Worship Experiences

Community, Spirituality, and YOU

Religious services at Etz Chaim are exceptionally warm and welcoming. They reflect and deepen our sense of community. In our sanctuary, the seats are arranged so we can see the front of the sanctuary as well as each other. Ascending to the bimah requires only one step. As we begin the Torah service, we take the Torah from the ark and carry it through the sanctuary. Our choir sits close to the congregation. The melodies they sing invite participation by the entire congregation. We experience our worship services as part of a community.

Worship Services

For all stages of your Life

Religious services at Congregation Etz Chaim, held on Friday evenings, reflect our commitment to cohesion and community. In our sanctuary the seats are arranged so that we see not only the front of the sanctuary, but also each other. We experience our worship services not as isolated individuals, but as part of a worshipping community.

Traditional Shabbat Service – begin at 8:15pm.

Family Shabbat Services – begin at 7:30pm and lasts one hour. They feature the junior choir and our congregational song leader. A story is told in place of a sermon.

Alternative Shabbat Services
Services – begin at 6:45pm. These services have a theme, are family friendly, are more casual and laid-back. They offer the opportunity to explore different variations of worship. There is no Torah service, but Kaddish is recited.

Rambler Shabbat Services – begin at 7:30pm. These musical services are comprised of a band of musician-congregants. The congregation is encouraged to sing, dance, and worship in the lively and spiritual service.

Other – During the course of the year other special services are held including ‘Baseball’ Shabbat, Veterans Shabbat, Senior Youth Group Shabbat, Jr. Youth Group Shabbat, Driver’s License Shabbat, Brotherhood/Sisterhood Shabbat, Social Action Shabbat, Scholar in Residence Shabbat.

Tot Shabbat Services – begin at 9:30am on Saturday Mornings. They are held once a month for infants, toddlers, preschoolers through 6 years old and their parents. This brief service introduces young children to Shabbat rituals and communal prayer with songs and stories they can understand and enjoy.

This week's Parsha

Our Torah Study group meets in the synagogue's library Saturday mornings at 9:00 AM and is led by the Rabbis.

Each week we read and discuss.  We look at the text in the context of our lives and our ideas. Our explorations of the text always touch on what is going on in the large world and in our Etz Chaim world. While we avoid fancy scholarly vocabulary, our conversations regularly return to big themes, such as; leading Jewish lives in the modern world, our relationship with God, our understanding of truth and truths and our connection to the Jewish People and the Land of Israel. This is a wonderful group and we have a great time.

You do not have to commit to attending every Saturday. You can come every week, most of the weeks, or drop in from time to time. We meet Saturdays from Labor Day to Memorial Day. During the summer, Torah Study begins at 9:30 AM and is led by lay leaders.

Jewish Lifecycle Events

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Brit Mila - Simhat Bat

Brit Milah - Simhat Bat

"And God spoke to Abraham saying: ...This is my covenant which you shall keep between Me and you and thy seed after you -every male child among you shall be circumcised." (Gen. 17:12)

Brit Milah (Circumcision and Baby Naming for a Boy)

Brit milah, which means "covenant of circumcision," is a Jewish ritual performed on a baby boy eight days after he is born. It involves the removal of the foreskin from the penis by a mohel, who is a person that has been trained to safely perform the procedure. Brit milah is also known by the Yiddish word "bris." It is one of the most well-known Jewish customs and signifies the unique relationship between a Jewish boy and God. Traditionally, a baby boy is named after his bris.

Brit Bat (Baby Naming for a Girl)

As opposed to a brit, circumcision, of a boy on the eighth day, there are no explicit rituals for a girl. Instead, there are customs for a Simchat Bat, celebration of a birth of a daughter. Naming a baby girl on Shabbat by calling the parents up to the Torah where the child is given her name. A special prayer is also said at this time.


A ceremony to mark the beginning of formal Jewish education, usually with Kindergarten or 1st grade. Celebrated on Simchat Torah, and the young participants are given a small replica of a torah to symbolize the start of their study of torah.

Bar/Bat Mitzvah

When Jewish children reach 13 years old for boys and 12 years old for girls they become responsible for their actions, and "become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah" (English: Daughter (Bat) or Son (Bar) of the commandment) and are called to the Bima to read from the Torah.

Calling someone to say the Torah blessings during a service is called an Aliyah (from the Hebrew: עֲלִיָּה, from the verb la'alot, לעלות, meaning, "to rise, to ascend; to go up"). The widespread practice is that on the Shabbat one or more days after their 13th birthday, and may recite the blessings for the Torah reading. Also read the week's portion from the Torah (five books of Moses) and Haftara (selections from the books of the Prophets), give a d'var Torah which may include a discussion of that week's Torah portion, or both. they may also lead part or all of the morning prayer services.


Traditionally called kiddushin, the Jewish wedding ceremony is filled with meaningful customs that the bride and groom undergo to express the significance and purpose of marriage

Written in Aramaic, the marriage contract specifies the bride and groom’s commitment to each other. The ketubah is usually signed in a ceremony before the wedding service.

