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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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.