October 19, 2023
The Torah Embassy in the Torah Capital of America Is Marbitz Torah to All of Klal Yisrael
A conversation with Rabbi Aaron Gruman
Can you please share with our readers how you got involved in harbatzas Torah?
Rabbi Aaron Gruman: I was born in Los Angeles, California. My father a”h hailed from Russia and made his way to Lakewood, where he learned under Rav Aharon Kotler from 1950 until 1957. At that time, he very much wanted to be marbitz Torah, so the Rosh Yeshivah arranged a teaching job for him in LA. My mother a”h was a teacher in LA as well. My father eventually became a rav and helped bring the Lakewood Kollel out west in 1973.
Growing up, my parent’s Torah-centric home influenced me deeply. The Los Angeles of the 1960s and 1970s was a world away from what it is today. I was fortunate to be exposed to Yidden from all walks of life, fostering a strong sense of achrayus and love for all of Klal Yisrael.
After a number of years learning in Lakewood under Rav Shneur zt”l, my path led me to Twin Rivers, about a half hour away from Lakewood, in 1989. I had the zechus to take over the reins of the shul and adult-education programming from Rabbi Eli Gewirtz, founder of Partners in Torah.
How did Torah Links get started?
In 1999, the hanhalah of BMG approached me to lead an innovative initiative that aimed to bridge the gap between the incredible talmidei chachamim and bnei Torah—passionate, creative, caring, and spiritually dedicated individuals within the Torah world—and the nearly 1 million not-yet-Torah-observant Jews, especially those residing within a one-hour radius of Lakewood.
Talmidim of the yeshivah ventured out nightly to various destinations, spanning Delaware in the south to Westchester County up north and reaching as far as Chester, Pennsylvania. Their mission was simple: to learn and engage with people. Eventually, our focus narrowed to three specific communities—Cherry Hill in South Jersey, Eastern and Western Monmouth County, and Middlesex County. These communities were densely populated with Jews, but they lacked the infrastructure for Torah and mitzvos. Our goal was to bring Torah to these communities, and over the years, they evolved from hosts of small home-based gatherings to homes to thriving Torah institutions.
We also began creating programs in Lakewood for different groups, starting with college students. In December 2009, we hosted a small group, of 15 students. We provided them with a unique experience, teaching them sugyos in ways they could understand and become immersed in Torah. The impact was transformative, as these young men were able to grasp complex concepts.
What we didn’t anticipate was the profound influence of the Lakewood community itself. The neighborhood where we housed them gave them a firsthand look at a frum lifestyle, and this experience resonated deeply with the students.
Can you share some stories of individuals who have benefited from Torah Links?
We have witnessed hundreds of success stories over the years. Each is a testament to the transformative power of Torah. Let me share a few.
One winter, our program was running exceptionally well. We had great speakers and chavrusas and an amazing group of host families, which gave our students a front-row seat to our day-to-day life. What we may think is mundane and average was, to the unaffiliated, remarkably inspiring. The way we interact, the way we talk to our children and spouses, the warmth of our homes, and the joy of our families had a profound impact.
There was a student who is today a successful attorney. Back then, he was skeptical. At one session he challenged us: “You’re all a bunch of fakers! I think you’re just putting on a show for us. There’s no way everyone is so sincere and nice. How long can you put on this same act?”
Over time, he realized this is who we are; this is what a Shabbos table looks like. He saw the authenticity of the experience and decided to embark on a path of Torah observance. Today, he’s living a frum life, deeply involved in the frum community and raising a family.
Throughout the years, we had the privilege of welcoming prominent figures, including billionaire media proprietor, magazine editor, and investor Mort Zuckerman. He visited BMG and experienced the intellectual energy of Torah learning, which he found unparalleled. He described the experience as making Harvard University, where he had studied, look like a kindergarten in comparison.
These success stories represent just a fraction of the lives we’ve touched and continue to inspire through our programs. The power of Torah is remarkable, and Lakewood is the best way to expose Yidden to Torah.
What has changed for Torah Links in the last year?
We transformed from just running programs to being a full-fledged mossad of harbatzas Torah centered around our flagship yeshivah. We had the zechus to move into our new campus on Central Avenue. As we said at our groundbreaking ceremony, we are building inspiration in the heart of Lakewood.
