “look, feel, taste, smell and sound like,” said Rapoport. The goal was to figure out how people could activate their five senses to enhance the quality of their lives.
Attendees were also given the opportunity to taste healthy foods such as quinoa-pomegranate salad, gluten-free challah, and more, and to take home the recipes; to scrub away dead skin for the New Year with a sugar scrub; and to take turns getting a whiff of essential oils that have the power to improve mood, breathing and sleep.
“It’s kind of amazing how the essential oils work; if you’ve never tried them, it’s really amazing when you do!” said Vicki Waxman, who attended the program along with her teenage daughter and mother-in-law. Although the material was not new to Waxman, it was to the others. All of them enjoyed the program, which Waxman described as a spiritual experience in itself. The event took place on a beautiful late summer evening in the Chai Center courtyard, “with twinkling lights and the sound of wind chimes,” said Waxman. “I liked the idea of the New Year as an opportunity to start fresh. [The program] really got you to focus on the positive and helped people set goals for the year.”
Schwartz and Rapoport are now planning future programs targeting different populations— such as a mindset workshop for teens, a nutrition workshop for adults, and much more. All will interweave Judaism with experiential learning about how to create a healthy lifestyle, said Schwartz. They also plan to create a chavurah-type group that meets weekly.
Although the first program was hosted and promoted by Chabad, the series will not be offered through Chabad, noted Rapoport. “We want to make this a community-wide thing [that’s] not just affiliated with one place.”
“Really we are two women in the community who want to make a difference, two educators who see a need and would like to fill it,” said Rapoport, noting that she and Schwartz are both religious school teachers. Rapoport is the program director for Chabad’s Community Hebrew School, and Schwartz has taught at Beth Judah’s religious school for many years.
Yet in some ways the two women are from very different worlds. When she’s not “Morah Kim,” Schwartz can usually be found at her store, Live Right Naturally, in Egg Harbor Township, where she sells essential oils and supplements and does health consultations, often working with people who suffer from auto-immune disorders, stress-related illnesses, anxiety and depression.
Although Schwartz had originally planned to do secular wellness workshops, she changed her plan after attending Chabad’s Mega Challah Bake, which brought 200 women together to make challah at the Chai Center this summer. Rapoport helped lead the program.
“At the Challah Bake, it hit me like a lightning bolt that a spiritual element was missing from my program,” said Schwartz, who felt drawn to the Jewish wisdom and insight that Rapoport had shared. “I felt everything she taught was congruent with what I do,” said Schwartz, who talked with an enthusiastic Rapoport after the Challah Bake about collaborating on wellness programs.
The rest is history—or a history that is about to be written during the year 5777. “We’re excited to bring this program to the community,” said Rapoport.
Schwartz truly believes that including G-d in the program was what finally got her wellness series off the ground. “I absolutely feel this was beshert!”
For more information on upcoming programs, contact Rapoport at (609) 992-5522 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Schwartz at (609) 641-5483 or info@LiveRightNaturally.com.