This year’s “Big Event” by the renowned Jewish outreach group CHAZAQ certainly lived up to its name, as well over a thousand people flooded into the auditorium of Forest Hills High School on Sunday night, March 30, for an evening of inspiration and entertainment.
Founded in 2006 by Rabbi Ilan and Yaniv Meirov, CHAZAQ’s offerings include educational programs (classes and one-on-one learning) for men and women of all ages, youth groups, a variety of family-oriented publications, even a shidduch service—just to name a few. And under the dynamic leadership of the Meirov brothers and their colleagues, CHAZAQ has quickly become a household name among the Queens Jewish community.
CHAZAQ’s motto is “To Build a Stronger Future,” and it was clearly with this ethos in mind that the Big Event was created. A sea of fresh, young faces could be seen, enjoying equally the words of mussar offered by a distinguished line-up of lecturers, and the entertainment, which included master illusionist Marc Garfinkel, and frum music sensation The Chevra. But it wasn’t just the leaders of tomorrow who were in the house. Also in attendance to show their support were BP Melinda Katz (who issued a government proclamation declaring March 30th “Chazaq Day” in the Borough of Queens), Congresswoman Grace Meng, and New York City Councilman Rory Lancman.
The dignitaries attending the Big Event came from both near and far. We caught up with Israeli Knesset Member R’ Nissim Ze’ev, a CHAZAQ supporter and personal friend of the Meirovs. Ze’ev spoke of the significance of so many people coming together to support a Torah cause on the eve of Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the month of Passover. “This is the first month of the year, that we have to bring the Torah and the geulah of Am Yisrael this month. … And that’s why we are here; we are coming to accept the geulah, be’ezrat Hashem.”
At the heart of the evening’s proceedings were presentations by respected Jewish figures such as investor-turned-motivational speaker and media personality Charlie Harary, and a highly-esteemed procession of rabbanim, including crowd favorites Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein and Rabbi Paysach Krohn, along with Rabbi Yitzchak Oelboum who chaired the event. The theme of Freedom, central to the Pesach holiday, was a popular one throughout the evening. Mr. Harary exhorted audience that if one wants to be free from those weaknesses and personal obstacles keeping them from personal fulfillment, one need simply “act free.”
“Our holidays are not commemorative,” declared Harary, noting that each holiday is intended to be a transformative personal experience – which is why, he explains, the first Passover seder took place prior to the Exodus from Egypt, rather than on the first anniversary thereof.
Though presented with a tough act to follow, the rabbis whose speeches came after Harary’s were certainly up to the task. Regaling the audience with a variety of parables and personal anecdotes, the evening served as one big call to action, both in attendees’ own spiritual lives, and in support of the vital work of CHAZAQ.
“A thousand Jewish kids come to this [public] school every day!” Rabbi Krohn lamented. “And if we don’t get involved in kiruv, and we don’t help CHAZAQ help these kids come back, we are not only losing a thousand kids—we’re losing tens of thousands, because we’re losing their children, and their grandchildren, and their great grandchildren.” Still, the overall tone of the event was emphatically positive, with Rabbi Krohn—in awe of CHAZAQ’s accomplishments—remarking later that same evening: “If someone told me that Moshiach was coming tomorrow, I would believe it.”
Divrei bracha by the famed Rav Noach Isaac Oelboum were read to the audience by Mr. Boruch Singer and a dramatic video presentation served to underscore the significance of the Big Event in terms of making the ongoing work of CHAZAQ possible. Fresh from their success with last year’s sefer Torahcampaign (whereby the organization was able to create a Torah scroll with letters filled in by numerous gedolei hador), CHAZAQ is currently promoting its “A Teen for Eighteen” initiative, whereby community members may partner with CHAZAQ’s highly-successful after school programs for local teenagers by sponsoring a teen for only eighteen dollars a month. The Big Event was a fundraiser for that program, but efforts are ongoing.
To learn more about how CHAZAQ is building a stronger future for the Jewish community or to join their efforts, visit their website atchazaq.org or call 917-617-3636.
Daniel Perez is a freelance journalist and PR consultant based in New York City. His work has appeared in dozens of Jewish publications and media outlets. Mr. Perez can be reached at Daniel@PerezConsulting.org.