Havurah Chai a Jewish fellowship that celebrates its members’ lives

Members of a havurah who have met for the past 40 years, Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014, at Bet Shira Congregation in Pinecrest.
Members of a havurah who have met for the past 40 years, Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014, at Bet Shira Congregation in Pinecrest. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

It was 1970-something, the height of the disco-craze, and Henry Trattler decided to indulge in the trend by taking a disco dance class with his wife and friends.

“This was when Donna Summers was just hitting the big time,” said Trattler, now 74, of Coral Gables. “It really was a lot of fun; we all learned how to disco dance together.”

Trattler took the dance class with the 11 other couples in his havurah, or fellowship, the havurah Chai.

Members of the havurah Chai, the havurah of life, have met monthly for the past 40 years and claim to be among the oldest havurahs. The group’s longevity was recognized during a Shabbat service earlier this month at Bet Shira Congregation in Pinecrest.

During the service, havurah members were called up to the bimah (elevated platform) to recite blessings before the reading of the Torah, and were presented with a leaf-shaped plaque that was placed on the temple’s Tree of Life sculpture.

“You understand the value of relationship, that’s why your havurah is filled with life,” said Rabbi Mark Kula during the service. “havurah Chai, your name is appropriate for your havurah.”

Sheila Chabrow credits the havurah’s longevity to the fact that it’s both a social and educational group.

Guest speakers including academics, journalists, medical professionals and religious leaders have been regularly been asked to attend to meetings. havurah members also take part in philanthropy projects, and explore their faith.

“From the beginning, we were also a social group celebrating Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover together,” said Chabrow, 74, in a presentation she made during the service. “Even Hurricane Andrew could not stop us. One family who had a livable home after Andrew invited us over, and we celebrated our traditional Rosh Hashanah Kiddush together.”

At a luncheon following the Shabbat service, havurah members reminisced about the past four decades — events like that disco dance class.

“What song was big song then, Henry, do you remember?” Chabrow said.

Macho Man,” he responded.

The pair then sang a few lyrics from the Village People song, before bursting into laughter.

Throughout the past 40 years, the havurah members have become a family, and refer to one another as brothers and sisters. They’ve traveled across the country for celebrations such as weddings and bat/bar mitzvahs, and have started their own traditions, such as an annual Hanukkah party held at Matheson Hammock Park on Christmas Day.

They’ve also provided support for one another for somber events, such as the death of member Bill Levin earlier this year.

“You couldn’t have a family as close and as good, they don’t give me an opportunity to mourn,” said Bill’s widow, Rita Levin, 78, of Palmetto Bay, adding that the group is always there for one another. “I think it’s like the Three Musketeers, all for one and one for all.”

The group is so bonded that they even bought cemetery plots together.

“One member said: ‘My children may not come to visit, but at least someone’s children will come and visit me,” said Sheila Chabrow at the Shabbat service.

Her comment was met with a loud laugh from the synagogue.

Chabrow then gave away the secret to her havurah’s longevity: “We have stayed together and will continue on together because we care about our world, our Judaism and our family.”