EXCLUSIVE: Letter from Veteran Lakewood Menahel, Reb Yisroel Chaim Gelbwachs

yttTo the Lakewood community, Firstly, I would like to start off saying that if you think that R’ Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz asked me to write this letter, he didn’t. It was a feeling of Achrayus, being involved in R’ Shlomo Yehuda’s initial experience being nosei be’ol of a Lakewood child in need of a yeshiva. I felt I owe him the Hakaras Hotov to set the record straight.

Everyone knows my policy and a yesod upon which Yeshiva Tiferes Torah was built on, there should not be more than 25 talmidim in each class. One of he only times we took more than 25, was when a yeshiva closed down. Once many years ago when Rabbi Kolko’s Yeshiva closed and more recently when Nesivos Or closed. At the time, in order to help the klal we added to each class making it 27. After accepting these boys, one more family came along and wanted to send their child after being turned down by other mosdos. Being that we already reached 27 it really wasn’t feasible and I had to turn them away. I then received a call from R’ Rechnitz but I tried to explain that there are already 27 in the class. He pleaded with me and explained that the Family had nowhere else to turn. But I was overfull. I then asked him what shaychos he had to this family that he made such an effort and took up so much time. His answer was “I don’t know them, they just called me and asked me to help”. Hearing that I responded “if you don’t even know this person and you took out time and effort to intercede on their behalf, how can I possibly turn him away”. In the end the parents of this child decided to put him in a contained class elsewhere. We can see from this very first intervention that R’ Shlomo Yehuda’s efforts and intentions are lishem shamayim.

Sitting at the dinner, the way I heard the drasha, R’ Shlomo Yehuda showed how his pain for the talmidim who don’t get into a yeshiva equaled the pain he was feeling for his father in law, R’ Belsky zt”l.

As an individual with over 40 years of experience dealing with parents within the system of Lakewood mosdos, I feel I can voice my opinion. Having started in the Lakewood Cheder in 1974 when there was just 45 boys from 1st-8th grade, and seeing the tremendous growth bla”h to thousands of talmidim and talmidos, I would like to stress a most important point. I didn’t hear the venom in R’ Shlomo Yehuda’s speech towards the entire community of Lakewood, let alone the benai torah in particular c”v. He spoke about the yechidim, “elitists” and the pressures that the Roshei Yeshivos and Roshei mosdos have from these yechidim. Having a mosed with mostly baalei batish parents I see the same “elitism” by those that are not necessarily sitting and learning. There are those individuals that no matter their particular level of frumikeit, believe that those of the step below them can be a threat to their child, be it b’ruchnius or scholastic abilities. Somehow they forget to look at the step above them and realize that to someone else, they are the very same threat they themselves fear. Dealing with all kinds of parents this issue of “elitism” is an issue across the board regardless of their hashkafos or fruimkeit.

On a side note, I can honestly say that sadly in the current system parents without the right connections or financial means regardless of their hashkafos are more likely to become the “underdogs”, and end up without anywhere to go. R’ Shlomo Yehuda steps in providing these families with an equal chance to get their children into a suitable mosad and not to have them sit at home or be dumped into one mosad along with the other “underdogs”.

I recently heard that R’ Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l was proud to post his pictures of his earlier days (in a baseball cap) to show that you never know from which background the next gadol hador is going to come from. Mr. Harry Schiff from Monsey, a simple fruit store owner, was zocheh to have 2 sons and 2 sons in laws that were gedolei hador. R’ Yankel Schiff, son in law of the Brisker Rav, R’ Shea Schiff, Rosh yeshiva bais shraga, R’ Shmuel Feivelson, Rosh yeshiva bais medrash litorah and R’ Meir Hershkovitz, Rosh yeshiva Stamford. The current system is not perfect and changes need to be made. Not too long ago R’ Reuven Feinstein pointed out, that today we have forgotten that our job is to be mechanech children and not parents.

Lets’ be dan lichaf zechus and not think that R’ Shlomo Yehuda’s drasha was meant to belittle anyone in particular. When someone means leshem shamayim and brings up issues that need to be addressed the sotan finds a way to ruin any eitzah to help alleviate a problem that exists not only in Lakewood but in klal yisroel.

let’s move on, and may we have the siyata dishmaya to be mechanaech all of Hashems children b’derech yisroel saba.

Yisroel Chaim Gelbwachs

Menahel Yeshiva Tiferes Torah

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