April 25, 2022
The Voice Pays Tribute to a Select Few “Lakewood Nachshons,” Past and Present
Lakewood is a town built on the actions of people who saw a need and jumped in to fill it. These great men and women were each a “Nachshon” in their own right, splitting the sea amid obstacles and choppy waters to enable great things to be initiated in Lakewood for the greater good of the klal. Indeed, the very essence of Lakewood is just that: the vision of Rav Aharon zt”l, who took a leap of faith when he formed a tiny Torah community far from city life and its amenities, something the world had not seen up until that point.
Since that time, every project, big or small, was initiated by someone with a dream, who saw something that needed to be done and didn’t wait for someone else to do it. It takes a person with vision and courage (and often thick skin!) to be the “someone” in the oft-used phrase “someone should really do xyz.” Here, we pay tribute to just a few of the great Lakewood “Nachshons” past and present.
A Wedding Hall? In Lakewood?
Rabbi Meyer Rosenbaum Zt”l
Much can be said about a man who was not only a dreamer and a visionary but quite literally a builder of the Lakewood of old. From the building of the very first yeshivah apartments and their simchah room to the formation of a va’ad hakashrus and a rehabilitation home for frum residents, there were not many Lakewood initiatives or projects between the 1970s and 2003 that did not have the fingerprints of Rabbi Meyer Rosenbaum z”l on them.
Not only did R’ Meyer, who was committed to starting each day with a full first seder in BMG and was a paradigm of a machzik Torah, see what was coming down the pike five or 10 years down the road, he had the ability to look all the way around the bend at what others could not see and take action before the need was even there. (And of course, like every other successful askan, the support of his wife, tbl”c, helped ensure that things were kept smooth and ensured that a nice gift was always delivered to the person responsible for helping her husband’s vision come to fruition.)
When Bais Faiga (called Bais Yaakov until the current building was in its initial stages of being built) was planning its second phase of building, Lakewood was still a sleepy little “out-of-town” community with a handful of high school graduates yearly (one graduating 12th-grade class in the entire town!). Until that point, weddings took place in Boro Park, Flatbush, or Williamsburg, and friends and family had many logistical details to iron out before making the costly and time-consuming trip.
It was at that point that R’ Meyer had the intrepid and out-of-the-box idea to build a wedding hall in Lakewood, in the Bais Faiga building. Such an arrangement, he posited, would not only save countless hours of bitul Torah due to traveling into New York for weddings, but also bring in much-needed income for the school.
Remember, Lakewood of 1994 was not the Lakewood of today, in which if there were 15 halls, they’d be filled nightly. When R’ Meyer shared this idea with others, he was met with incredulity and actual laughs of disbelief. A wedding hall? In Lakewood? Who would use it? It would remain empty on most nights; was it really worth the money and work? It would be a huge undertaking…would it be sustainable?
Yet while R’ Meyer agreed that in the first few years there would not be many chasunahs, he maintained that give it three, five, even 10 years, the new hall would be used more often than not. Thus, he stuck to his guns amid numerous obstacles and made sure the new hall was built, arranging zoning and permits and crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s until the hall was completed.
If only he would have known what kind of demand the hall is in today, with morning weddings booked on summer Sundays to keep up with the demand!
When Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky came for the very first time to a Bais Faiga wedding, he famously commented that he was jealous of the zechusim of the person who’d thought of the idea to keep weddings in Lakewood, noting that there is no way to calculate the amount of Torah that was saved by the lack of travel of all the guests who didn’t have to leave yeshivah to travel to New York!
The PG Waxman Standard
Mr. Pinchus Gershon (PG) Halevi Waxman Zt”l
In 2022, we take it for granted that frum men hold positions in Lakewood public offices, but residents of Lakewood just 25 years ago will recall a time that there was not a yarmulke to be seen in Town Hall.
How did things change?
Much can be said about Mr. Pinchus Gershon (PG) Halevi Waxman z”l. A longtime kollel yungerman, an accomplished talmid chacham, and a mechaber of kuntreisim and an untold number of chiddushim on Chumash, R’ PG was renowned as a walking kiddush Hashem in his dealings with Jews and non-Jews alike.
