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Heart of the Stranger
A Portrait of Lakewood's Orthodox Community

by Ali Botein-Furrevig ©2010, Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-935232-22-3, 186 pp
 

Beginning with a chronicle of the history, beliefs and sacred texts of Judaism, Dr. Ali Botein explores how and why, beginning in the late 19th century,  a handful of Eastern European peddlers and farmers settled in the then, posh New Jersey resort area town of Lakewood, NJ.  This small Jewish community’s growth is then traced to what is today, one of the country’s largest Orthodox enclaves, centered around Beth Medrash Govoha Yeshiva, a world renowned institute of Torah study.

 

In a reader-friendly manner, Dr. Botein explains the customs, laws and traditions that define Orthodox Jews and their commitment to Jewish education and to living a traditional Torah-true life in a multi ethnic city and fast paced modern world.

Introduction 11

Chapter One
People of the Covenant: Texts and Contexts 21 

Chapter Two
All in the Family: Faces of Judaism 32
Chapter Three
The New Ezekiel: 350 Years of American Jewry 42 

Chapter Four
Exit 91 S on the Garden State Parkway: Welcome to Lakewood, N.J. 49

Chapter Five
Beth Medrash Govoha and the Frum Community, or,What’s with the Black Hats? 60

Chapter Six
A Crown of Prayers 72

Chapter Seven
Living Torah: Acts of Kindness, Compassion, and Charity 78 

Chapter Eight
The Classroom and Beyond: An Integrated Formula forEthical Living 87

Chapter Nine
Dating and Marriage, or, A Bird May Love a Fish, but Where Would They Live? 95

Chapter Ten
To Everything There is a Season: Orthodox Life Cycles 102

Chapter Eleven
Orthodox Women and the Mitzvot of Shabbat, Challah, and Spiritual Immersion 108

Chapter Twelve
Orthodox Women and the Dichotomy of Equality and Place 115

Chapter Thirteen
The Orthodox Year in Celebration 123

Chapter Fourteen
Yom HaShoah: Remembering the Unforgettable 141

Chapter Fifteen
Chaim’s Story: A Survivor Speaks 148

Chapter Sixteen
Living with Diversity: Lakewood’s Ethnic and Racial Mosaic 157 

Chapter Seventeen
And Speaking of Melting Pots, or, Eat Something Mamala 165

Afterword 172 

Chai Times Two Plus Five
A Teaching Guide for Tolerance and Understanding 174

A Bissell Glossary 179

Sources Consulted and Recommended Readings 183

Chapter Five

 

Beth Medrash Govoha and the Frum Community,

or,

What’s with the Black Hats?

 

The words of Torah are like golden verses; the more you scour and rub them, the more they glisten and brighten and reflect the face of him who looks at them. So it is with the words of Torah; whenever you repeat them over and over, they glisten and enlighten/reflect the face of the one (who studies them).

Midrash Nate

 

The Nazi regime sought to murder all the Jews in Europe – 50 to 70 percent of whom were Orthodox – and tragically succeeded to the extent of six million. So too did they aim to destroy a whole culture, or way of life. That culture was embodied in, and perpetuated by, a broad spectrum of communal organizations, congregations, and educational institutions that transmitted the culture the Nazis were intent on destroying. In pre-war Europe, there were approximately 800 yeshivas for boys and young men at the elementary, secondary, and post secondary levels serving students in excess of 200,000. Girls’ schools encompassed 250 institutions with a student population in the neighborhood of 40,000. Despite the devastating destruction, there were a determined number of survivors who managed to rebuild many of the yeshivas and kehillas (Jewish communities revolving around a synagogue and its schools) that existed in Europe.

 

Certainly, the most legendary figure who set the standard for traditional yeshiva study in the United States was Rav Aharon Kotler who, out of the burning ashes of Eastern Europe, brought the light and perspective of Torah to Orthodox Jews in America. Rav Kotler was considered by the sages of his time, including Chofetz Chaim and Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzienski, one of the gadol ha-dor, Torah giants, of his generation. According to William Heinrich in his book The World of the Yeshiva, Rav Kotler was a dominant Torah personality who “embodied the yeshiva in all its aspects: He had dramatic presence, was brilliant, selfless, and incredibly hard-working. Uncompromising in his principles, he won people over to his cause by the sincerity and force of his convictions” (42). Among his other contributions to Orthodox Jewry, Rav Kotler was the founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, today the most prestigious institute in the world for rabbinical study based on the European tradition of yeshiva learning and having a satellite network of kollelim (institutes for advanced Talmudic study) all over the globe.

