Schedule for Meaningful Life

So you’d like to find out who you really are? Develop better relationships? Build a life that works? Achieve enlightenment?

It’s a mammoth task for a six-week course titled “Toward a Meaningful Life,” offered by Chabad affiliates beginning in February.

It’s not a simple matter of “don’t worry, be happy,” but of seeing the big picture and refocusing, and infusing daily life with the timeless wisdom of Judaism — at all levels of observance.

Rabbi Peretz Mochkin

Subtitled “A Soul-Searching Journey for Every Jew,” the classes begin with personal mission statements. They continue with a look at marriage, love and intimacy; home and family; work, charity and wealth; pain, loss and anxiety; and end with religion and faith. The goal is to help participants get off the treadmill, with strategies for discovering who they are and how they can redirect their lives.

When asked who they are, some people “hand you a business card,” says North Beach Chabad Rabbi Peretz Mochkin, who hopes the classes will help participants think differently.

Developed by the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI), Chabad Lubavitch’s adult education arm, the course is offered through 300 Chabad affiliates, including in San Francisco, San Rafael, Santa Rosa and Contra Costa. Students have the option of beginning in one venue and continuing at another.

By bringing the class to San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum, where classes begin Thursday, Feb. 3, Mochkin hopes to reach a broad cross-section of the Jewish community.

“I’m not teaching Orthodoxy,” he emphasizes, adding that 65 percent of the students in JLI courses are unaffiliated. “I’m trying to give people the tools that anyone on any level can learn.”

The springboard is the book “Toward a Meaningful Life” by Rabbi Simon Jacobson, who translated and compiled the lectures of the late Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, which were presented in Yiddish. However, the course is “not the book,” Mochkin says, noting that it includes videos, PowerPoint presentations and discussion.

Endorsements have come from such notables as Dr. Bernie Siegel, author of “Faith, Hope and Healing”; Dennis Prager, author and radio talk-show host; and a number of followers of Viktor Frankl, the late Austrian psychiatrist-neurologist and survivor who wrote “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

Writes Tal Ben-Shahar, a psychology professor who has lectured at Harvard as well as in Israel: “‘Toward a Meaningful Life’ can contribute toward replacing the void of meaninglessness with a more engaging, purposeful, and happy existence.”’

Writes Siegel: “This course gives you the tools and opportunity to rebirth and re-parent yourself.”

Mochkin expresses humility about covering “the entire spectrum of a human being” or, for that matter, “the full perspective of Jewish living” in six 90-minute classes, and he has no desire to “be the sage on the stage.” Nonetheless, “to hit all [of these topics] in six classes is a real undertaking and I’m really excited about it.”

Beyond that, he praises all of the courses developed by the JLI, which cover such topics as law, medical ethics, the Jewish soul and the Holocaust. Some are accredited for continuing education by legal and medical organizations.

San Francisco attorney Larry Rose, who has a Reform background, achieved a new perspective on law when viewed through the lens of Talmud. “The texts are really well prepared,” he said, adding that he “was taken with [the fact that] JLI materials are not at all reticent to look outside strict tradition, bringing in modern Orthodox and more general views on how to answer questions of the 20th century.”

 Julie Hansen, a Lafayette resident and a practitioner of reiki, a body healing art, has taken three classes through North Beach Chabad and has signed up for another. “I always learn something new,” she says. The rabbi “brings Judaism to where you are now in your daily life.”

Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent is a writer and editor living in Palo Alto. She can be reached at ghentwriter@gmail.com.