It was with utter dismay that I viewed recent ads directed at the Lakewood community. I wondered to myself: Who are these people trying to attract?
The truth is that these specific advertisements are actually only a microcosm of what has happened and is continuing to occur in Lakewood. Lakewood is a town that was established with the Yeshivah at its core to accommodate bnei Torah who strived to raise their families in an atmosphere of Torahdike hashkafos and dikduk hamitzvos. A beautiful community was established and bnei Torah were able to live lives that put limud hatorah and kiyum hamitzvos as the priorities without having to cope with the various social pressures of some other places.
But that has all changed. The community of Lakewood has changed. Many of the people who have moved to Lakewood during the last five to ten years don’t have the same ideals as those who had been living in Lakewood before. Lakewood became an ideal place for these people to live largely because of the affordable housing prices and the peacefulness that the town offers. Many people who are completely unaffiliated with the yeshivah have moved into the community and have capitalized on the efforts of those who set out to establish a makom for bnei Torah. The effect has been close to disastrous for many of the families living in Lakewood. The results can be detailed as follows:
- 1) Because many of these people who have moved to Lakewood can pay slightly higher prices for their houses, the housing prices have gone up. Houses are now priced out of range for most yungeleit who are currently learning and need to purchase a home to accommodate their growing families. Lakewood was established to accommodate the bnei Torah and now the bnei Torah are suffering due to Lakewood’s success as a community. This is in addition to the issue of investors who have bought up houses and lots in Lakewood. The latter issue though has been discussed adnauseam, so I will leave that issue to rest for now.
- 2) The second result of this phenomenon may even be more detrimental for the future of the Lakewood community. Many of the people who have moved into Lakewood do not share the same hashkafos and outlook as the bnei Torah who lived in Lakewood before them. These people who have moved to Lakewood do not act or dress like much of the Torah community. These people are quicker to frequent the food establishments and clothing stores than the many Batei Medrash located in Lakewood.
- 3) The establishment of the many sit-down eateries and other stores has changed the face of Lakewood. You hear people say, “Lakewood is not what it used to be.” How true it is. And the people who live in Lakewood aren’t what they used to be either. Many of the people who have moved to Lakewood in recent years have built themselves lavish homes, drive expensive cars, wear expensive clothes, and have completely different priorities than those who associate themselves with the Yeshivah and consider themselves serious bnei Torah.
However, as a friend of mine pointed out to me, a prime catalyst of the change in Lakewood is the creation of the sit-down eateries. Without sit-down eateries, perhaps Lakewood would be like any other hick-town, and perhaps would be less attractive to those who move to Lakewood and think to themselves, “Oh, It’s just like Brooklyn or elsewhere, except nicer, and with cheaper houses.” The sit-down eateries are one of the causes of a more diverse population that is now living in Lakewood, many of whom do not conform to the standards that had been accepted in Lakewood. Luxuries are a necessity. Gargantuan sized houses are the norm. Tznius standards have plummeted. Chashivus for Lomdei Torah has been diminished.
- 4) Many of those who have moved to Lakewood don’t even recognize that the Yeshivah is the core of the community. Some of these people can direct you to the bagel store and tell you where ShopRite is, but they couldn’t tell you where the Yeshivah is located! But why should they care? They live in their beautiful new house, they daven in a little shteeble located in their neighbor’s basement, they dress the way they want and act the way they want, and they couldn’t be happier.
- 5) These people have penetrated the school system in Lakewood, as well. Just as their hashkafos are not necessarily in line with those of the bnei hayeshivah, their children reflect that. Their children don’t dress in accordance with the standards of the bnei hayeshivah. The children may even look down upon their peers whose fathers are learning and are struggling to make ends meet. The peer pressure builds and the results can be catastrophic. Other schools have been established with less rigid standards to accommodate this segment of the community. Is that the answer? Instead of these people conforming to the high standards of the Lakewood community, they have now been accommodated so that they can dress and act as they feel.
I have tried to come to grips with the fact that Lakewood is not what it used to be and that there is not much I can do about it. I have tried to face the fact that there are those who have ruined – yes, ruined – much of what Lakewood had been providing to bnei Torah. But I can’t let it go. It just bothers me to no end. I have recognized that Lakewood will never return to its full glory. Unless something drastic is done, and it may already be too late, the bnei Torah will suffer and those who have capitalized on the successes of Lakewood will continue to overtake Lakewood until it eventually becomes just another community rather than the distinguished Ir Hatorah that it should be.
I wish I could talk to those who have caused many of the dwellers of Lakewood such anguish. But these people would probably not even know what I am talking about! They will say that they innocently moved to the area and haven’t done anything objectionable. Why, of course not. These people don’t even begin to understand where they are in life and where they really should be. Their priorities are so skewed that they wouldn’t know the real truth if it hit them in the face. But that’s fine. Judgment day will come. Luxuries vs. limud hatorah. Tznuis vs. the newest fashions. Dikduk hamitzvos vs. social pressures. The absolute truth will be revealed to all.
Bothered By the Matzav