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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Chazak -- appeared in Hamodia January, 1012

From Strength to Strength

Bu Debbie Shapiro

Opening up our local phone book, one can't help but be amazed at the sheer number of Gemachim that are available – and at the wide range of services that they offer. I've heard of Shabbos gemachs, Chalaka gemachs (that provide everything you need, from cake designs to prayers, to make the day special) table and chair gemachs, linen gemachs, table center gemachs, but it wasn't until a few days before Rosh Hashana, when a friend of mine forwarded  me the following email, that I  heard of a CHIZUK gemach!

From: Chazak 5772
To: Chazak 5772
Sent: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 12:32 AM
Subject: CHaZaK 5772 - Issue II

We are proud to present the second issue of CHaZaK 5772. For those who participated last week, well done!

With the approach of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, let's remember how we feel during Ne'ilah, as we feel the gates of Shamayim closing and we wish for a few more days of opportunity to prove ourselves, to overcome our yetzer hara and come closer to Hashem. Now is the time! Now, the gates are open! Let’s make the most of each and every moment!

But sometimes it's difficult to push ourselves to actually sit down and decide what it is that we would like to work on. We are all so busy with our day-to-day life that we often don’t make the time that is necessary to actually take on ourselves to make changes. And then it so often happens that even after we have made a firm resolution to make some changes in our lives, we get busy with other things and forget about it. 

CHaZaK 5772 (ChiZuk Kabolos) is offering incentives to encourage us all to make these resolutions --  these kabolos --  and to actually keep them! Of course we would never take on a Kabolah just for the prizes; it wouldn't be worthwhile. The prizes are there to give us a push to do what we already want to do.

So here's the program: choose one or two kabolos and write us to tell us what you chose. Don't worry, names will not be publicized or passed on. Next week, write us to let us know if you kept it, and if so, you will enter our raffle. Two Kabolos doubles your chances of winning!

*   *    *
At the end of the email was a long list of suggested kabalos – from making the minyan on time to learning ten minutes of Mussar a day, to avoiding a questionable hechsher – followed by a list of 14 prizes to choose from, ranging from a magazine subscription, to a tablecloth, to a balloon arrangement.

But it was erev Rosh Hashanah, and there was a lot to do. With a three-day Yom Tov coming up, who had time to think of something as mundane as teshuva? So I filed the email away and assumed that I'd forget about it.

Sunday morning, 4 Tishrei, the dishes were (finally) washed and put away, the house was beginning to return to normal, the bottom of my laundry bin was finally visible, and I was feeling just a wee bit nervous. On Rosh Hashanah I had resolved to make a few small changes, and now, just three days later, they were all but forgotten. With a start, I realized that the same thing had happened to me last year, and the year before, and… 

When I checked the email that morning, my eyes were drawn to the email that my friend had sent me a few days earlier, and I decided to take a second look at it. "Let's remember how we feel during Ne'ilah, as we feel the gates of Shamayim closing and we wish for a few more days of opportunity to prove ourselves, to overcome our yetzer hara and come closer to Hashem. Now is the time!"

"Now is the time!" The words seemed to shout at me. So many times I had made a resolution to begin my day with the study of halacha, but by the time erev Sukkos rolled around, my firm decision was lost amongst the colored chains and kreplach. So I quickly pressed the reply button, and – oh, this was so out-of-character for me, I'm so far away from being the goody-goody type -- penned a quick response.

Bli neder, I hope to take on myself to learn five minutes of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch each morning AND put on my shoes the halachic way, right, left, and then, for tying, left right."

I felt a bit silly about the second kabalah. After all, it's such an easy thing to do; it's really just a matter of habit. But it so often happened that I realized that I had done it wrong only AFTER my shoes were on… and then it was just too late. But if doing it properly --- and redoing it if necessary – meant that I might win a PRIZE, well, that was enough of an incentive for me to try to do it right the first time, and if not, to do it again.

One week later, I (very proudly) typed, "Kept 2!"

Two days later, I received the following email:

Mazel Tov, you have won!

Yes, you read right! You are one of the winners of CHaZak 5772. Mazal Tov! Please choose you’re prize from the list below and send us your choice. We will be in contact as of how to collect it. Your anonymity will be protected.  Please note, winning one issue does not reduce your chances another issue. Theoretically you could win every single week!!!

Me? Win?

I was so shocked I had to sit down.

The last time I had ever won something was twenty four years ago. It was a voucher from a men's clothing store for two suits. The timing was perfect, just six weeks before our twin sons' bar mitzvah! Now, too, the timing was uncanny; I really needed a new tablecloth, but, after comparing prices, had decided to put off buying one until Pesach.

The tablecloth was beautiful, and I was hooked.


