The uproar over my recent TLS letter, where I called out the excessive materialism in Lakewood, seems a bit off the mark. Do I owe everyone an apology? Not really.
Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not some nostalgic kvetch yearning for the ‘good old days’ of cramped apartments and simple shtiebels. Those days had their charm, sure, but this isn’t about recreating the past.
Frankly, it’s about creating a better future.
Lakewood doesn’t need to rewind back to the austere lifestyle of the 1970s. Quite the contrary. The growth, expansion, and higher standards of living is actually, from my personal perspective, a positive thing.
Living comfortably in today’s era is not just permissible; it’s practically a necessity. A big house to accommodate a large family, a nice car with leather seats, a fresh steak on the grill – none of these are at odds with living a genuine Torah lifestyle.
The misplaced notion that one must live like a pious hermit, and cut yourself off from everything pleasurable in society, is both preposterous and hilarious.
If you thought my letter was saying otherwise, maybe give it another read.
THE PREFFERED CHOICE OF FRUM FAMILIES
Let’s face some hard truths.
Why did you choose to live specifically in Lakewood?
Why the 08701 ZIP code, instead of another vibrant Jewish community like Teaneck, Miami Beach, Woodmere, Los Angeles, or Staten Island?
After all, these wonderful Jewish places have got the very same essentials: shuls, yeshivas, kosher restaurants, Hatzolah volunteers, Daf Yomi shiurim, and just about everything else you need to live comfortably as a Jew.
So, what’s the draw to Lakewood?
The attraction is simple. It’s what the pundits call the ‘ultra-Orthodox lifestyle’ choice.
Lakewood was chosen by you, not for its zip code, but for what it represents – a commitment to a higher standard of frumkeit, a deeper dedication to the Torah way of life. A place where your yarmulke type, sheitel length, or hat color mean something profound about your commitment to Hashem and the Torah.
You want your sons to know how to learn gemara well, and spend their formative years studying in kollel. You want your daughters to dress a certain way, with appropriate skirt lengths and modest outfits that cover their elbows. You want your wife to wear a sheitel that meets specific halachic guidelines and imbue your children with an enhanced level of frumkeit. You want your family to lead a lifestyle that doesn’t include going to movie theaters and attending pop concerts.
Living in Lakewood means something. It’s about the level of your observance – how you dress, the hechsheirim you eat, where your kids go to learn. It’s supposed to be about aspiring to be a better Jew, getting closer to Hashem.
CONFRONTING THE OBVIOUS CONTRADICTIONS
If none of this rings true for you, then sure, Miami Beach might suit you better – sun, sand, and all. But if it does, then we have to talk about the elephant in the room – our growing infatuation with material excess.
This unavoidable reality leads to the crux of my message: the extravagant lifestyle we’re flaunting in Lakewood is becoming antithetical to all these aspirations.
The town is transforming into a playground for the frum elite, a showroom of luxury where simplicity and humility are as out of fashion as last year’s sheitel styles. It’s a bit ironic, isn’t it? We preach about higher frumkeit, yet our driveways, wardrobes, and dining choices tell a different story.
Think about our kids, the ones we’re raising in the shadow of our mixed messages. We send them to yeshivas where they learn about modesty and humility, only to come home to a lifestyle that could give the rich and famous in Beverly Hills a run for their money. What kind of mental gymnastics are we expecting them to perform here?
LIVING THE VALUES WE PROFESS
This isn’t a call for an overhaul of your lifestyle because, let’s face it, who am I to tell you what to do? But if we’re serious about the values we’re instilling in our children, maybe it’s time for a reality check.
By choosing to live here, in Lakewood or its immediate surroundings, we are by default, the poster children for what true ultra-Orthodox Torah Jewish living is. We aspire to uphold the purity, the unabashed commitment to Torah and mitzvos, the focus on ruchniyus over gashmiyus.
If our choices are more about flaunting wealth – whether it’s those brand-name Canadian winter jackets, luxury European cars, or gourmet Las Vegas style restaurants – then aren’t we missing the point? Aren’t we drifting away from the core values that supposedly brought us to Lakewood? When showing off becomes our norm, aren’t we straying from why we came here?
Let’s not just play the part. Let’s live it.
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