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A leap of faith

Lake Oswego resident Mitch Elovitz finds a stronger connection to his Jewish heritage through the Florence Melton Program
by: Submitted Photo, Mitch Elovitz and his daughter, Maude, had a lot of fun building a traditional “sukkah” at their Lake Oswego home as part of Mitch’s class project. The task also helped to increase Maude’s desire to learn more about Judaism, and she is now taking Hebrew lessons.

Mitch Elovitz is now a much better Jew, and he has the certificate to prove it.

The Lake Oswego resident recently completed a two-year course of study in the Florence Melton Program, held at Congregation Nevah Shalom in Southwest Portland.

To delve so deeply into the history and traditions of the Jewish faith was no small commitment for a man so busy as a husband, father and as a day treatment counselor for Providence Hospital. Yet Elovitz is quite glad he did it.

'It's a big commitment, but it's definitely worth it,' Elovitz said. 'It was really an unique experience. My appreciation for my faith is now much deeper.'

Not that it was not deep before. Elovitz was 'raised pretty religious' in the Conservative tradition (other Jewish traditions are Orthodox and Reformed) and possessed a good understanding and appreciation of Judaism.

Yet he yearned to go further into his faith, and the Melton program offered the opportunity.

'I love to learn,' Elovitz said. 'I heard from past students about how much the program had to offer. How it provided a better understanding of how to educate children with a better understanding of Judaism.'

So, every Tuesday night for two years, Elovitz learned about the Torah, the different interpretations of Jewish holidays, the Jewish year, and about ethics and history.

'I gained a lot more appreciation for our holidays,' Elovitz said. 'There are so many on the calendar.'

He also gained something else that was totally unexpected: the view of Judaism of people converting from other faiths, such as Catholicism and Protestantism.

'The converts had a whole different perspective,' Elovitz said. 'About death and dying, coming of age, converting, divorce. It was really unique to learn all that.'

One reason the perspective was so unique is that a convert to Judaism really has to want it, since the Jewish faith does not exactly encourage such drastic action.

Elovitz said, 'A rabbi will tell a convert, 'Do you really want to do this? A lot of people don't like us.''

One of the biggest reasons Elovitz took the course was his 7-year-old daughter Maude. They really bonded on one of Elovitz's class projects - making a sukkah, a temporary structure meant to commemorate the harvest.

'Believe it or not, there's a website called sukkah.com,' Elovitz said. 'That's where I learned how to make it. I got a kit from Home Depot and we built it right on the deck of our house.

'Maude helped me build it. Now she thinks Judaism is a lot of fun. It's great that she really likes it. Now she actually has a tutor in Hebrew, who was one of my teachers in the Melton program.'

With his Melton certificate in hand, Elovitz is now qualified to be something of a teacher of Judaism, and other people have already taken advantage of his knowledge, starting with his wife Nicole.

'I came home and shared with my wife what I had learned, so she got a lot out of it, too,' Elovitz said.

'I just have a better understanding of the different sects of Judaism and how they interpret life cycle events, like homosexuality and divorce. There were controversial issues, and that made it really interesting.'

The program whetted Elovitz's appetite to go even further into study of his religion. His ancestors first came to the United States at the turn of the 20th century to escape the pogroms going on in Czarist Russia.

Their first stop was Ellis Island, and for many years his family was centered in the New York area. But in 1992 Elovitz moved to Oregon, which has come to be something of a holy land to him.

'We came here 15 years ago, and I've never looked back,' Elovitz said. 'It's awesome here. I can't imagine living anywhere else.'

But there is a country that tops his places to visit: Israel.

'I did go there once before, but that was when I was 15 years old and I was too young,' Elovitz said. 'I definitely want to go back. It would mean so much more now.'

To learn more about Congregation Neveh Shalom classes: www.nevehshalom.org.