Today is Emily’s and my double chai anniversary of the day we met: 36 years ago today in Lansing. The next day was Passover. Emily, being from New York, was going to observe it alone. I, being from Cleveland, was heading home to celebrate with my family. I invited her to come home with me. So the day after I met Emily, she met my family. We’ve never looked back. The experience proved to me that I can make good, lasting decisions on the spot.
You’re probably wondering, what do two bags of chai tea have to do with our anniversary. Nothing. Actually it’s “chai” as in RaCHmaninoff, not “chai” as in “CHerry pie.”
Chai is the Hebrew word for life. If you’ve ever been part of the ceremonial toast “l’chaim,” you’ve exclaimed “to life,” or, to express its multiple intentions, “to a life filled with mazel (good fortune), strong family ties, warm friendships, love between the two of you (if we’re talking marriage), many children, peace, harmony, a vacation once or twice a year, and a healthy retirement wouldn’t hurt.”
So why is today our double chai anniversary? Because Jews are also the original numerologists. Every letter of the Hebrew alphabet corresponds to a different number and adding the letters in a person’s name or birthday can determine his or her future. Words have numerical value, too, and you don’t mess with them.
“Chai” (ח י) is spelled by using the Hebrew letters ח (“chet”; or “het” if you can’t roll your tongue), the eighth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and י (“yud”), the tenth letter. Using simple math, 8 + 10 = 18, and you have 18 being the number that represents life, and 36 being double chai. (Did you ever get an $18 check from a Jewish friend for a gift and wonder why he didn’t just round it off to $20? That’s why. Believe me, the good luck is worth more than the $2.)
We learned about chai during preparation for our wedding, whose 34th anniversary we will celebrate next week. I had written a poem that told the story of how we met and Emily had written a song expressing her love for me. We told our rabbi that we wanted to perform them at the ceremony. He said “Knock your socks off but I’m not coming on stage until you’re done because my portion is going to be 18 minutes.”
Who knew? Yom Kippur sermons may last forever but Jewish weddings are 18 minutes to get us off to a good start in our new life together (and, I think, to get us to the reception sooner). Well, it wasn’t a totally new life; we had been living together for two years, a week, and a day by that time.
But who’s counting?