Chazaq: We will beat BDS

“These programs have changed the lives of hundreds of youth."

Sergey Kadinsky ,

Rabbi Ilan Meirov
Rabbi Ilan Meirov

As summer comes to an end, there is one event that brings together the rabbis, elected officials, activists, business leaders, and volunteers representing the Queens Jewish community. Chazaq, founded a decade ago by a teenager from Forest Hills, now a recognized and respected force in inspiring men and women of all ages and preserving the Jewish heritage of the next generation.

“Many people associate Chazaq with lectures that give chizuk to the frum community,” said founder Rabbi Ilan Meirov. “But we also have a huge operation behind the scenes,” referring to after-school programs for public school students. “These programs have changed the lives of hundreds of youth thanks to the involvement of community members.”

When Rabbi Meirov's brother Yaniv started Chazaq, most teens from the former Soviet Union were in local public schools, knowing little about Jewish observance with many of them getting into trouble. Inspired at age 15, he printed a one-page parsha sheet newsletter that he distributed around Queens, and also began organizing lectures in Shuls such as Beth Gavriel in Forest Hills. As the popularity of the events grew, Yaniv and Rabbi Ilan met with prominent rabbis and gathered the support of community leaders to build a comprehensive organization that reaches as many individuals as possible.

It was put to the test this past summer, when Chazaq sought to place Jewish public school students into local yeshivas by finding the schools willing to reserve seats, philanthropists and organizations to assist with tuition payments, friends and relatives to make the phone calls, and the floor of the Beth Gavriel synagogue where the back to school forum took place last month. The result was nearly 200 students making the transfer to yeshivas a week before classes began.

The honorees this year are widely recognized for their contributions to the community. Isaac Sasson is known to many for his work as a cancer researcher and Queens College professor, Jewish War Veterans member, civic activist, as well as a past candidate for public office. Queens Jewish Link publisher Yaakov Serle, a lifelong resident of Kew Gardens Hills received the Community Builder award. After any years of promoting advertising in established Jewish publications, he co-founded this newspaper with Naftali Szrolowitz, giving the Orthodox Queens Jewish community its own forum for exchanging ideas, news, public events, and discounts. An alum of public schools who became more observant over the years, he sent his six children to yeshivot, a source of tremendous pride for him and his wife Atara.

Forest Hills resident Baruch Sendic received the Community Service award, bringing fellow Young Israel of Forest Hills member Eugen Gluck with him to the stage. An activist for Soviet Jews in his younger years, he recognized that once the Soviets had “let our people go,” the ongoing task is now to let our people know their heritage. As he supports the education of younger Jewish Queens residents, he also remains a lifelong student, attending the Retirees Kollel at the young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills and at the Agra d'Pirka program in Congregation Nachlas Yitzchok.

With a decade of accomplished talmidim, this year's Chazaq dinner had the opportunity to honor not only its generous supporters but also its graduates. Moshe Borukhov, 25; Imanuel Inoyatov, 24 both attended Forest Hills High School and have since embraced Jewish observance, volunteering and supporting the organization that made it possible. Along with their respective wives Sharona and Aliza, they were honored as examples of individuals who have benefited from Chazaq and are now giving back through their time, resources and promoting its work in the community. Other honorees included the partners of the popular Sushi Fusion chain, whose dedication to the community goes beyond serving delicious foods, as they have been very active in supporting Chazaq's after-school programs and are part of Chazaq's board of directors.

Queens is fortunate to have many dinners supporting worthy organizations, but the Chazzq dinner is truly an event, where a stand-up comedian keeps it kosher while delivering laugh out loud observations of Jewish life, and chart-topping Benny Friedman songs are performed by Benny Friedman in person, where one would expect sushi at the shmorg, instead finds popular staples of Middle eastern and Bukharian cuisine at the table- including the bowl-shaped matzoh thin non-toki on which to make the "Hamotzi" blessing. Plenty of celebrating but as Rabbi Ilan Meirov noted, still plenty of work ahead. Until all Jewish public school students have the opportunity to reconnect with their heritage.