When we pass the schoolyards of our yeshivos and hear the innocent chatter of children gearing up for an exciting day, we too get energized for our day ahead. Now, imagine if you directed one family in transferring their child into yeshivah from public school. How would you feel as you see that young student thrive in his or her new environment? What if you helped numerous families make that switch? Well, your involvement with Chazaq will give you that dynamic feeling every day.
“It is no simple achievement, but with the help of Hashem and the tremendous support of the community at large, Chazaq afterschool programs inspire over 1,000 different public school students each year, and since the 2017 school year we were able to transfer 1,115 students from public school into the yeshivah system; yes over 1100 boys and girls,” says Rabbi Yaniv Meirov, CEO of the Chazaq Organization. “Sometimes it is quite overwhelming to comprehend the generations and generations of Jewish continuity that has been preserved thanks to these programs.”
At Chazaq, there is no such concept as a day off, only the desire to push forward on new projects and make a wider global impact on the Jewish world. If you ever have a chance to visit their Queens headquarters, you will see firsthand how inspiration is conceived and fostered in nearly every facet and phase of Jewish life. Chazaq simply covers the gamut from A to Z.
The worldwide public is privy to partake in hundreds upon hundreds of Chazaq lectures planned over the course of the year, headlining both the most sought-after orators in Jewish theology and newcomers eager to spread the light of Torah to thousands. “Our lectures take hours of planning and preparation,” comments Robbie Aboff, Chazaq’s Events Coordinator. “From booking the speakers and choosing the most apropos topics for the audience, to the hosts, the sponsors, and of course the intense marketing required to fill up the venue, our team is truly hard at work.”
Often, these classes are geared toward communities that have no regular source for inspiring talks; other times Chazaq brings in widely-popular lecturers from out-of-town or overseas to high population areas in the tri-state area. There are also special series designed for women, couples, and seniors on topics like taharas hamispachah, shalom bayis, and health betterment. “The pandemic spurred Chazaq to think out of the box,” added Robbie. “We probably worked harder from the onset of COVID than we ever had prior. We proudly hosted daily virtual lectures, often several every evening, which inspired hundreds and many times thousands of listeners and viewers.”
Chazaq continues to host a number of weekly series that successfully emerged from this programming, ranging from weekly parshah insights to pirkei avos and interpersonal relationship advice. Annual programs like the Tishah B’av and legal holiday marathons underscore the significance of the shiurim, with viewership breaching 150,000. Additionally, these lectures stimulate the development of motivating short clips that are steadily shared.
The crux of Chazaq’s work involves preparing the Jewish children of today – often unaffiliated with the basics of a Yiddishe experience – to become the dynamic and responsible leaders and members of tomorrow’s generation. “Shaping Lives” is the awe-inspiring Chazaq Sunday school division for elementary-aged children, now with seven lively locations, spanning Roslyn, Hewlett, Mill Basin, and four different Queens neighborhoods, in addition to the option for 1-on-1 personal outreach via Zoom. “It is simply beautiful to watch Jewish public-school students taking their first steps in Judaism as they unearth their heritage,” explained Daniel Gadayev, Executive Director of Shaping Lives. “Our staff spends the week preparing Torah themed projects and coordinating with parents in anticipation of an exciting Sunday ahead.” The Yaldeinu division of the organization maintains afterschool programming for the same age group.
Widely recognized is the famed J-Wave chapter of Chazaq, with separate teenage divisions for boys and girls. Here, hundreds of public-school teens are kept off the streets and brought to a fun and educational environment with group leaders. “The ruach amongst our young students is exceptionally warming,” expressed Rabbi Avraham Walkin, one of the directors of J-Wave. “Our learning, activities, trips, and Shabbatons leave lasting impressions that carry the youth as they set out on the journey of life.” The young adults from Queens-based public schools find safety in a home away from home in the confines of J-Wave, where they cultivate friendships with peers and rabbeim and moros, whom they turn to for daily guidance and direction. The girl’s division includes an extensive game room in addition to space enabling the young women to engage and learn about the nuances of a living Jewish lifestyle. “I am amazed as I watch the progress of our young women as they grow older and establish themselves within the Jewish community,” said Mrs. Esther Zino, J-Wave’s girls division director. “Our goal is to instill in each girl the self-confidence needed to make the right decisions in life and to strive to reach their fullest potential.”
As the young men and women develop their faith, many seek to further advance their skills. To that end, Chazaq operates Kew Gardens Hills-based Beis Medrash Nosson Meir and its affiliated Kollel Zichron Moshe Ve’ leah. Now under the auspices of Rav Michael Mansour, after the tragic passing of Rav Aharon Walkin zt”l due to COVID-19, the daily program continues on its track record of creating an array of leading spiritual personalities within the community, as numerous alumni are already serving in leading rabbinic positions. “Each morning our doors are open to professional ba’alei battim and talmidim looking to reach their highest potential,” explained the Rosh HaYeshiva. “From scrutinizing gemarah to the intricacies of halachah we build on the skills needed to excel in ones learning.”
ChAZaq certainly lives up to the core of its name, covering a wide-ranging scope of Torah life from A to Z. Including a weekly parshah sheet, and an in-depth magazine for the Jewish holidays, Chazaq remains a ubiquitous constant. The health and well-being and political climate of the communities that Chazaq serves also hold meaning to the organization. Chazaq provides regular outreach with elder programming for seniors, wellness classes, and the Lev Aharon Community Food Pantry that serves hundreds of needy families on a weekly basis from a standalone facility. Opened to all, the pantry, in partnership with Met Council, has become a coveted resource for the underprivileged providing a rich source of nutrition.
“Chazaq is constructed on the fundamental principle of building a stronger future for the Jewish people,” articulated Rabbi Meirov. “We touch thousands of lives in innumerable ways reaching as far as the United Kingdom and Eretz Yisrael. Since 2006, we have worked to give strength and to power up the Jewish community. Now is the time that we must all unite together to give Chazaq the strength and tools to continue our life changing operations.”
Indeed, on November 2, Chazaq will be launching one of its most important campaigns since its inception, as it looks to increase its programs for public school students throughout the New York area in particular and around the United States at large. In fact, of the 1,115 students that Chazaq’s PSTY (Public School To Yeshiva) division has guided in transferring to yeshiva, dozens are from outside of the NY area. How do they place children in yeshivah in Arizona and Florida if they have no branch in those locales?
“Rabbi Efraim Rubinov [Head of PSTY] often receives calls from overjoyed parents satisfied with their decision to switch their children from public school to yeshivah, asking him to reach out to their relatives outside of New York to convince them as well to make the switch,” points out Rabbi Meirov. “And now we are looking to officially open afterschool programs in regions outside of New York. With everyone’s support, we will continue even stronger.”
By Shabsie Saphirstein