What Has Happened To Lakewood?



I vividly remember my first impression of Lakewood almost 30 years ago, when I visited family members living in the small kolel town in New Jersey. In those days the kolel families were pretty much contained to a few block radius. There was a sense of comradeship and belonging that created a wonderful “one big happy family” type feeling. Simchas were a community event. Neighbors and friends quickly rallied round to put together kiddushim, meals for a new mothers, etc. This was a Torah community and everyone belonged to this warm happy bunch.

This kolel town was created by Rabbi Aaron Kotler zt”l who had a vision of a Torah community away from the hustle and bustle of city life. A place where the community could live without outside influences and materialistic values. He laid down strict rules about how the town should operate. No sit down restaurants, for example. He did not want casual mingling and frivolity. Those who chose this lifestyle wanted to adhere to the rules. This was the life they had chosen, they had menuchas hanefesh and thrived in this environment. I marveled at their choice and put them on a pedestal for I could never see myself adhering to that kind of living.

Fast forward 30 years and this “kleine shtetle” is now a metropolis. New construction is springing up everywhere. Shopping par excellence, with the finest kosher dining on the East Coast. It is totally unrecognizable to the Lakewood of yesteryear. People are flocking from all over. Housing is cheap. Retirement villages are all de rigueur. Parents building and purchasing homes to be near their children. It is working out wonderfully. Especially for the nouveau riche and their imitators.

So I ask you what is wrong with this picture?

What happened to the vision? Why has this town been bulldozed literally and figuratively? The uniform houses that lined the quiet kolel streets are now being demolished to be replaced by monstrosities. Some original homes still on these blocks look like the size of a pool house cabana or a garage to hold the fleet of cars of some palatial home.

One may argue. Our religion does not adhere to the Communistic ideals that everyone should be equal. We know that Hashem bestows abundant worldly goods on some and for others every day is a struggle for bread. There are the wealthy and the modest. That is the circle of life.

However, I truly believe that if you have respect for Torah and those who have made it their life’s goal to be immersed in Torah learning, even if you don’t believe in this lifestyle, don’t bulldoze a town that was built on the premise of modesty and simple living. Build your mansions and open designer stores and Cordon Bleu restaurants in the appropriate areas. Not in a kolel town.

I think what troubled me most was hearing about young mothers having layaway plans for their young children’s clothes and accessories to keep up with the Jones’s (correction the Cohen’s!) This is absurd. Darling little children are beautiful and innocent and do not need expensive accouterments to fit in. When a baalas simcha can no longer make a kiddush in her shul because she is embarrassed that it won’t be of a standard worthy of a “Lakewood celebration”.

Lakewood has unfortunately become a place where many youngsters are leaving the fold. Where mental health professionals are in high demand and where the pious daughters of kolel fathers are being left in the dust because they do not have the finances to attract a potential husband.

Something is wrong. We have lost our way, and none of the powers that be seem to have any influence on those who have taken over the reins.

What Has Happened to Lakewood? (PDF)

Author: 002

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