From as early as the 1980s, R’ PG was on various boards and committees in town, an anomaly in the sleepy little hamlet that was Lakewood. The Rent Control Board, Environmental Commission, Lakewood Planning Board, Community Coalition, Municipal Utilities Authority, Community School Board, and Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors were all graced by his presence. That wouldn’t have been a shabby line-up for the BMG alumnus, but when the mayor of Lakewood vacated his position in 1999 to become a Supreme Court judge, R’ PG stepped up to replace him on the Township Committee, commencing a new age in the world of frum Lakewood politics.
In his capacity as the first frum person in town to be voted in on the Township Committee and then as deputy mayor, R’ PG set the tone for what Lakewood’s non-Jewish citizens could expect from their frum neighbors: integrity, honesty, morals, values, and ethics, hallmarks of a ben Torah which followed him into the world outside the beis medrash. He set a bar that seemed impossibly high, yet this was who he was, and there was no lowering of any standards.
Simultaneously, R’ PG was also helping expand Lakewood through his private business, Waxman Realty. There, too, his bar of Torah values and yashrus were set to the highest of standards—kiddush Hashem standards.
In one now-famous anecdote, at the beginning of his career in real estate, R’ PG needed to take a six-hour test in Atlantic City on a Friday. Upon his arrival, he discovered that there would be a one-hourbreak in the middle of the exam, which meant he would arrive home close to Shabbos. He approached the proctor, explained his predicament, and requested permission to take the exam in six hours with no break. In return, he said, he would pen a letter to the proctor’s supervisor, telling him how the proctor had helped him when he needed help. Permission was granted, and R’ PG wrote the letter.
The story could have ended there, but it didn’t. Many years passed, and Waxman Realty received a routine visit from an inspector. Turns out, this inspector was none other than the proctor who had given R’ PG permission to take the test without a break all those years before. Upon seeing R’ PG, the inspector said, “I have no doubt that everything here is one hundred percent in order. You said you would write a letter to my supervisor—something plenty of people promise—and you actually did it! I know you to be a man of your word, and I’m sure you run your business that way as well.” PG Waxman standards. Torah standards. One and the same.
People might have known who R’ PG was from his public persona, but there was another PG Waxman working behind the scenes simultaneously, helping the klal at every opportunity: assisting people entering the workforce, mediating conflicts, helping homeowners avoid foreclosure, counseling and advising other realtors and business owners, giving chizuk and advice to individuals who were struggling with different challenges—even unrelated to real estate—and advising mosdos. Whatever he could share, he did.
As Lakewood’s population slowly began to swell, R’ PG encouraged potential buyers to think out of the box and buy homes that were at the time considered to be in “outlying areas”—down 14th Street, across the lake, on the “other” side of Clifton Avenue. He had tremendous nachas from seeing bnei Torah buy homes across Lakewood, building up the town. His vision and foresight when it came to properties had him arrange for a plot of land to be donated to BMG “all the way out”—far, far from what was considered Lakewood proper in those days. People thought he was crazy; what would BMG do with this land so far from town? Little did anyone (aside from R’ PG and a few others who saw the tide turning) suspect that the day would come when the entire Cedarbridge, Pine Street, New Hampshire, and Industrial Park would be considered prime Lakewood real estate. BMG went on to sell the property for the largest single amount that they ever acquired—to PG’s credit.
Lakewood has changed; the Lakewood of old is but a sweet memory in the minds and hearts of those who lived here in those years. The sight of a ben Torah in Town Hall is no longer an anomaly in Lakewood, as it was when R’ PG stepped in. But one thing will never change: a ben Torah’s role in his surroundings. It is written that through his intense Torah learning despite dire poverty, Hillel Hazakein was mechayev the poor in limud haTorah. Similarly, Rabi Yehuda Hanasi, who was extremely wealthy, was mechayev the rich. Mr. Pinchus Gershon Waxman was mechayev the Torah’dig ba’al habayis in yashrus in the workplace, in doing for the klal through his work connections. R’ PG was mechayev Lakewood in making a Kiddush Hashem, in making sure that those who come into contact with a Lakewood businessman will look at the yarmulke on his head and say, “I know you are a man of your word, and I’m sure you run your business that way as well.”
