The indelible melody of “Thank You, Hashem,” made famous by Queens-born Jewish singing sensation Joey Newcomb, rang through the air as the sun shined brightly this past Thursday morning just off the corner of 72nd Avenue and Main Street in Kew Gardens Hills for the socially distanced grand opening and ribbon cutting of the Lev Aharon Community Food Pantry, the brainchild of Rabbi Yaniv Meirov, CEO of the Chazaq Organization.
As part of both organizations’ continued efforts to help feed New Yorkers during this COVID-19 pandemic, Chazaq and Met Council have partnered to open a new food pantry in Kew Gardens Hills. The Lev Aharon Community Food Pantry will be supplied by Met Council’s citywide food distribution network and run by Chazaq staff and volunteers who are best equipped to serve families in Queens. The food pantry, located at 141-47 72nd Avenue in Kew Gardens Hills, provides kosher food tailored to the Jewish community in nearby neighborhoods, but the food pantry is available to all families in need and is completely confidential.
“The crisis of hunger and poverty exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and Met Council is proud to partner with Chazaq to open this new food pantry,” said David G. Greenfield, CEO, Met Council. “Rabbi Yaniv Meirov is a visionary who understands that the community that he advocates and fights for need to have a voice – not just a spiritual voice – but a gashmiyus, physical, voice for their needs. Food pantries are vital to supporting the struggling families, seniors, and working men and women of this city who have fewer and fewer places to turn to.”
“Building a stronger future for our children is only possible if we also provide for them in the present,” said Rabbi Yaniv Meirov, the CEO of Chazaq. “Through our partnership with Met Council, Chazaq will be able to provide reliable access to healthy, kosher food to thousands more in our community. Our seniors, our children, and anyone who is vulnerable to this pandemic should not and will not go without, this winter.”
The pantry has been named in memory of Rav Ahron Walkin zt”l and Mr. Aharon Meirov, z”l. The Chazaq Rosh HaYeshivah, Rav Ahron Walkin’s all-too-brief life was cut short this past April. His essence was cradled in the lap of Torah and consistently empowered others to bask in its light. His every concern was for others, and a food pantry in his honor is but one befitting tribute to honor the revered rav’s legacy. In one of the Rosh HaYeshivah’s final positions as head of Chazaq’s beis midrash, Bais Nosson Meir, and Kollel Zichron Moshe V’Leah, Rav Walkin merited to meet some of the impoverished families benefiting from the Chazaq Food Pantry when it was housed at Congregation Od Yosef Hai. The discernible pain in the rav’s eyes and heart, as family after family gathered their lifeline of food, is remembered as an everlasting mark in the Queens community he loved so dearly. Rabbi Avraham Walkin, the rav’s beloved brother and a current Chazaq educator, was on hand for the ribbon-cutting alongside one of the rav’s children, Baruch Ber Walkin, who was a bachur in the Chazaq beis midrash during the final years of the Rosh HaYeshivah’s tenure.
The pantry was also dedicated in memory of Mr. Aharon Meirov z”l of Queens, whose passion for community and family was always paramount. On hand at the ceremony was his wife and son, David Shalom, who both remain active in the Chazaq Organization’s vast array of programming and service. The pantry bearing his name will be an everlasting tribute to a man who taught others to always give back to the Jewish world. On hand at the ceremony was his wife Tamara and son David Shalom, who both remain active in Chazaq’s vast array of programming and services.
The Chazaq Food Pantry, as the center was once known, has powered through its share of hurdles since its 2017 formation. Always under caring leadership and direction and with the encouragement of Aron Cyperstein, Managing Director, Legal & External Affairs for Met Council, the pantry has provided nourishment for thousands of families. Originally under the leadership of local community influencer Tehila Nissanian, the pantry had a home in the basement of Rabbi Yigal Haimoff’s Ohel Simcha. By Rosh Hashanah 5778, Shabsie Saphirstein took over the coordination efforts at its new home, Congregation Od Yosef Hai, on 73rd Avenue. Appreciation is extended to community activist Eddie Yakubov and Rabbi Michael Cohen, both of the shul, for hosting the pantry. Later, an expansion effort was launched at the synagogue, and a new search began. A deal was reached with the owner of Sushi Fussion on Main Street to use their middle store as an interim refuge for the displaced pantry. This site brought the needs of food insecurity front and center for the Kew Gardens Hills community, as the site, now the home of Sushi Kingdom & Asian Fusion, a centerpiece on Main Street, saw a constant flow of needy individuals lined up food supplements. Once this established changed ownership, the pantry was housed at Chazaq headquarters at the intersection of Jewel Avenue and Main Street until the onslaught of COVID altered the pressing need for a permanent home. Now with a digital platform, the Lev Aharon Community Food Pantry will be capable of handling some of our community’s food insecurities.
“With more New Yorkers hungry now than there have been in years, new locations like this partnership with Chazaq are important to meet people where they are,” said Jessica Chait, Met Council’s Managing Director of Food Programs. “Chazaq knows their community best, and we are proud to partner with them to ensure more New Yorkers have food on the table and groceries in their pantries.”
“Food insecurity has been a real threat to so many Queens families for a long time,” said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards. “This threat has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, and we are grateful that the Met Council and Chazaq are helping address the problem by opening the Lev Aharon Community Food Pantry.”
“Throughout the suffering of the last year, our communities in Queens have been blessed to have strong advocates who worked to distribute food to anyone in need,” said Assemblymember Daniel Rosenthal. “I can’t think of a better partnership than Met Council and Chazaq.”
“It was an honor to speak at the Lev Aharon Community Food Pantry grand opening. Food insecurity was the number one issue faced by residents of Queens during this crisis. Thank you for stepping up to the plate to fulfill that need,” said Assemblyman David Weprin.
Representatives for Congresswoman Grace Meng and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams were present to show their support. Also, in attendance were State Senator Joseph Addabbo; Council Member Barry Grodenchik Jr.; Shimi Pelman, President, Tomchei Shabbos of Queens; Rabbi Michael Mansour, Rosh HaYeshivah, Chazaq; and Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Director of NY Government Relations at Agudath Israel of America; among other community leaders.