Ever since Jewish educator Esther Kosofsky invited a small group of women over on a Shabbat afternoon 18 years ago to learn some Torah, the Jewish community of Springfield, Mass., has religiously marked the weekly get-togethers.

Today, more than 40 women attend the “Ladies’ Shabbos Class” facilitated by Kosofsky, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary, and her sister-in-law, Rochel Leah Kosofsky. Now held on a rotating basis at one of 12 homes in the area, the sessions examine the weekly Torah portion and selections from the Prophets and the Ethics of the Fathers.

“It is hard to believe that what began as a one time event 18 years ago has become a fixture in our community,” says Kosofsky, whose husband serves as the principal of the Lubavitch Yeshiva Academy.

Nancy Squires, a member of the group, agrees.

When she first started attending, Squires couldn’t follow along with the Torah portion, but she kept coming because she enjoyed the camaraderie.

“Now, not only do I follow the portion, but our wonderful teachers have helped to make it come alive for me,” she says.

Two weeks ago, the women officially marked the 18th anniversary of the classes at the home of Rochel Leah Kosofsky, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary and teacher at the yeshiva. Carol Engelson sponsored the class in memory of her mother, Sondra Hertzberg, who passed away in 2007 and sometimes attended the classes.

“My mother always saw the positive side of a situation, and of people,” says Engelson. “When we learn, we elevate one’s soul.”

For Engelson, the weekly class serves as a source of inspiration.

“The women are not just homemakers or only career women,” she explains. “They do everything. They care about their families, their careers, and the world they live in.”

A mother of two young adults and the chair of the local high school’s science department, Engelson started attending the classes more than a decade ago.

“When my kids were little, it was almost a lifeline, a chance to learn with other adults,” she relates. “On Shabbat afternoon, I knew that my husband would be home and that I could have my time.”

“Those long and sort walks in the rain and snow, and bitter cold and boiling heat, have all been worth it,” adds Ilene Lerman, who currently hosts the class every few weeks.

“This is not just a group that studies Torah, but a group of women who have forged friendships and flourished together in Torah study,” says Rochel Leah Kosofsky. “I feel honored and privileged to be a part of this ongoing process.”

Adds Squires: “The spirit of Shabbat, the camaraderie and the food, always cap off a peaceful day and help to rejuvenate me to start another week.”