Now that our programs have a home, we have significantly expanded our reach y. Our professional internship programs for college students are flourishing, with more students than ever before. We run an internship program each year where we place college students in Jewish-owned businesses during the summer, and on nights and weekends we provide opportunities for them to experience our community and immerse themselves in Torah learning.
As we continued to expand our programs, managing them logistically became increasingly challenging. We recognized that there was a growing pool of potential students and more opportunities to engage them than we could effectively accommodate through our existing program structure. It was a clear sign that we needed a more permanent and robust solution.
But there was an even more critical factor at play. While the success of kiruv programs across the country in sending young students to yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael was undeniable, we observed a significant challenge in maintaining their connection to their newfound Torah lifestyle upon returning to the United States. It became evident that the transition back to their home environment was a formidable challenge. Many students couldn’t return home because their living conditions weren’t conducive to the growth they had experienced in Eretz Yisrael.
It was at this critical juncture that we harnessed the immense potential of Lakewood, a place teeming with vibrancy and passion for Torah. It was the ideal location to establish a yeshivah that could address these challenges head-on. We decided to create a home for them in Lakewood, offering them access to a network of talmidei chachamim, rabbanim, poskim, shadchanim, mentors, and ba’alei batim who are committed to their growth and development. Most importantly, they are forging an identity, taking their place in the yeshivah world.
How is the building, which has allowed Torah Links to transition from running a few programs to a full-fledged yeshivah institution, significantly impacting the world of kiruv?
The Torah Link Center was inaugurated about eight months ago and has allowed us to make a substantial leap in our efforts and impact the kiruv world. We’ve expanded our summer program, which used to run for six weeks; this year it ran from early June until well past Labor Day. We were able to accommodate larger groups of students, typically ranging from 30 to 50 at a time and sometimes even more.
We’ve become a hub for kiruv organizations from around the world, including yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael and campus organizations. They have come to our facility for weekends and Shabbos seminars, fostering a deeper connection between the Lakewood community and entities like the Meor network.
What other programs have been enhanced through your building?
Our Nitei Torah program provides the necessary background for yungerleit to prepare for harbatzas Torah roles in out-of-town communities. Having this experience in-house is invaluable because they learn alongside college students and witness what it means to engage in harbatzas Torah in real time. The opening of our facility in Lakewood played a pivotal role in enabling these immersive experiences.
Both in quantity and quality, we can offer more. Through our Zoom beis medrash, yungerleit connect with chavrusas from around the world. This dynamic helps create a platform where yungerleit can experience excitement and personal growth. We’ve been fortunate to host R’ Sruly Bornstein’s world-famous daf yomi shiur, both live and virtually. Renowned speakers like the Lakewood roshei yeshivah, Rav Shalom Kamenetsky, and the Novominsker Rebbe have addressed our yungerleit and students, further enhancing the synergy and spirit that everyone involved feels.
This entire movement embodies our shared responsibility to Klal Yisrael.
Why is this crucial to our community and Klal Yisrael at large?
Lakewood is a beacon of Torah and is driving harbatzas Torah in today’s world. The responsibility of harbatzas Torah is not limited to any particular group; it’s a chov kadosh for every member of Klal Yisrael. Just as we must teach Torah to those with different intellectual levels, we must also share it with those from various backgrounds, including those who didn’t have the chance to learn the basics of Torah.
Lakewood represents this commitment, and our mossad embodies it. We are melamed Torah l’amo Yisrael—teaching Torah to the entire Jewish nation; what is more important than that?
Lakewood, with its wealth of Torah, chessed, entrepreneurship, and forward-thinking, is the ideal place for this initiative to flourish. As we achieve more success, more young individuals get to experience it through our programs, and they, in turn, bring this message to other yeshivos and communities across the country. By expanding our reach, we connect with new neshamos, new kehillos, and further segments of Klal Yisrael.
Moreover, our taking achrayus impacts us, making us a far richer kehillah. This creates a positive ripple effect, spreading the message of Torah and unity to the broader Jewish community.
The building completion campaign for the Torah Links Center will take place on November 6–7. We urge everyone to get involved and join this historic and groundbreaking opportunity to expand the reach of our Torah community to all of Klal Yisrael.