In March 2020, the Orthodox Union began offering tehillim and chizzuk calls as a response to feelings of isolation during COVID. Run every day Monday to Thursday, the goal was to bring locked-down listeners together through 15 minutes a day of divrei chizzuk. Due to the calls’ popularity, though, the two-week initiative has continued for almost three years, and they are still ongoing today.
“I look forward to 1 p.m. every day,” said call participant Flora Goldsmith, who lives in Florida and heard about the calls from an OU email. “It doesn’t matter how my day was going before the call, or what is waiting for me after. For just those 15 minutes, I am focused on feeling inspired and grateful to be part of am Yisrael.”
The call-in number is on speed dial on both her house and cell phones. When Goldsmith is not able to avoid a work call at that time, she says tehillim to herself and marks her calendar to remember to check the archives later for the words of chizzuk she missed.
The calls are recorded live every day Monday to Thursday at 1 p.m. ET. Each session consists of a five-minute dvar Torah, 4 perakim of tehillim, mi shebeirach for those who are sick, and acheinu. Participants may call in from around the world; at the height of COVID, 1,000 listeners worldwide connected every day the calls were offered.
Each call features a different pulpit rabbi across North America. Past rabbis include Senior Rabbi Efrem Goldberg of Boca Raton Synagogue; Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz of Beis Haknesses of North Woodmere, who also serves as director of semikhah at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) in Washington Heights, N.Y.; and Rabbi Ilan Feldman of Congregation Beth Jacob of Atlanta.
“Through the OU tehillim and chizzuk calls, I can be immersed in Hebrew prayer like a mikvah four times a week,” said Mia Sherwood Landau, who also learned about the calls through an OU email. She initially started joining the calls because she was seeking a Jewish community while living in Arkansas.
“Though I had been involved with the community since 2011, I had never participated in Orthodox prayer before. The prayer on these calls resonated in my soul on a level I had never previously experienced,” she said.
Sherwood Landau says the calls played a large part in inspiring her to pursue an Orthodox conversion; at 70, she is currently in the conversion process and plans to move to Memphis to join the Orthodox community there.
The calls are run by Rabbi Naftali Herrmann, executive director of the OU’s Synagogue Initiatives department, which offers support for synagogues and Jewish communities across North America.
“The calls neatly package up the spiritually uplifting prayers and words of Torah that callers are looking for, all in one 15-minute call,” Rabbi Herrmann said. “It’s a convenient way to feel inspired on a regular basis.”
Orthodox Union Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer said, “At a time when so many opportunities for human connection were eliminated, Synagogue Initiatives quickly created this innovative opportunity that has become an invaluable resource. Participants come seeking camaraderie and a meaningful opportunity for personal inspiration and meaningful prayer. Judging by the response, they are finding this in our tehillim calls.”
Even as Covid restrictions have ended, Rabbi Herrmann said the department plans to continue the calls indefinitely and possibly increase their frequency.
The OU tehillim and chizzuk calls, held Mondays and Thursday at 1 p.m. ET, are open to all. To join, call 773-377-9170 (domestic and international).
Rabbi Naftali Herrmann
Executive Director, Synagogue Initiatives