NY Times Highlights the Out-of-Town Meshulachim Who Visit Lakewood and Experience the Town’s Generosity


bmgBy Mark Oppenheimer

Lakewood, NJ – Once a year, Elimelech Ehrlich travels from Jerusalem to Lakewood, N.J., with a cash box and a wireless credit-card machine. During the three weeks he typically spends in town, Ehrlich – a white-bearded, black-suited, black-skullcapped, wisecracking 51-year-old – haunts the many local yeshivas, schools where Jewish men, mostly in their 20s, study the Talmud and other texts. Sometimes he loiters around the condominium complexes where students live with their young wives and growing families. Some days he hires a driver to take him to the houses of local ashirim, rich men. Throughout town, he greets old friends, asking after marriages made since his last visit and new babies. And at every stop along the way, he asks for money.

Ehrlich is a full-time beggar. His strategy is one part humor, one part not taking no for an answer. He gives you levity; he expects money in return. “I say rhymes, I say all kinds of jokes!” Ehrlich told me in June, on a break from begging. “I say: ‘If you don’t have anything, at least give something! Better than not giving at all!’ I ask them, ‘Give me 100 dollars, I’ll give you back 99 shekels!’ ” (A comically bad deal – even if his offer were genuine, a shekel is worth about 30 cents.) “They give a dollar or two, sometimes they give five,” Ehrlich said. Students who give maaser – the 10 percent tithe recommended by the Talmud – are more generous, he said. “They give 36, or 20.” Thirty-six is a multiple of 18, which represents life or good luck in Jewish numerology.

For years, Ehrlich has made a circuit of yeshivas in Israel’s religious cities, like Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, offering his Yinglish patter to pious students in exchange for a few shekels. About 12 years ago, he was working the grounds of the Mir, a large school in Jerusalem that is popular with Americans studying abroad, when somebody suggested that he travel to Lakewood, where American students at the Mir often settled on their return home. So began his annual pilgrimage. Often he raises money for friends who have to pay for a child’s wedding (and takes a cut for himself). This year, one of his 12 children was marrying in July, and Lakewood helped pay for the banquet. Soon after we met, I asked Ehrlich what he earned in New Jersey each year. He told me, but made me promise not to say exactly how much. Put it this way: After costs, he earns more than enough to buy a Honda Fit, but not quite enough for a Civic.

The yeshiva students may not give much, but nearly all of them give – and there are so many of them. Between 1990 and 2010, Lakewood’s population doubled to about 92,000 residents, largely because of the growth of its ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Conveniently located equidistant from New York City and Philadelphia, Lakewood is home to Beth Medrash Govoha, the nation’s largest yeshiva. The school, founded in 1943 by the refugee Rabbi Aharon Kotler, has seen its student body swell to about 6,500, making it just smaller than Harvard College. The growing Orthodox movement encourages young men to forgo or postpone higher education for religious study, and the yeshiva has benefited from that. Other schools have followed suit, setting up shop in Lakewood. Most students are married, and families with five or 10 children are common.

Read the full article at the NEW YORK TIMES.

{Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. As is typical of the NYT, despite its attempt to highlight the good we do, there is an underlying message of disdain and mockery in this article. Calling Rav Aaron zt”l a refugee is disrespectful. Calling Mr Ehrlich a beggar instead of a fundraiser is disparaging. Saying most people give a dollar or two without mentioning that Mr Ehrlich is one out of the hundreds of meshulachim who visit Lakewood each year makes us look stingy. The article also wrongly implies that many of us don’t give maaser.
    Leave it to the Times to find a way to make the good in klal Yisrael look bad.

  2. The Times should spend a Sunday afternoon (any of the 10 weeks of summer including July 4 and Labor day wèekends) at my bungalow colony and see how collectors are treated generously and with dignity by the vacationers who are “disturbed” all day by a constant parade of collectors while spending time with family relaxing or enjoying some leisure or recreation.
    The goyishe world would never be able to understand such a scenario. Mi K’amcha Yisroel!!!!!!

  3. to lakewood bubby

    i dont think the times deserves to be defended but i would like to point out that in the extended article that matzav didnt post(it only posted the first half) it talks in length about the amount of collectors that come to lakewood

  4. For Shame on the Times. Who needs them reporting on the chesed done in our community. I would never have allowed myself to be interviewed by a Jew Hating newspaper.