Four years ago, Michal Weiss was looking for a way to make her Elul preparation and reflection more meaningful. It was at that time that she first encountered and began using Rabbi Simon Jacobson‘s 60 Days: The Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays.
As she discovered how useful the text could be in spiritually preparing for the chagim, Weiss introduced it to friends. The second Elul, she and several others attempted to complete the 60 Days book as a group. Over time, however, it became evident that perhaps an added level of motivation would be helpful in guiding participants through the entirety of the Elul and Tishrei season.
Weiss and her husband, Sharon Weiss, are the directors of Living Chassidus, a “home away from home” community dedicated to addressing the material and spiritual needs of women living in Crown Heights. Last Elul, the group launched its first ever formal 60 Days program. Participants were challenged to complete the full book. While the ultimate goal was a spiritually elevated Tishrei, it was helped along with fun incentives: biweekly prizes for anyone who completed the weekly quota, and farbrengens with inspiring speakers. The program was a hit, with about 30 women participating and many completing the entire program.
This year’s program kicked off on Rosh Chodesh Elul with a packed room of women eager to cultivate a meaningful Elul – so packed, in fact, that Living Chassidus had to arrange a new, larger venue for the remaining 60 Days events. There are currently around 60 participants – double last year’s total – with more continuing to sign up as word of the program spreads. Some 40 are based in Crown Heights, while another 20 women tune in via livestream and Whatsapp from 10 different locations around the country. At the kickoff event, the program structure and incentives were explained, copies of 60 Days were sold at a discounted price, and the first 50 registrants received a beautiful Living Chassidus journal in which to record their thoughts throughout the program.
Two weeks into the program, a lively discussion-based farbrengen was held during which participants shared their thoughts on the program, specific excerpts of 60 Days, and their Elul journeys. The farbrengen also served as an opportunity for participants who were not previously acquainted to get to know each other, and led to chavrusas being formed in order to help bring the avoda of the program to an even deeper level. And of course, a prize was distributed to those who had completed the required quota of readings and journals: a bar of chocolate stamped with the Living Chassidus logo.
As Elul has proceeded into Tishrei, 60 Days is having a notable impact on the women participating. “This program is forcing me to dig deeper into my soul,” said Yosefa Wood-Isenberg, a long-time Living Chassidus member. “I know that the work that I am doing on myself now will allow me to have a more meaningful Tishrei.”
“This program is a practical and fun way to set your priorities for a meaningful preparation for Tishrei!” Daniella Bernard explained. “As a new mom, I needed something that was planned out and tangible, and at the same time real and meaningful. 60 Days with Living Chassidus is the perfect combination! And I have a group of women alongside me to farbreng and learn with.”
As for Living Chassidus co-director Michal Weiss, she is thrilled to watch the 60 Days program grow. “It has been such an inspiration to see the vast amount of women taking Elul and Tishrei preparations with such a real and introspective approach to truly connecting to Hashem. Living Chassidus sees the need for our noshim tzidkanios to stay connected and inspired. And these women are changing the world for the good, Baruch Hashem.” In that vein, she and husband Sharon hope to build on and expand Living Chassidus’s other programs as well. Current programs include shiurim, farbrengens, and communal activities such as potluck break-fasts, summer barbecues, and Ohel visits. Additionally, Living Chassidus has imminent plans to launch the Shabbos Gems program, which will give single women the chance to connect over a Shabbos meal with “hidden gem” Crown Heights families they might not otherwise have met.
Anyone who is interested in supporting the 60 Days program or other Living Chassidus programming can do so by visiting http://www.livingchassidus.org/donate. Any amount is welcome, and in addition to general donations, it is possible to sponsor a prize or farbrengen in honor of whatever the donor wishes.
For more information, visit LivingChassidus.org or email Info@LivingChassidus.org.