The chuppah is a canopy, usually a decorated piece of cloth, that symbolizes the home the bride and groom will build together. The chuppah is open on all sides, also symbolizing that friends and family are always welcome in the newlywed’s home.

The seven blessings is a series of blessings that is chanted by the Cantor or Rabbi. In Judaism, seven is seen as the mystical number of creation and completion. These blessings thank God for the beauty of the moment and the splendor of life.

Typically of flawless gold, the wedding ring represents the unending love and eternal joy a marriage will bring. It is customary to place the ring on the index finger during the exchange. One ancient belief is that the index finger is directly connected by a special artery to the heart and so the couple’s hearts are joined.

During the final benediction the couple is wrapped in two tallitot (prayer shawls) around their shoulders. This wrapping symbolizes the private Jewish life the bride and groom will have together.

The wedding ceremony is usually concluded with the groom breaking a glass under his foot. Traditionally, this custom is a reminder of the destruction of the first Temple and the anguish of the Jewish people throughout history. It is also a reminder that relationships are as fragile as glass and must always be treated with care, love and respect.

Death Rituals & Mourning

Respect is always shown to the deceased as well as toward the mourners. This is one of the reasons why Traditional Jewish funerals are held so soon after death. It is more respectful to inter the body within a reasonable amount of time rather than having an unnecessary delay. Of course, waiting for relatives to come from a far distance is a respectful reason to delay the burial. This is a decision the family should make in consultation with their rabbi.

A mourner in Judiasm is one who is defined as being Kaddish related, which means they are obligated to observe the rites of mourning for the deceased. Those who are considered mourners are the spouse, parent, sibling or child of the deceased. It's important to realize that other family members, although not technically considered mourners, may choose to observe many of the rites of mourning because of the close relationship they had with the deceased.

Music at Etz Chaim

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Choir director

Choir Director

Congregation Etz Chaim is looking for qualified candidates for a new Music Coordinator!  For details, please click here. 

The Adult Choir leads our congregation in music and song for High Holiday services as well as most Friday night services. We have no small parts to play! At every rehearsal we try to find a new perspective on the music in order to bring something fresh again to the congregation. None of us is the same from week to week, and neither is the music. There is always something slightly new and interesting to consider and share with the congregation.

Most choir rehearsals take place on Tuesday nights at 7:30 PM. All congregants are welcome to participate.

Cindy Michelassi has been a member of Congregation Etz Chaim since 1990 and began songleading for our congregation in 1995. Cindy has held many roles within our community. She was a member of our board of trustees for 8 years, taught in our religious school for 12 years, has served on numerous committees, and teaches adult Hebrew classes. In 1995 she received her Rabbinic Aid certification from the URJ (then UAHC). In this capacity she has served as shaliach tzibur (representative of the community) for many interfaith events and projects in the Chicago area, as well as leading services and providing pastoral support for our synagogue. Cindy's recordings of Jewish music have reached out to Jews across North America and as far away as Russia and Australia.


Song Leader

CEC Tree Life Ramblers singers at services December 1, 2006 at Congregation Etz Chaim

Life Tree Ramblers

The Life Tree Ramblers band is comprised of synagogue members and one rabbi. We have a multitude of diverse backgrounds and we’ve come together as a band to offer a service of music connected by words. Some melodies will be new to Congregation Etz Chaim, others will be familiar. The purpose of the service is to give our congregants another opportunity to worship in song and dance. This is not to replace the way we usually worship, rather it gives us a different flavor of prayer.

The Life Tree Ramblers' music is a mixture of jazz, folk, Klezmer music and Jewish rock. We carefully selected the different melodies to present a cross-section of the newer and more exciting musical offerings of the Jewish world. Each prayer put to music has its own story and has been selected to awaken your spiritual senses. We invite you to listen, reflect, become inspired and, of course, sing and dance along with us!

The Junior Choir at Congregation Etz Chaim is made up of students in 3rd through 7th grades who like to sing. We rehearse about every other week during Prayer Experience at the temple. We provide music at most Shabbat Family services. The Junior Choir has had the opportunity to sing with some of the leading Jewish singer/ songwriters of our time. In recent years we have sung with Debbie Friedman, Rabbi Joe Black, Julie Silver, and Sam Glaser. We are always looking for new members who like to sing and have a lot of energy and enthusiasm! Please contact Terry Shapiro for further information or to join the junior choir.

Jr Choir

Junior Choir

Tu B'Shevat, the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat, is a holiday also known as the New Year for Trees. The word "Tu" is not really a word; it is the number 15 in Hebrew, as if you were to call the Fourth of July "Iv July" (IV being 4 in Roman numerals). Tu B'Shevat is the new year for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing. See Lev. 19:23-25, which states that fruit from trees may not be eaten during the first three years; the fourth year's fruit is for God, and after that, you can eat the fruit. Each tree is considered to have aged one year as of Tu B'Shevat, so if you planted a tree on Shevat 14, it begins its second year the next day, but if you plant a tree two days later, on Shevat 16, it does not reach its second year until the next Tu B'Shevat.

