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27 Elul 5759 - September 8, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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An Inside Look at Lakewood of Eretz Yisroel

by Moshe Schapiro

Squeezing past groups of lively bochurim rushing to their next shiur, I wend my way through labyrinths of narrow staircases and halls that permit one-way traffic only. The first thought that crosses the mind of anyone entering Beth Medrash Govoha of Eretz Yisroel-Lakewood is that the institution has severely outgrown its physical facilities. If a newcomer manages somehow to walk through the main floors of the building without noting the crowded conditions, he is likely to receive a rude awakening at lunch or dinner time, when he encounters the protruding beams under which he has to duck in order to walk through the dining room.

Yet despite the spatial constraints of Lakewood in Eretz Yisroel, the nearly 70 bochurim and 30 yungerleit learning there today consider themselves fortunate to be in the yeshiva. As one bochur put it, "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."

When asked to identify the unique qualities of Beth Medrash Govoha of Eretz Yisroel-Lakewood, bochurim and alumni alike invariably dwell on three recurring themes: the rosh yeshiva, HaRav Yaakov Eliezer Schwartzman; the degree of personal attention that the yeshiva's staff provides; and the high level of Torah being learned there.

The Rosh Yeshiva -- HaRav Yaakov Eliezer Schwartzman

HaRav Schwartzman, the eldest grandson of HaRav Aharon Kotler, shared an extremely close relationship with his grandfather; in fact, he grew up in Reb Aharon's house until the great godol was niftar. At the age of fifteen, he entered Lakewood Yeshiva, where he grew very close to his uncle, HaRav Schneur Kotler. When he was nineteen, responding to a consuming longing to learn Torah in Eretz Yisroel, he traveled to Israel, where he spent the next years learning day and night.

When Reb Schneur visited Eretz Yisroel for the last time before his petirah, in the late 1970's, he discussed with Rav Schwartzman the possibility of establishing a branch of Lakewood Yeshiva here. At the time, large numbers of American bochurim and yungerleit were beginning to show strong interest in learning in Eretz Yisroel. Many of them were students and alumni of Lakewood Yeshiva who wished they could have the best of both worlds: to live in Eretz Yisroel and experience its sanctity, and to continue learning in Lakewood Yeshiva.

The suggestion seemed too theoretical, until Reb Schneur's petirah. At that time Rav Schwartzman felt a powerful determination to act on Rav Schneur's advice and bring Lakewood's special Torah study approach to Eretz Yisroel. With guidance and assistance from both the yeshiva in New Jersey and his father-in-law, HaRav Shlomo Wolbe, Rav Schwartzman's tireless efforts have met with profound success -- though he has had to overcome countless trials and tribulations along the way.

"Whatever we've accomplished here," says Rav Schwartzman, "is due to Reb Aharon Kotler's zechus."

Rav Schwartzman ascribes all the yeshiva's success to HaRav Aharon Kotler, who was the Torah inspiration of his generation in America. Against all odds this great godol with amazing vision managed to bring the concept of Torah lishma to America, inspiring young scholars to pursue Torah learning as a way of life. Reb Aharon succeeded in laying the foundations of today's thriving Torah community, brick by brick. One of his greatest accomplishments was the creation of Lakewood Yeshiva, where such a large percentage of today's Torah leaders have learned.

From the inception of the Lakewood Yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel sixteen years ago, it was Rav Schwartzman who bore the bulk of the responsibility for maintaining the yeshiva financially, as he continues to do today. The yeshiva has seen much growth in the interim, and its expenses have grown accordingly, yet the Rosh Yeshiva has never allowed any hardship to detract from the yeshiva's ultimate objective of Torah learning.

That Torah learning is the focus of the Yeshiva and the focus of all of life is clear to every single talmid in the yeshiva. Rav Schwartzman conveys this concept to his bochurim not only through his shiurim, but also through personal example.

Warmth and Personal Attention

Despite the many challenges of maintaining a yeshiva, the Rosh Yeshiva makes sure that each and every bochur is provided with what Rav Schwartzman considers one of the keys to success in Torah study, and one of the most unique resources the yeshiva has to offer: a high degree of warmth and personal attention. "We look at each and every bochur," explains Rav Schwartzman, "as an independent world."

Personal attention at Lakewood is expressed in many different ways -- both in ruchniyus and in gashmiyus. Rav Menachem Glick, one of the yeshiva's two mashgichim, recalls several instances when the Rosh Yeshiva himself paid for an extra shirt or a pair of pants for a bochur. "I've often seen the Rosh Yeshiva take money out of his wallet and pay the difference in air fare to help keep a bochur in yeshiva until the end of the zeman," says Rav Glick.

Rav Simcha Ellis, who accepted the post of mashgiach three and a half years ago, recalls his own initiation to the ways of Lakewood in Eretz Yisroel. "Rav Glick mentioned to me that a certain bochur in the yeshiva would really benefit from a particular service, which was extremely expensive at the time," recalls Rav Ellis. "I agreed with Rav Glick that this would indeed help develop the bochur's character, but I pointed out to him that the cost was prohibitive.

"I'll never forget Rav Glick's response: `I don't understand! If your son needed it, wouldn't you pay for it?' That's the approach that Rav Schwartzman instills in his staff."