Adventure of a Lifetime
Rabbi Mordechai Moskowitz Zt”l
“Mikolos mayim rabim, adirim mishberei yam!”
Step into the lobby of Bais Faiga hall on any Chol Hamoed morning, and those will be the words that come to mind as the rush of voices explodes from within the building even before your eyes can witness the magnificent phenomenon known as The Greater Adventure.
Once upon a time, every Chol Hamoed morning looked roughly the same in homes all over Lakewood and beyond. The men came home from Shacharis, breakfast was served, and the discussion would automatically commence: “What are we doing today?”
That discussion still takes center stage, but with one fundamental difference: today, in numerous homes throughout the world it is a given that the activities of the day take place after the men and boys have gone out to learn.
Ish Yehudi hayah b’Lakewood, u’shemo Mordechai…
In the early 1990s, a man sat down on Chol Hamoed morning to learn in shul with his boys and several of their friends before they began their day of activities. They sat in their regular seats in Rabbi Hirschberg’s shul, and when they were done, the man gave out ices to the boys. When he saw how positive and successful this little learning group was, he encouraged others in the shul to join and got more prizes for all the boys who wanted to participate. Before long, every morning of Chol Hamoed, the shul was teeming with boys sitting and learning for an hour with a father, brother, uncle, neighbor, or friend.
And so, Chevras Masmidim of Lakewood, spearheaded by the legendary Rabbi Mordechai Moskowitz z”l, was born. It wasn’t long before more boys clamored to join, and Rabbi Moskowitz moved the learning program to the old Cheder building on Ninth Street. Soon, Chevras Masmidim began bringing in storytellers as an added bonus in addition to the fantastic prizes that every child received. As parents saw the tremendous benefit to starting a Chol Hamoed day with a set schedule of learning, the program continued to grow until the group was bursting out of the Cheder building, and the only place large enough to accommodate the masses was Bais Faiga hall!
By all accounts, Rabbi Moskowitz was not a public activist, not a “mover and shaker.” Still, this beloved rebbi in Lakewood Cheder was a person who saw a need and took it upon himself to fill it, not waiting for “someone” to do it. He became the someone, with several other mechanchim (Rabbi Bender, Rabbi Schwartz, Rabbi Goldberg, Rabbi Fendel, Rabbi Pirutinsky, and Rabbi Winkler, among others) joining his vision to help create what has become the largest learning program the city has seen.
Yet of the thousands of people who join in the learning every Chol Hamoed, few have ever heard the name Chevras Masmidim. How did the name change?
It began with flyers inviting boys to come. They proclaimed, “Join Chevras Masmidim… It’s a greater adventure!” using a play on words of the popular attraction kids would dream of going to on Chol Hamoed. The words clearly resonated with the greater public, for it wasn’t long before the learning program was unofficially referred to as The Greater Adventure.
Today, it’s rare to find a shul located a distance from Bais Faiga that hasn’t used The Greater Adventure as a template to fashion its own such program for its own boys. When people would call Rabbi Moskowitz to ask his permission to “copy” his program, his delight was evident. His greatest dream was for more and more “competition” to open across Lakewood and beyond, and he was thrilled when other branches opened, like the massive Greater Adventure South in Lakewood Commons. Members of an untold number of shuls outside Lakewood and even beyond New Jersey called him to consult with him on opening their own similar learning programs, which he encouraged enthusiastically. Though Rabbi Moskowitz started small, today it is impossible to attempt to quantify how many boys and men join these programs every Yom Tov.
The goal of the program, mused someone who witnessed the scene in Bais Faiga, is the learning, but a beautiful fringe benefit is the incredible, palpable achdus that it generates.
Perhaps the most telling reaction came from the Mashgiach, Rav Matisyahu Salomon, when he walked into Bais Faiga one Chol Hamoedmorning and was greeted by tables and tables of young boys sitting and learning with their fathers, uncles, neighbors, and grandfathers. Spontaneously, the Mashgiach burst into song, singing, “Yevarech es beis Yisrael, yevarech es beis Aharon, yevarech yirei Hashem, haketanim im hagedolim!”