One custom is to eat a new fruit on this day, or to eat from the Seven Species (shivat haminim) described in the Bible as being abundant in the land of Israel. The Shivat Haminim are: wheat, barley, grapes (vines), figs, pomegranates, olives and dates (honey).

Some people plant trees on this day.

Celebrated on the 14th day of the month of Adar. Congregation Etz Chaim is known as the “Purim Capital of North America”. We celebrate by coming to this fun holiday service dressed in costume. We read from the Megillah (Book of Esther), and eat Hamentaschen (3-cornered cookies). We ask everyone to bring boxes of Mac ‘n Cheese that are then used as groggers, to shake and make noise every time the name Hamen is said out loud. In addition, we hold a Purim carnival which provides an opportunity for even our youngest children to engage in this merry-making holiday.

The eight-day festival of Passover is celebrated in the early spring, from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan. Passover celebrates the biblical account of the Israelites’ redemption and escape from 400 years of Egyptian slavery. Holiday rituals include a dramatic retelling of the Exodus story and many unique food traditions. We come together with friends and family to celebrate the great lessons of the story: the blessing of freedom and the reminder that since we were once slaves and were freed, it is our responsibility to work for freedom for all people, everywhere. Each year on the second night of the holiday we hold a Congregational Seder.

Yom HaShoah, also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day, is the day set aide for Jews to remember the Holocaust and those who lost their lives. Rituals associated with Yom Hashoah are still being created and vary widely among synagogues. At Etz Chaim we observe Yom Hashoah as a congregation on the Sunday closest to the 27th day in the month of Nisan. This is a solemn occasion marked with special readings, original poetry, music and prayers. It is often led by our 8th grade students who spend the year studying the Holocaust. The Kaddish is part of the service and we conclude with the singing of Hatikvah (The Hope). During the year, we gather as a congregation on many sacred days to remember the events of our past. On Yom Hashoah we come together to mourn and to remember.

Celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai and encourages us to embrace the Torah’s teachings and be inspired by the wisdom Jewish tradition has to offer. The holiday occurs seven weeks after Passover. It began as an ancient agricultural festival that marked the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. At Etz Chaim we have made it a celebration of Torah, education, and following tradition, eating of dairy foods like blintzes, kugels, cheesecake, etc. with a Shavuot brunch.

Translates to ‘forgiveness’ and is observed on the Saturday evening just before Rosh Hashanah. Selichot ushers in the High Holidays with learning, worship and the blowing of the Shofar. Here at Etz Chaim we have observed this as a multi-generational gathering with learning and activities appropriate for all ages.

The Jewish New Year, is observed on the 1st and 2nd days of the month of Tishrei. Some customs associated with the holiday include the sounding of the Shofar, eating a round challah, as well as enjoying apples and honey to represent a sweet New Year. Services are held on the Erev (night before), and both the 1st and 2nd days at 10:00 in the morning. Junior Congregation Service for those in 3rd – 6th grades are held at the same time as the adult service. Babysitting is available for infants and children through the 2nd grade. A family/children’s service is held in the early afternoon and is geared for preschoolers – 2nd grade.

The Day of Atonement. The holiest day in the Jewish year begins at sundown on the 9th of Tishrei. It is a day of fasting, reflection and prayer. Services are held on the Erev (night before) and the day of beginning with the morning service at 10:00 for both the adult and junior congregation services. This is followed by our family/children’s service. The afternoon services of Neilah, Yizkor, and concluding prayers begin at 3:30pm. A break-the-fast light meal is served at the end.

Also known as the Festival of Ingathering or the Festival of Tabernacles, is a weeklong Jewish holiday that comes five days after Yom Kippur. Sukkot celebrates the gathering of the harvest. Service is held on the Erev (night before). Members shake the lulav and etrog in our congregational Sukkah. At Etz Chaim we ask children to bring “Pretty Paper Packages” which are donated to our PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) site.

Celebrates and marks the conclusion of the annual cycle of public Torah readings. The holiday service is held on the Erev (night before). The service includes a joyous procession carrying Torahs and flags. Religious school consecration of all kindergartners and new first and second graders is included in this service.

Also know as the Festival of Lights, this eight-day Jewish celebration commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, where according to legend Jews had risen up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt. At Etz Chaim we celebrate with an early service 6:00pm followed by a festive Hanukkah dinner with everyone bringing their menorahs to light, singing the blessings and enjoying delicious latkes (potato pancakes).

Congregation Etz Chaim of DuPage County, a Reform synagogue in Lombard, serves almost 500 families in the western suburbs of Chicago. We have a tradition of having an inclusive community which welcomes everyone- Jews by birth, Jews by choice, non-Jewish family members, singles, LGBTQIA2+ and people of all ages and abilities. We are a caring community that draws strength on our commitment to honor and respect the diversity of our membership.


Congregation Etz Chaim

Reform Congregation Serving DuPage County Illinois