 

Rav Kotler was born in Sislovitz, White Russia (present day Belorussia) in 1890 into a distinguished rabbinical family. A brilliant student at the renowned yeshiva in Slabodka, Rav Kotler “exhibited a rare combination of intellect and charisma.” (Bunim). After finishing his studies and marrying Chana Pearl Meltzer, he worked as an assistant to his father-in-law, Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer at a yeshiva in Slutsk, which he headed for twenty years. In 1936, Rav Kotler came to America to meet with prominent leaders of the Orthodox community and raise funds for educational institutions in Europe. They discussed, along with the future of Talmudic scholarship, how to build and finance a Torah sanctuary in the United States. Rav Kotler and several American Orthodox students returned to Europe. When, on the precipice of the outbreak of WWII, the American government announced that they could not take responsibility for any American citizens living in Europe, students returned home, and scholars from yeshivas throughout Eastern Europe sought refuge either in safer cities throughout Europe, or in the United States or Palestine. Kotler and his yeshiva relocated to Vilna. Through the efforts of a rescue committee, Vaad Hhatzalah, Rav Kotler and his wife were among those who, in 1941, were able to secure passage to America via Siberia.

 

Lakewood’s Rabbi Yoffe relates the story about Rav Kotler who, on the eve of Pesach (Passover), stepped off the boat in San Francisco where he announced to his welcoming party: “I’m going to organize traditional Torah learning in the United States.” Rav Kotler’s deep concerns about the future of traditional Torah study following the destruction of Torah centers throughout Europe was shared amidst World Jewry who saw the lofty task of rebuilding the ruins falling upon the Jews of America and Israel. Rabbi Yoffe considers Rav Kotler, “[who was] known as The Etz Chaim of Kletsk Yeshiva, the greatest Jew who ever lived in America, and the one who had the most profound influence on the American Orthodox landscape.”

 

Without question, Rav Kotler was a visionary whose dedication to the continuity of Jewish tradition and Halakha (law) and to the rigorous growth of Torah scholarship, reshaped American Orthodoxy. Amos Bunim, in his eloquent biographical tribute to his father, Irving Bunim (1901-1989), who worked closely with Rav Kotler in his rescue work, maintains that Rav Kotler, along with Rabbi Silver, President of Agudah Harabonin, brought a spiritual revolution and the enlightenment of Torah to Lakewood, which, in turn, charted a different course for Orthodox Jewry throughout America. Rav Kotler, Bunim asserts, knew a great deal about American Jewish history when he arrived in 1941. He was painfully aware that the early Sephardic and German communities saw their children assimilate, and that at the turn of the century, Eastern European immigrants, even more religiously inclined but who had experienced poverty in the Old Country, also became engulfed in assimilation; with little political and economic clout, they hoped for inclusion with Reform and Conservative Jews. Their lives, says Bunim, “stressed the supremacy of overall social good and charitable work, rather than living life with a Torah perspective in all actions [and Kotler warned that] Jewry stands or falls in direct proportion to the measure of its devotion to Torah study.”

 

Meanwhile, Lakewood was experiencing a growing Jewish community of mainly Russian, German, and Polish immigrants. Rabbi Hillel Bishco, founder of a small White Plains, NY yeshiva kollel, was invited to Lakewood to speak to the well -to -do winter vacationers to raise funds for yeshiva education. Rabbi Pesach Levovitz, one of the attendees, recalls that Bishco, after alluding to the Nazi annihilation of European Yeshivas, startled the audience: “Dear friends, I am here to invite you to the funeral and burial of Torah.” Indeed, in the United States, there were then but two schools of advanced Torah study, one in Brooklyn and one in Manhattan. The guests asked Rabbi Bishco what could be done to reverse the projection about the end of Orthodoxy, to which he replied “The promise of the Almighty was that Torah was eternal.” He suggested that they begin the process in Lakewood by establishing a yeshiva which would follow the classic approach to Torah study. An ad was placed in the papers for anyone interested in traditional yeshiva learning but, because there was no scholar affiliated with the planned yeshiva, no one responded.

 

The wealthy Jews who had put up the initial financial backing started to question their investment decision, but soon word spread that there was a need for a Torah scholar in New Jersey. Lakewood’s Bezalel Goldstein and Rabbi Waxman, together with Rabbi Bishco, Rabbi Gordon, then President of the White Plains kollel, and one of its members, Rabbi Mordechai Yoffe, persuaded Rav Kotler to come to Lakewood and head up the yeshiva. Rav Kotler’s conditions were that he would stay in the shore town Thursday evening through Monday morning, and then return to his apartment on New York’s Upper West Side, where he could continue carrying on the work of Vaad Hatzalah which, through the war, had kept many refugees in Europe, Russia, and Shanghai alive.

 

When the Holocaust began, the American State Department hindered efforts to rescue Jews and, as David Wyman points out, most of the leaders of American Jewry failed to protest against the abandonment of the Jews by the “democratic” nations. One of the critics of this passive attitude was Rav Kotler who issued a fierce call for all Jews to take immediate action: “We must not abandon hope or remain silent,” he warned, “…[and] it is our sacred duty to go to Washington….” (Bunim).

 

And so in 1943, several hundred rabbis from the Vaad Hatzalah and other activist groups, many wearing long black coats and black hats, marched from Washington, DC’s Union Station to the nation’s Capital to pressure politicians and government officials to admit more refugees and to take other forms of action to help the Jews of Europe. The rabbis met with members of Congress to read the group’s petition to the President. Worried about his upcoming reelection campaign because most Americans were opposed to letting in more refugees, President Roosevelt wanted to avoid the rabbis, and was curiously unavailable that day. But his political calculation backfired since the next day’s headlines read: Rabbis Report “Cold” Welcome at the White House.” The impact of the negative publicity about the march resulted in the creation of a Federal government agency to rescue people from the Holocaust, The War Refugee Board, which was instrumental in saving the lives of tens of thousands of Jews (Wyman).

