Are Dr. Roberts’ Chol Hamoed Carnivals a Thing of the Past?

7

When Dr. Kasriel Roberts had the idea to organize some rides in his backyard on Chol Hamoed, he never envisioned how big of an undertaking it would turn out to be. The idea was to supply free-of-charge entertainment for Lakewood families, and the importance was clearly portrayed by the event’s runaway popularity. Now, safety concerns created by the growing crowd size threaten to bring an end to this Lakewood tradition.

“When I first started, I was surprised when 300 people showed up,” Dr. Roberts reflected this week to the Yated. “Within a short while, we had to expand into the property next door, but even with the extra space, the event quickly outgrew the yard.”

Within a few years, the carnival’s location was moved to Lakewood’s Pine Park, and it was eventually relocated to the Lakewood Cheder on Vassar Avenue.

A few years ago, the number of participants exceeded 13,000. With the ever-growing crowd, however, came new challenges.

“This past Pesach, it began to rain during the event,” Dr. Roberts relates. “The crowd moved indoors, and most of the entertainment continued inside the Cheder. The building, though, was not equipped to safely hold such a large crowd.”

After the event, the Lakewood Police Department and Chaveirim explored options to make the event safer in the future. They determined that controlling the crowd size was the only way to ensure the safety of all the participants. This, too, came with its own set of challenges.

“This Sukkos, Chaverim closed the parking lot when they determined that the crowd size had reached its maximum safe capacity,” Dr. Roberts explains. “It didn’t work to dissuade people, though. Cars parked along the road, as far as a mile away from the event. It posed a number of hazards along the road. There were no sidewalks in many of the areas, and families were walking there exposed to oncoming cars.”

Seeing that the Cheder lot was no longer a viable option, Chaverim and the Police Department suggested that the event relocate to Blue Claws Stadium on New Hampshire Avenue, which would be equipped to handle the influx of carnival-goers. But taking such a jump gives pause to Dr. Roberts.

“There is a concept in business called an inflection point,” he explains. “It is when you come upon a turning point, a change in trajectory. It is a time to stop and think if this is what you want to continue doing. Before moving the once-backyard-event to a sports stadium, I have to contemplate if it is something I should continue doing.”

He confides that it is not a simple matter to walk away from such a momentous phenomenon, as the positive effect on the community is tremendous.

“I have connections with many high-level, powerful people and politicians,” he says. “But the things I value most are the scribbled, colored thank-you letters that I get from kids, often with pictures of cotton candy or rides or nosh drawn on them. I show them to my family at the Shabbos table. I hate to have to give up on all the joy that we give the kids.”

Keeping the event going would bring its own set of logistical issues, including the lack of indoor space at the stadium – a must when shows are booked too far in advance to take weather forecasts into account. A massive tent would have to be constructed, another obstacle in the already complex preparations.

Some have suggested splitting the event between two days in order to limit the number of attendees each day. But doing so would open the door to more issues.

“The event costs $60,000 per day,” Dr. Roberts notes. “Adding an extra day would bring the cost up to almost a quarter million dollars each year. While I would be willing to do that, it also would double the workload, and would raise the chances of a rainout. It’s just too complicated.”

He estimates that the carnivals have garnered about 200,000 visits throughout the years, and if people would have paid $30 to go elsewhere, he saved the community $6 million; if they would have paid $40, the savings to the community amount to $8 million.

“I haven’t made a final decision yet,” he concludes. “But this is definitely an inflection point. I have to carefully consider the options going forward.”

{Matzav.com}

7 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Dr. Roberts for what you’ve done in the past. We live in Brooklyn so we’ve never attended any of your carnivals. You’ve been spending $60,000 of your own money for the benefit of the tzibbur to let them enjoy Chal Hamoed in a koshereh way?! That’s a tremendous Mitzvah. I applaud you. A hakaras hativ is clearly in order. You mentioned at the end, the millions of dollars in savings for the heimishe community. You are %100 correct. Most people don’t think those things thru. In all seriousness, would you ever think of running for office? I think you would be able to help the tzibbur even more.

    • Very well put. As a fellow Brooklyner I agree about Dr. Roberts’s largess – it’s a kiddush Hashem to see someone who’s b”H done well sharing so generously with others.

  2. Dr Roberts, thank you for your wonderful generosity. Please get involved in local politics. You are from the few that have the experience to actually make changes in the way the town is run. We had enough of the “askanim” that have their hand in the cookie jar. You have proven yourself to be a real champion of the common man. “Rich Roberts for Township Committee”

  3. I heard there were many tznius challenges, with men and women in very close proximity and some did not approve of this, in the Chasidish community this would not be tolerated.

  4. the doc. is right. my suggestion is take a one year break , and see from there. bh as appreciative as everyone was and is Lakewood parents are not incapable of making alternative plans as many do for the other days of chol hamoed. as far as the expense to the families yom tov costs so much already a little more is just a swipe on a card that will never get fully paid anyway . lastly there are 2 eitzos to offset the expense pay your kids before yomtov to do some of the work the goyta would do or get together and arrange some good ball games in the park (nothing is like good ball)

  5. Kol H’ kovod!
    Could the event be limited to kollel families of lesser means? Those are the individuals who truly need the assistance. Alternatively, you could consider giving said family’s a stipend for chol hmoed. The recipients can have their children write you thus teaching hkoros tov. Whatever you decide you should be blessed.
    A thankful Lakewood resident

  6. Dr. Roberts,
    Yasher koach for everything you do!!
    If I may, another solution might be to hold smaller multiple events for each of Greater Lakewood’s neighborhoods on the same day of Chol HaMoed . You can stagger the shows for each event over the course of the day and use many or all of the same carnival vendors. That should help at least in part with all of the issues delineated in the article above and help with traffic !
    P.S. For traffic and entertainment purposes travel to each event by helicopter

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here