Left to right: Chana Rivka Bitton, Miriam Feigelstock, Baila Shapiro, Shira Oirechman and Ora Yeshayahu. The biggest event of the Tzivos Hashem year is a Shabbaton in New York, the highlight of which is an international competition called Chidon Sefer Hamitzvos, where kids from around the world compete in their knowledge and understanding of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah, as codified by Maimonides. (photo from Tzivos Hashem)
Walking into the Lubavitch Centre at 41st and Oak Street a couple of months ago, I witnessed a hub of activity so vibrant with excitement it was practically humming. Every available space was brimming with excited children, from little ones to newly minted teenagers. Engaged in drawing, listening intently, and engrossed in a whole variety of activities, I knew these kids had to be connected to Chayolei Tzivos Hashem.
Make no mistake – Chayolei Tzivos Hashem (CTH or Tzivos Hashem, for short) is serious business. According to Tzivos Hashem Vancouver coordinator Riki Oirechman, it’s an educational program for Jewish children ages 3-13, founded in 1980 in New York by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Tzivos Hashem focuses on teaching about kindness, good deeds and refining our character to become better people and more effective influencers in our community. The program aims to increase Jewish identity and provide children with Chassidic Jewish learning through informal activities and songs.
Tzivos Hashem Vancouver was established several years ago by Rabbi Shmulik Yeshayahu, Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Rabbi Schneur Wineberg and, since then, it has grown in size. Today, they count 50 children registered in the local program, and have plans to expand its hours. Currently, it is being held every Sunday at the Lubavitch Centre, from 10:30 a.m. to noon, in groups divided by age.
“It’s incredible to see how much the kids learn every week, and how much they enjoy coming,” said Oirechman. Parents even relate that their kids consider it the “highlight of their week.”
The Vancouver chapter of Tzivos Hashem was able to run the first two years thanks to a grant from the Phyliss and Irving Snider Foundation. This helped lay the foundation for the program. Since then, it is partially self-funded and relies on tuition fees for each student.
“The program is designed to give young children a sense of pride and belonging, a feeling of connectedness to other Jews,” said the Lubavitch Centre’s Rosenfeld. “It’s meant to instil in them an appreciation for what they do and inspire them to do even more.”
When asked what they learn, Rosenfeld said the curriculum includes things like a deeper insight into the Jewish holidays and following examples of role models from our ancient and recent history. The older kids learn Mishnah and Talmud. All of the learning is illustrated according to Chassidic theory, as taught by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
“We encourage the children to advance their knowledge, not just maintain it,” said Rosenfeld. “Constant review and reinforcement of the different concepts allows the kids to build on the knowledge they gain each week. Moreover, we try to channel the kids’ studies into the practical realm, having them translate their knowledge into action. Whether through class activities, such as visiting the Louis Brier Home with cards and hamantashen before Purim, or with doughnuts before Chanukah, the kids can keep track of their mitzvot (good deeds) through an online logging system.”
“The Sunday program,” added Oirechman, “teaches kids in a fun, highly interactive and hands-on way. Our lessons incorporate creative team challenges, unique arts and crafts, educational games, Tanya (the foundational work of the Chabad movement) and mishnayot (the oldest authoritative post-biblical collection and codification of Jewish oral laws), memorization, weekly missions, songs and much more. In the short time we have each Sunday, we instil and teach the kids important values.”
Tzivos Hashem is based on the Rebbe’s style of teaching, and offers children badges for missions based on things they accomplish in their daily Jewish lives – for instance, saying Modei Ani every morning, washing their hands before meals, giving tzedakah, saying Tehillim (Psalms), etc. Using the army and its ranks as a metaphor for how Tzivos Hashem is structured, the program enables children to learn at their own pace and get rewarded for it. Each student starts out as a private, but, as they do more good deeds and complete missions, they earn mitzvah badges. After collecting enough badges, they are awarded medals. When they get enough medals, they are promoted in rank. Think of it like a Chassidic Airmiles loyalty program; when the children complete missions every week and behave during the Sunday programs, they’re rewarded with mileage points.
A few times throughout the year, there is a prize store, where the students can use the points they earned to buy prizes online. The global headquarters of Chayolei Tzivos Hashem hosts monthly raffles, where children who have completed missions can have a chance to earn more prizes. There are monthly international webcast rallies, where recognition and honour are given to students who have gone up in rank. The physical prizes act as incentives to learn and do more but, in reality, the incentives are inherent, or self-generated: love of Hashem and commitment to Torah values and Yiddishkeit.
The biggest event of the year is a Shabbaton in New York, the highlight of which is an international competition called Chidon Sefer Hamitzvos, where kids from around the world compete, on stage, in their knowledge and understanding of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah, as codified by Maimonides. The competition motivates the children to review the mitzvot and commit them to memory.
Oirechman said the Tzivos Hashem program is adding to both to the quality and quantity of learning opportunities and resources available in Vancouver for Jewish children. For more information about the Vancouver Tzivos Hashem program, email [email protected] or visit their website, thvancouver.ca.
With the goal of living Torah-observant lives, kids in the program are steered to become “lamplighters” – igniting and spreading light wherever they go, through good deeds, acts of kindness and Torah study. Light is something that can be shared infinitely and it only takes a bit of light to extinguish darkness. And while, from my outsider’s point of view, the army metaphor sounds rather harsh, it actually reflects a message that couldn’t be gentler and more caring: to love and help your fellow Jew.
Shelley Civkin is a happily retired librarian and communications officer. For 17 years, she wrote a weekly book review column for the Richmond Review. She’s currently a freelance writer and volunteer, including with Chabad Richmond.