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10/02/2018 10:18:50 PM


Monica Garcia Norlander


My name is Monica Garcia Norlander. My Hebrew name is Chaya Ora, which means Life and Light. I am proud to stand here today as an alumna of the West Suburban Temple Har Zion class titled, “Introduction to Judaism.” In the class, I learned a solid foundation of Jewish knowledge, I joined a community of other learners, I cemented my decision to raise a child with Jewish values, and I grew on my personal journey.

In April 2017, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer that attacks one’s lymphatic system. The experience gave me time for almost daily, individualized study with a caring hospital rabbi. Thankfully, my body was receptive to the chemotherapy treatment, and am in remission. However, as I healed and began living life again outside of the hospital, I would no longer be able to meet regularly with my hospital rabbi. He was supportive and told me, “you cannot become Jewish alone in a room, whether in the hospital or at home.” That prompted me to search for a class to advance my understanding of Judaism.

The stars finally aligned as I became aware of West Suburban Temple Har Zion’s Introduction to Judaism class. With a thoughtful curriculum, the potential to connect with others also eager to learn about Judaism, and babysitting available upon request during class time for our daughter, this class seemed perfect and, indeed, we learned so much, such as teachings from the Torah and about the land, and the people, of Israel.

Classes were taught by the rabbi, cantor, and religious school principal, as well as by dedicated congregants who led classes on family, Shabbat, Pesach, and God, among other key topics, including one called, “Who is a Jew?”. One of my favorite things about the class was building community with others who are both knowledgeable about, and interested in, Judaism.

The Intro to Judaism class brought many people together from various walks of life. Other Jews in the class, grew up here in Chicagoland, and remembered days when Jews faced explicit anti-Semitism. Others in the class, were Jews who wanted to refresh their knowledge. Or, like my husband, were Jewish … but had a lot to learn. Others, like me, were considering converting to Judaism. Others were not currently affiliated with Judaism or any religion, and wanted an opportunity to learn more about our community.

I both made great friendships and have become equipped to bust myths about Judaism and what it means to be a Jew, especially as the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center cite that Anti-Semitism is on the rise.

Practically speaking, I now know how to celebrate Shabbat in our home — and my husband now knows how to keep a kosher home.

Personally, I learned that being a Jew is what is in my heart and mind, and what I do to make the world whole again. The class taught me that being Jewish is about lifelong learning, the ongoing quest to be a mensch, and doing my part to be in touch with my spirit as a human being, joining in prayer and t’zedakah, and passing values on to the next generation.

The Introduction to Judaism class was a new beginning and not the end of my Jewish learning. On August 31, my daughter and I went to the mikveh. She starts preschool at the temple in this new year.

As you can see, the Intro to Judaism class here has jump started our family’s Jewish learning for the rest of our lives. L’Shana Tovah and Let us all be etched into the Book of Life. L’Chaim!”

For more information on this year’s Introduction to Judaism class, please see Elizabeth Liwazer



Thu, May 19 2022 18 Iyyar 5782