By Daniel Perez
There are many activities widely associated with those few weeks immediately following the holiday of Purim: spring cleaning, the kashering of pots and pans… And it looks like New York’s Jewish community may be adding a new pre-Passover tradition, as Chazaq again celebrated its annual Big Event on Sunday night (March 15). Previously, the gathering had been held at a high school in Forest Hills. Now in its third year, the latest Big Event drew more than twice as many participants as its predecessor, with seats at Queens College’s Colden Auditorium completely sold out.
“I’ve been going to Chazaq’s community events for some time now,” one enthusiastic attendee proudly informs us. “They’ve always been popular, but I’ve never seen anything like this!”
“Three in a row and going strong,” he added, “It’s a literal chazaqah for Chazaq.”
Chazaq, a Queens-based Jewish outreach organization, stayed with a formula for Sunday night’s event that has served it well in previous years, judging by the ever-growing audience: Words of inspiration by beloved local rabbanim, some variety of “magic” act (a spot filled this year by mentalist Marc Salem), and a musical celebrity guest-in this case, Orthodox pop star Avraham Fried, accompanied by Eli Gerstner’s Yosis Orchestra.
Also among the guests and well-wishers at Sunday’s big event were prominent political leaders such as New York’s own Senator Chuck Schumer, who spoke of his efforts against Iran’s nuclear program, which he characterized as an existential threat the Jewish state-just as Chazaq combats assimilation here at home, an existential threat to the Jewish soul. Commenting on the Hebrew origin of his own name, Schumer declared: “I take my name as a shomer Yisrael (‘guardian of the Jewish people’) very seriously.”
The evening’s rabbinic line-up included such Torah luminaries as noted author and modern-day “maggid” R’ Paysach Krohn, director and founder of Ohr Naava R’ Zecharia Wallerstein, as well as an impassioned address by prominent investor and celebrated raconteur Charlie Harary. Each offered insights on some of the more salient aspects of Passover, while also extolling the good works of Chazaq.
Entertainer Marc Salem also offered words of praise for the dynamic kiruv group. An observant Jewish “mentalist” who wowed the audience with such feats as reading the serial numbers off of dollar bills while blindfolded, Salem was careful to point out that that his abilities were neither “supernatural,” nor of the “occult.” “The truly amazing thing,” proclaimed Salem, “is what Chazaq does every day.”
Founded in 2006, Chazaq has, in less than a decade, grown to become one of the preeminent outreach groups in the New York area. With live classes, one-on-one mentoring, its own family magazine, online radio station, teen programs and much more, Chazaq leverages a wide range of media to bolster and enrich the Jewish identities of thousands of people each year.
“Chazaq’s mission,” explains the organization’s founder and director Rav Ilan Meirov, is to provide every [Jewish teen] a safer home.” Specifically, he told attendees that between the end of the school day and the end of their parents’ work day is when the community’s youths are most vulnerable to temptations such as drug use, or other harmful pursuits that can prevent them from realizing their full potential. The social and spiritual engagement offered by Chazaq has proven vital in combating these dangers.
For the Big Event’s grand finale, vocalist Avraham Fried took the stage, accompanied by the Yosis Orchestra. It wasn’t long before audience members were literally dancing in the aisles in a celebration of Jewish life-and the many Jewish lives rescued by the work of the dedicated team at Chazaq.
To learn more about how Chazaq is building a stronger future for the Jewish community or to join their efforts, visit their website at chazaq.org or call 917-617-3636.