Over the next few weeks, I found myself slowly taking on new kabolos; nothing earth shaking, just small, baby steps toward becoming a better person. And then, being a writer (and a very curious one, to boot) I decided to write an article about the organization, and, hopefully, in the course of my journalistic foray, discover the identity of the illusive people at the organization who were cheering me along from the sidelines.

So after getting the okay from Hamodia's editorial department, I sent the following email:

Dear the anonymous people at CHaZak 5772,

Hamodia is interested in my writing a feature on your program.  I assume that you are interested -- just think of the thousand of people who will join the program after reading that I won the tablecloth of my dreams :).

Please get back to me.

Debbie Shapiro

A few days later I received the following response:

Of course you can write an article, we would be grateful for as you say it would generate more interest (and others might even start similar programs. The idea is not copyrighted!) Please email a list of questions,

CHaZak 5772

Over the next week, as the emails flew back and forth over cyberspace, I was not given even the slightest hint as to the identity of the people behind the organization. When I expressed my exasperation at having to deal with a pseudo-people, I received the following response:

I’m sorry about this anonymous business, but if, for example, one of us happened to be your downstairs neighbor, chances are that you'd never send it another kabbolo (at least not something like 'I’ll refrain from speaking loshon hora about my husband…')Don't worry, no one here is your neighbor, but if people who know our identities, they might feel very uncomfortable.

They definitely had a point there. The more I realized the extent of their dedication to anonymity, the safer I felt sending in my kobolos. After all, the mere fact that I had resolved to take upon myself something new, meant that I wasn't doing it before, and that, of course, is an admission of being less than perfect. And who wants others to know our human frailties?

So What Is Chazak 5772?

Although I never succeeded in attaining a face-to-face interview with the people behind CHaZak 5722, we did end up having a very successful interview via email.

As one of their representatives explained, "Our goal is to encourage all types of Jews to take on themselves kobbolos in their avodas Hashem, and then provide them with incentives that will help them to actually keep them.

"Although most of us want to make improvements in the areas of prayer, chessed, shmiros halashon, etc., it's difficult to take the time to actively decide to change something specific. And then, even if we do make such a resolution, the inspiration soon wears off and more often than not, it gets forgotten.

"CHaZak 5772 doesn’t offer a magical quick-fix solution. Instead, it gives a gentle push to help its members take small steps in the right direction. Anyone can join. All he/she has to do is choose one or two kabbolos and tell us about them. We are careful to protect or participants anonymity (I can vouch for that!). If, after a week, he sends us an email informing us that the kabbalah was kept for six days out of seven (we're aiming for growth, rather than perfection) his name is entered into a raffle.  Since the number of prizes depends on the amount of positive replies, participants have nothing to lose by telling all their friends about the program."

Can you provide Hamodia's readers with a sample of suggested kabbolos?

"There are different categories of kabbolos. Kabbolos in Torah, for example, include resolving to learn the Daf Yomi, or reviewing the parsha with Rashi each week. Kabbolos having to do with  Tefillah, prayer, include slowly and thoughtfully reciting specific brachos, such as Birkas Hatorah or Asher Yetzar, or praying on time.  Among suggested tznius kabbolos for women are refraining from speaking loudly in the presence of men, or alterating an outfit to make it more modest. Then, of course, there are general kabolos such as refraining from speaking lashon horah, or doing acts of chessed. The list is constantly growing."

Can you tell us about the prizes?

"We can't offer a dream vacation or fancy car. Our prizes are really just incentives to motivate the motivated, to provide a push to help people do what they already want to do. Winners can choose from an ever growing list of prizes, which range from a few weeks subscription to the Binah, to a silver Kiddush cup, a CD, or even private piano lessons!"

What compelled the organization's founder to create CHaZak 5772?

"First of all, he believes that it's worth investing time, effort, and yes, even money, into avodas Hashem. In the past, he's come up with many innovative ideas, which I can't specify, as if would give away his identity (oh well…). He also believes that it is a tremendous zechus to strengthen other people's mitzvah observance. He  saw how much money people spend on tzedaka raffles and realized that although people realized that they had very little chance of winning, they were willing to part with their money because it was going to a good cause, and then adapted that principal to create CHaZak. People are willing to invest effort into making and sticking to resolutions, since they know that even if they don't win a prize, they will never regret entering the raffle!"

Who funds the prizes?

"At present, we have one sponsor who is basically funding everything, except for one prize, the tablecloth. The woman who manufactures Tabella Tablecloths was so impressed with our initial email that she contacted us and asked to contribute a prize. At  present, we are reaching only a small number of people, but we hope that as CHaZak expands, more people will be inspired to contribute.

"As I said before, there's no patent on what we're doing. We really hope that other people institute similar programs in their communities. We're not doing this to become a well known tzedaka organization; all we want to do is strengthen Yiddishkeit. To join, send an email to chazak5772@gmail.com.  

1 comment:

  1. Reading and enjoying your blog in Berlin! Have asked already to join Chazak5772 initiative! Dvora Nekrich