(Although Lakewood suffered the terrible loss of Rabbi Moskowitz after last Chol Hamoed Sukkos, it is with great excitement that we anticipate the continuation of The Greater Adventure under the direction of his sons each morning of Chol Hamoed this Pesach, from 10:30–11:30 a.m., and on Isru Chag as well. The Greater Adventure is looking for large amounts of available storage space for several dozen pallets of prizes; anyone who can donate space is kindly requested to call 848-333-2267.)
A Legendary Library
Mrs. Rochel Shanik
Here’s something everyone can agree with: Lakewood’s kids are reading. They’re reading on the couch, in bed (often way after bedtime, contraband flashlights glowing under their blankets), at friends’ houses on Shabbos, and on the school buses coming home from school. Every school has a state-of-the-art library, and going Erev Shabbos to withdraw books from lending libraries has been an incentive (or outright bribe!) that Lakewood mothers have been cleverly employing for the past two and a half decades.
It wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time, there weren’t many frum books to be found—neither on the market nor in schools and homes. There was one small lending library in town way back when, and when you finished reading its books, that was it. Even schools didn’t have their own libraries.
That changed about 30 years ago, when Mrs. Rochel Shanik decided to open a school library in the Lakewood Cheder as a zechus for her mother-in-law, who had recently passed away.
“Books were, and still are, very expensive, and people couldn’t regularly buy books,” notes Mrs. Shanik. As a person who loves to read, she felt that buying a complete library’s worth of books for the boys’ school would be a great way to bring books to Lakewood’s kids.
How right she was. That project proved to be so successful that when the supporter of the existing lending library needed to hand over the project, Mrs. Shanik jumped to take it over, renaming it after her grandmother Mrs. Miriam Kalmuk a”h.
Over the next several years, seeing how successful the libraries were and how much people wanted to read, Mrs. Shanik opened several other libraries. In addition to the most famous one, in her home, the Shaniks have opened libraries in numerous Lakewood schools. Today, there is not a school in town that doesn’t boast a fully stocked library for its students, with a plethora of books of every genre for the children to bring home (and a sophisticated rotation system so that everyone gets a turn to take out the newest comic book). In addition, several of Mrs. Shanik’s children have libraries running out of their homes in various neighborhoods around Lakewood and Jackson, each one named for another relative.
“Books are still very expensive, and people want to read,” says Mrs. Shanik. “We go to Torah Treasures once a week to buy all the new books, have them bound, and put them out in the library.”
These books, each of which is labeled with a color-coded sticker by Dr. Shanik himself, are for all ages and stages, for each member of the family, from Zaidy and Tatty down to preschoolers. Biographies, novels, history books, English sefarim, sifrei machshavah, children’s chapter books, comics, short stories, kiddie books…thousands of books are available, and hundreds are taken out weekly.
With hours beginning on Thursday nights and continuing through Motza’ei Shabbos (and appointments for people who can’t come during regular hours or who need to replenish), as well as separate men’s and women’s hours and full families coming (four books per person in the family), how many librarians does Mrs. Shanik’s library employ?
“Librarians?” she echoes with a chuckle. “We have no librarians! I hire a few high school girls to help keep it neat and I go down during hours, but the entire library runs on an honor system. People take the books and return them. We don’t keep track of what they take out.”
Isn’t that nerve-wracking? Don’t people end up accidentally keeping the books?
“Frum people?” Mrs. Shanik seems surprised. “Keep my books? Of course not!”
In the meantime, the libraries keep growing (to the tune of about $1,000 every week!), foot traffic is booming, and books are being taken out faster than she can get them out on the shelves. And Mrs. Shanik loves every bit of it.
“I love books,” she says enthusiastically. “Books have the ability to open our minds, broaden our horizons, and shape our hashkafos, which is why Jewish books are so crucial. I love that we get to enjoy ourselves while doing something so beneficial for the mind.”
Based on the number of books being taken out on a constant basis from all the different home and school libraries, Lakewood seems to agree.
One thing is clear: one does not need to be outspoken, loud, or an askan to generate change or spark initiatives. All that’s required is a desire to see something happen and the will to see it through. In fact, filling a need does not always have to mean on a grand, communal scale. It might mean looking at one child, one neighbor, one individual—even in our own homes—and then thinking how to fill a need for that person.
There is always a sea that needs to be split, and every individual has the ability to think of how it can be done. Let’s notice, observe, see the need…
And then jump.