Recently, Mishpacha magazine interviewed Rabbi Aaron Kotler, the CEO of Lakewood yeshiva. He discussed how the Jewish (frum) community of Lakewood has grown drastically over the past 25 years, which he credited much of it to the work of his father Rav Shneur Kotler. He also spoke about the current economic environment, how former talmidim of the yeshiva go out and develop businesses in all kinds of fields, and how they remain connected to the values they received from their days in yeshiva.
The truth is, Lakewood’s exponential growth has less to do with the encouragement of its Roshei Yeshiva, and more to do with the talmidim themselves. It is well known that Rav Ahron Kotler ZT”L vehemently opposed former talmidim settling permanently in Lakewood after leaving yeshiva. He felt that the yeshiva area should remain entirely devoted to Torah, and if a community would settle around it the yeshiva would lose its insularity and purity. The great big “city of Torah” with all its bakeries, pizza shops, restaurants, take-outs, and fancy stores was not what Rav Ahron desired. I have heard from former talmidim of Rav Ahron how he strongly encouraged his talmidim to leave Lakewood after 4 or 5 years in kollel, move elsewhere, and be an influence on the Yidden there. Not in Lakewood, and not near the yeshiva.
So what is the cause of Lakewood’s (the city) growth? The talmidim of the yeshiva are the cause. In the past, the economy of Lakewood was simply non-existent. The only jobs available 25 years ago were to man the counters of 7-Eleven. There were no corporations or high-paying jobs within a 40 mile radius of Lakewood. Anyone leaving kollel back then was forced to move elsewhere in order to get a job or join an existing business.
So what do frum yeshiva guys do when there is no economic opportunity? They create some. Some started businesses, such as nursing homes & hospices, others began developing real estate, and pretty soon a community developed. Then came more schools, who needed rabbeim and teachers, and then came the builders to meet the needs of the growing community. It didn’t take long for the pizza shops, clothing stores, and sushi places to follow suit. With all the growth, came more businesses that opened, and more jobs that were created. 15 years ago most working balei batim were commuting to New York for their work. Today, there are more people that work in jobs within Lakewood than those who travel to the city.
When facing the inevitable “What should I do” when leaving kollel, just look around the city that you live in. It wasn’t built by Rav Ahron, Rav Shneur, or any of the present-day Roshei Yeshiva. Rather, it came to be from the courage, daring, and entrepreneurship of the many former kollel yungerleit who started with nothing – no money, no community, no support team – and yet they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
They did – and so can everyone else. The opportunities are all over the place. Go ahead and grab some for yourself.Tweet
Filed Under: Deciding to Leave