History in the Making
February 1, 2024
Kollel Cheshek Shlomo Is Revolutionizing Affordable Housing for Yungerleit
Planning board meetings are perhaps best known for mundanity. They are a bastion of bureaucratic banality where the thrill of zoning regulations and land use ordinances typically sends even the most ardent civic enthusiasts running for the hills. The gatherings, often shrouded in an impenetrable fog of technical jargon, often leave the uninitiated hopelessly bored, resulting in predictably poor attendance.
Yet last week’s planning board meeting in Lakewood Township was electrified by the presence of over 200 yungerleit from Kollel Cheshek Shlomo and BMG, who listened intently for hours as the board members discussed and debated a project that could affect not only them, but potentially every yungerman choosing to steep himself in limud haTorah.
Solution to the housing crisis?
Since its inception in 2018, Kollel Cheshek Shlomo has been renowned for its emphasis on alleviating the worldly concerns of its yungerleit, including by offering the highest kollel checks in the tristate region,covering medical bills, subsidizing vehicle purchases, and, crucially, providing comprehensive full-time day care for their children.
But the latest initiative promises to be a game changer, potentially having the most profound impact on kollel families in years.
The housing crisis in and around Lakewood is a pressing issue that’s no secret to anyone. What was once considered affordable now comes with a hefty price tag. Paired with high interest rates, current prices leave many prospective homebuyers in a bind.
This perfect storm has devastated the dreams of numerous families, but none more so than kollel households, whose limited incomes make it impossible to keep up with the current market. Many of them are crammed into tiny apartments, with dire consequences: children are often forced to sleep under kitchen tables or in bathrooms, as every bedroom is overflowing with their siblings. Their apartment rents have soared along with the prices of homes, leading to kollel parents being unable to save as necessary to have a dreamer’s shot at one day becoming homeowners.
This is where Kollel Cheshek Shlomo is stepping in—for its own yungerleit and others. Under the leadership of the rosh kollel Rav Avraham Yeshaya Appel, a large tract of land was purchased outside West Gate, and plans are in place to transform it into an oasis for avreichim and their families. The project is slated to offer 56 full-size residences for rent exclusively to yungerleit at 50 percent the going market price. Along with the homes, plans are in place to construct a new day-care center to fill the childcare needs of the kollel families.
The benefits of this proposed development are manifold. The development offers unique advantages for the yungerleit, as it removes the crushing burden of rent and mortgage expenses. In addition, since it is strategically located near the kollel building and includes a day-care facility, the proximity would significantly reduce the time kollel members spend in traffic on the way to and from the beis medrash and babysitters—many currently spend an average of an hour each day just on these commutes.
In addition, by having all necessary amenities in one place, including the kollel, day care, and housing, this development fosters a convenient and supportive community for kollel families, enabling them to focus on their limud haTorah and family life without the burden of lengthy commutes.
In short, this project is a comprehensive and affordable living solution for kollel families.
As for Lakewood as a whole, the development promises a reduction in traffic, particularly in the morning rush hours and during afternoon pickup times, as its kollel members would no longer be required to sit on the road since everything they need would be situated within walking distance of their homes.
Perfecting the paradigm
The model being pursued by Cheshek Shlomo represents not only an innovative opportunity for its own yungerleit, but also a blueprint for revolutionizing the future of kollelim, allowing avreichim to steep themselves in limud haTorah with minimal worldly concerns.
On a broader scale than the one still under consideration at the Lakewood Planning Board, this development represents the “Nachshon” of such future developments devoted to kollel families. Indeed, Rav Appel is already involved in multiple similar projects across New Jersey and New York, with the Lakewood project expected to set a blueprint of success for future endeavors to benefit lomdei Torah.
With Lakewood’s infrastructure crumbling under the weight of people needing to travel relatively long distances to get from their homes to babysitters and then to their yeshivah or kollel, all-in-one, self-sustaining developments like the one being proposed by Kollel Cheshek Shlomo present a solution to the region’s growing interrelated housing and traffic crises.
This may just be the wave of the future for kollel yungerleit in Lakewood and around the world.
The next Planning Board hearing for Kollel Cheshek Shlomo’s historic development project is set to take place on Tuesday, February 6 at the Lakewood Municipal Building. Yungerleit are encouraged to participate in this meeting, which will b’ezras Hashem result in the project’s approval, with potentially revolutionary positive effects for all lomdei Torah.
Cheshek Shlomo: A makom for mastery
Rav Avraham Yeshaya Appel, previously a longtime dynamic rosh chaburah in BMG, sought to establish a makom Torah that would create the environment necessary to mold young talmidei chachomim into gedolei Torah the likes of which have by and large not been produced in generations.
Having previously led a chaburah in Mir Yerushalayim that devoted 12 hours a day to limud haTorah, Rav Appel sought but struggled to duplicate it in Lakewood.
“It became clear that there were several intractable obstacles that made it impossible for yungerleit to reach the heights in limud haTorah that they are inherently capable of. Those obstacles were primarily traffic, day care, and housing,” Rav Appel says.
Following lengthy discussions with Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky and Rav Yeruchem Olshin, an idea to invent a new type of makom Torah—one that would provide its lomdim with the support necessary to achieve otherwise unattainable heights—was born.
“This is whatKlal Yisraelneeds now, and you should build it,” Rav Shmuel told Rav Appel, his longtime talmid muvhak at the Yeshiva of Philadelphia.
And built it he did. Kollel Cheshek Shlomo launched in 2018 with 24 yungerleit who had been farhered on 250 blatt. Immersing themselves fully in their learning, with the kollel backing them with large paychecks and covering various life expenses, the yungerleit’s growth was immediate, and the kollel’sreputation grew rapidly.
Kollel Cheshek Shlomo now boasts more than 90 yungerleit,each an ameil baTorah. Inside its beautiful beis medrash, the future of Klal Yisrael’s gedolei Torah never looked brighter.
“For avreichem to be able to sit and learn twelve hours a day, there has to be a plan of support,” Rav Appel says. “That’s our primary objective—buttressing them and their families in unprecedented ways to ensure they can sit and shteig without worries on their minds.”
Indeed, as its avreichim attest, the kollel is built around their needs and family schedules rather than forcing yungerleit to accommodate their kollel’s preferences, which can result in sacrificing time with their families as well as learning.
As Rav Appel says, “You can’t produce a gadol, but you can provide the right environment that lets the yungerman achieve gadlus.”
Providing that right environment includes, for instance, Cheshek Shlomo’s provision of full-time childcare services, free of charge. Yungerleit can drop their children off at Circle Time Daycare as early as 8:45 each morning, then walk to the kollel and learn for nine consecutive hours, knowing that their children are safe and in good hands. Coupled with night seder, yungerleit have the ability to learn for a full 12 hours a day. On average, the kollel’s yungerleit are already learning one to two hours longer per day than their colleagues in other kollelim.