Ellyn Hutt – Co-Author
“I’ll do it!” has been the most important phrase guiding my spiritual journey and shaping my life.
When growing up in Littleton, Colorado, in a neighborhood and school with very few Jewish people, teachers would ask me if I would be willing to share something about Chanukah, Passover, and later, Israel, with the class. I never hesitated and always said, “Sure, I’ll do it.” Even though I am naturally on the quiet side, when it came to speaking about topics and ideas that I was excited about, though a little nervous I was enthusiastic
I grew up at Congregation Rodef Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Denver that my parents helped found. My parents instilled in me a love of Judaism and a commitment to Jewish life, community, and synagogue involvement. I was the first baby named at Rodef Shalom. That was dramatic foreshadowing of the full-scale involvement I came to have at Rodef Shalom for decades — as a member and then president of the youth group, meeting my future husband in our Confirmation class, celebrating our wedding there and then the births of both of our children, and also managing the Gift Shop. My husband, children, and I were regulars at the Shabbat morning services which were led by the rabbi and the cantor. A significant “I’ll do it” moment that had a big impact on my spiritual journey happened one Friday afternoon, when the cantor called the synagogue office to say that he was ill and wouldn’t be able to lead the prayer service for Shabbat services the next morning. I was working at the Gift Shop and went in to speak to the administrative assistant who was in the midst of trying to figure out whom to call to lead the service. I said, “I’ll do it!” When she asked if I had ever done it before, I said, “No, but I’ve been coming for all these years and I know it. I can do it.”
That act, followed by other times when I again stepped forward to take on opportunities that came my way, changed the course of my life. I began teaching other adults who also wanted to learn the skills necessary to lead the prayer services. I found teaching to be particularly rewarding. Then someone asked me if I could help prepare his son for his bar mitzvah – which I had never done. “Sure, I’ll do it!” That began a 20-year career of teaching bar and bat mitzvah students the skills they needed to lead the services, read from the Torah, and deliver a speech to the entire congregation. I know the students learned a lot and hopefully enjoyed our time together — which involved a lot of studying and practice on their part. I, however, was the one who learned the most and got the greatest benefit from many extended conversations with them about the meaning of the services and the insights into the different weekly Torah portions.
During this same time, I had the great privilege of learning with Rabbi Mordechai Twerski, the Orthodox Chasidic rabbi and spiritual leader of TRI Sulom in Denver. Every week for 10 years, I attended his class and soaked up the wisdom he shared and the love of Torah, Judaism, and the Jewish people that he exuded. Everything I learned struck a deep chord in my soul, and I wanted more. When Rabbi Twerski called me one day to ask if I could fill in and teach a class that he normally taught, I was shocked and thrilled. My response was, “Sure, I’ll do it!” And then I called my husband at work to tell him. I was so excited. It was as if I had won the lottery — which I really had. Because after that, I started teaching other adults, in other settings.
Over the ensuing years, I took on more observant Jewish practices that were consistent with my deepening beliefs and aspirations. It was a very slow process and as I went, I had many opportunities to share my learning with other people. All my past experiences helped me. First explaining Judaism to non-Jews helped me explain ideas to Jewish people who didn’t have the good fortune of getting a strong Jewish education. With metaphors, real-life examples, and some humor, I get to bring Torah and Judaism to life. Learning the meaning of the Shabbat services and the insights into the Torah with my bar and bat mitzvah students for 20 years gave me a deep connection to Jewish liturgy and the Torah, that I love to share with others and make more meaningful for them.
In 2010, I said, “yes” to the suggestion that I should help lead groups of women on trips to Israel with an international organization (the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project). Those trips were focused on spiritual transformation and gave me the chance to get to know more Jewish women from the community and share my love of Israel with them. Then “I’ll do it” led me to create and conduct my own independent trips to Israel for both first-time visitors and seasoned travelers — all with a focus on the spiritual significance of the Land and people of Israel and the women’s connection to both.
Our book also began as a “Sure, I’ll do it” response to a friend who was interested in writing a book in collaboration with a couple of other people. While that initial project didn’t end up coming to fruition, I had doubled as the “recording secretary” of our get-togethers and kept extensive notes about our discussions. When we disbanded, I couldn’t let it go. After attempting for quite awhile — unsuccessfully — to write something on my own, I asked Teena Slatkin, who had attended some of my classes and was a sought-after story teller, if she would partner with me and be my co-author. My ideas had evolved from the original group’s focus, but I needed someone who would share my vision and help make it a reality. Our partnership has been so rewarding on every level. The friendship and camaraderie that we’ve developed, and the commitment to bringing “Living in the Present Moment: A Divine Design” to life that inspired us, have been wonderful blessings.
Teena and I have both learned many life lessons from the wisdom that we are now eager to share with readers whom we may have never met. One of those lessons is that, as I’ve found in life, choices we make in brief moments can have an enormous impact in directing the course of our lives. In “Living in the Present Moment: A Divine Design,” we explore the Jewish wisdom that helps you learn to capture those moments and to make the most meaningful choices you can to live a joyful and fulfilling life.
Ellyn is married to Steve Hutt. She is grateful to have two children who are now married with families of their own, in New York and Israel.