We were in the 8th grade and sitting on a school bus in Florida when my friend, Michelle, gave me special gift.
I opened the tiny white box she pressed into my hand and found a gold “Chai” pendant. The look of surprise and questioning must have been all over my face.
Michelle explained that in her faith tradition, Judaism, people often wore the “Chai” – pronounced similarly to “hi” in English – on necklaces. It is the symbol of life. The Hebrew word consists of two (2) letters in the alphabet: Chet (ח) and Yud (י).
“I thought you should have one,” she said, leaning her face close to mine, as she often did when sharing something deeply personal with me.
“But I’m not Jewish,” I said.
She merely shrugged her shoulders and smiled,
“But it means life,” her dark brown eyes twinkling.
As I asked her more questions about it, I learned that her deeply religious parents were very surprised by her desire to give me this. And that it was basically only worn by Jews.
In retrospect, I think Michelle was a sort of ambassador. She equated “Chai” with Love, the kind that God has for every person on Earth, and she was sharing His love in a way that seemed perfectly natural to her.
Shiva.com – The Resource for Jewish Mourning explains it this way:
The Symbolic Meaning of Chai
Traditionally, the Jewish religion, similar to many other religions and cultures, place an emphasis on the significance of life. As such, the literal translation of the word “chai” to “life” is meaningful on its face. In addition, individuals who observe Judaism or identify with the religion are generally guided by basic principals which include characteristics such as kindness, thoughtfulness, selflessness and remaining good natured, both morally and ethically during life on Earth.
I wore that pendant every day for years, and I was very sad when I couldn’t find it this morning to share with you.
Many people, of many faiths, backgrounds, races, creeds, nationalities, sexual preferences, and so on display the qualities of kindness, thoughtfulness, and selflessness, and adhere to moral and ethical codes that celebrate life in all its fullness. But as humans, we are quick to draw lines and boundaries where none need exist.
My first thought on the public reaction to the deaths of 51 people in Orlando was: Where is the empathy?
Social media is usually lit up with cries of prayer and pain for the lives that were lost and the families and friends affected, and yet it seemed comparatively quiet in the last two days. We could blame it on the fact that this happened over a weekend, but I believe it’s because people don’t want to step out of their comfort zones to extend sympathy to a group they don’t understand. We’re hearing lots of words about the hate that fueled the attack, and more calls for gun control, but not enough words of Love.
The LGBT community is reeling in shock and trauma right now, and the beautiful people in it deserve our compassion, concern, and endless prayers for peace.
While we may not always share the same experiences as our neighbors, every single person alive is called to be an ambassador of Love.
“Chai” means life. It’s a gift that was given freely to all of us. And it is meant to be cherished, honored, and preserved.
‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’