In the end the two mashgichim shared the expense for the service out of their own pockets. The Rosh Yeshiva and the yeshiva's two mashgichim spend countless hours together regularly, discussing the progress of every bochur. Not long ago, a parent in the United States received a phone call from one of the mashgichim, to discuss his son's new chavrusa. Only after the parent hung up did he notice the time: 9:00 p.m. American time -- 4:00 a.m. in Israel.

Last year, during tefillas Ne'ilah of Yom Kippur, Rav Schwartzman demonstrated the extent of his love and care for his bochurim. The yeshiva follows the Rabbeinu Tam schedule, which means that davening is prolonged and the fast ends later than in many other shuls. In the midst of Ne'ilah, with the beis medrash totally absorbed in the intensity of the prayers, the Rosh Yeshiva began walking around the room, checking the boys' faces to see how they were faring. At that point, he sent three boys out to make havdoloh and break their fasts without further delay.

Then there was the time the yeshiva hired a new cook. Rav Schwartzman, who hardly has time in his busy day to eat, visited the kitchen on a frequent basis for several weeks to assess the quality of the dishes being served to his boys. When he was satisfied with the quality of the food, he promised the new cook a monthly bonus if she keeps up the good work.

One of the factors that most contributes to Lakewood's success is the high rebbe-student ratio. The staff includes the Rosh Yeshiva, two mashgichim, three highly qualified maggidei shiur who are well known for their tremendous dedication to the progress of each and every talmid, and three nos'ei venosnim. The staff are joined in their efforts by the kollel, who forge warm relationships with the bochurim, and learn with them on a regular basis.

The Glick home is another important source of spiritual and emotional nourishment for the bochurim. More than an "official open-door policy," the Glicks' door actually remains open twenty-four hours a day, and bochurim stride in and out with hardly a preliminary knock. There they can always find a listening ear, caring advice, or someone with whom to speak in learning.

Lakewood in Eretz Yisroel doesn't close down during bein hazmanim. To help the boys maintain a learning schedule during the summer break, the yeshiva organizes -- at considerable expense -- a vacation-learning program in the holy city of Tzfas and in the resort city of Netanya. Along with delicious food, beautiful grounds and enjoyable day trips, there is a strong emphasis on daily learning sessions and regular shiurim delivered by guest speakers. Rav Schwartzman explains that this teaches the bochurim an important lesson -- one that he reiterates at every opportunity: "Everything in life is included in Torah. It's not that Torah is the most important thing in life; it's that Torah is life. There is no aspect of life that is outside the bounds of Torah."

High Level of Torah Learning

Although personal attention plays a crucial role in the total yeshiva experience, by far the most important and unique aspect of Lakewood in Eretz Yisroel is the high level of Torah learning offered there.

The learning in Lakewood can be described as nothing less than intense. Students are challenged to achieve increasingly higher levels in their knowledge and understanding of Torah, and the schedule is rigorous: from 9:15 a.m. until 10:40 p.m., with short breaks for meals and rest in between. There are regular sedorim on Shabbos and motzei Shabbos as well. Bochurim are also given the opportunity to present their own insights to small groups in chaburos they prepare and deliver. Besides the regular va'adim, every bochur participates in chaburos on halacha and shemiras haloshon.

"The Lakewood approach in a nutshell," explains Rav Glick, "is that one's learning should encompass the entire Torah, not just the single daf one is learning. The Rosh Yeshiva tries to broaden the horizons of the bochurim, opening their minds within the context of the limud. He teaches them to view a kasha of Tosafos not only as a `local problem,' but as an issue that relates to all of Shas."

The learning in Lakewood is more than challenging; it is done in an atmosphere of absolute dedication, that seeps gradually into the consciousness of the talmidim, transforming them into budding talmidei chachomim and future leaders of Klal Yisroel. The success of the Yeshiva's special qualities and derech can be clearly gauged in the many lamdonim, masmidim, marbitzei Torah and askonim who can be found among the alumni of Beth Medrash Govoha of Eretz Yisroel.

Rav Ellis, a relative newcomer to the yeshiva, says that he has seen with his own eyes the results of the Rosh Yeshiva's efforts. "Bochurim who have learned here for two or three years leave with a perspective on life that is completely different from that which they held when they first entered the yeshiva. Things that had been important to them previously, are no longer as significant, and things that are truly significant hold a much higher place in their set of priorities. They come here as American bochurim, but when they leave, they're true mentschen and fully developed bnei Torah. They come away with an enthusiastic Torah outlook on their futures, and a strong commitment to Torah study and harbotzas Torah, and to fulfilling their particular roles in Klal Yisroel."

There are many bochurim who want to benefit from this special yeshiva. Today the only question is where to put them all.

Groundbreaking on Chol Hamoed Succos

To accommodate its ever-growing needs, the yeshiva has undertaken to construct a new building on a large tract of land in the Ramot section of Yerushalayim. A ceremony marking the hanochas even hapinah of the future home of Beth Medrash Govoha of Eretz Yisroel-Lakewood will be held on the 18th of Tishrei, on this coming Chol Hamoed Succos. Gedolei Torah from both Eretz Yisroel and America will grace the occasion with their presence.

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