 

At the same time Rav Kotler was busy in New York City, Bezalel Goldstein and Rabbi Waxman were convincing David Shapiro, a guest at the Carlton Hotel, to purchase the first building for a yeshiva. They then approached Lakewood businessmen to commit to financial support for the yeshiva. Beth Medrash Govoha (BMG), opened its doors the day after Purim in 1943 on the first floor of a large home in Lakewood. Some of the first students were from Rav Kotler’s old yeshiva in Klesk. Shortly thereafter, students from the White Plains yeshiva, also named Beth Medrash Govoha, relocated to Lakewood. It was not easy to sustain religious education at any level, and during its formative years, BMG sometimes lacked sufficient money to pay basic bills. The Sons of Israel community, the Lakewood Branch of the National Council of Jewish Women, and B’nai Brith, helped to cover the Yeshiva’s immediate financial needs.

 

Rav Kotler also was instrumental in establishing kollels. A kollel, generally defined as a community of learners, is an institution where veteran and married yeshiva students receive a stipend in order to continue to devote themselves to full time Talmudic studies after their marriage, in a program that requires rigorous ten hour a day programs. While individual enrichment through advanced study remains a central focus of kollel, there also is the community kollel which has been transformed into an informal educational institution geared toward addressing the intellectual and spiritual interests of local Jewish populations throughout the United States and Canada. Some of these community kollels focus on Jewish education of children and adults who are already active members of their communities; others are more “outreach” directed, seeking out individuals who have more limited connections to Jewish life, offering them a variety of Jewish learning experiences.

 

Explaining how Rav Kotler succeeded in establishing kollels, an area in which others had fail, Rabbi Eliezer Goldstein, director of BMG’s Division of New Kollelim, attributes Rav Kotler’s success to “one of the unsung heroes of Torah growth”—Lakewood’s Rabbi Nosson Wachtfogel –who worked under the guidance of Rav Aharon Kotler and who would travel to each community, convincing its Jewish leadership of the benefits of hosting a kollel and recommending married scholars from Lakewood who would be successful in each city (Feitman).

 

Rav Kotler was also one of the rabbinical leaders of Agudath Israel. This organization, founded in Poland in 1912, promoted the ideals of Orthodox Jewry and was the political arm of Eastern European Ashkenazi Torah Judaism. A confederacy of Orthodox Jewish communities throughout the world, its core mission is the protection of human rights such as freedom of religion, and the preservation of the Jewish cultural heritage. Rav Kotler and other members of the Sages of Agudath Israel in Israel, founded Chinuch Atzmai, an alternate school system for Orthodox children in Israel which emphasizes Jewish studies and which include Bais Yaakov schools for girls, Talmud Torah, Cheder (or Heder) and Yeshiva Ketana for boys. The school was only partially supported by the State and Rav Kotler was extremely influential in fundraising efforts. Today, Chinuch Atzmai which has an enrollment of 80,000 students, is dependent upon donations from outside Israel, particularly the United States.

 

Rav Aharon Kotler died in 1963. “Torah,” he once stated, “is the lifeblood of the Jewish people, the goal of Jewish existence… [and]…the perpetuation of our people depends on the development and growth of authentic Torah scholars.” (qtd. in Dershkowitz). Rav Kotler believed that Torah should be studied because it was G-d’s revealed truth; his dream for Torah lishmo, study for its own sake, rather than because it provided the possibility of employment, was carried on by his son, Reb Shneur Kotler until his untimely death in 1982. Today Rav Kotler’s eldest grandson, Rabbi Aryeh Malkiel Kotler is the spiritual leader of BMG and his youngest son, Rabbi Aaron Kotler, serves as its CEO.

 

I had the pleasure of sitting with Rabbi Aaron Kotler in the study of his Lakewood home. An eloquent and humble man with sparkling china blue eyes, Kotler attested to the fact that the examination and admissions process for acceptance into BMG, which is fully accredited and licensed, is grueling and competitive. Though it has an operating budget of twenty million dollars, the school is completely funded by charities, individuals, and scholarship endowments. Tuition for a full time undergraduate is approximately $13,000 per year, but when a student marries, he does not pay tuition, and is granted a stipend for his studies. Graduate tuition for a full time student is approximately $5,000 per academic year.

 

Though called a yeshiva, BMG is a college which is fully accredited and offers undergraduate and post graduate degrees on a fifteen acre campus consisting of dormitories, residence halls, study halls, classrooms, libraries, dining rooms, and visitor facilities. The 5000 plus student body represents the United States as well as 22 other countries. BMG has branches in major communities in the US, Canada, and Israel. The average age of a BMG student is 23. Many of those who come to BMG have already had one to two years of college, some abroad. There are over 230 study programs at BMG as compared to other yeshivas which offer two to eight. Some of the students are in a joint program with Farleigh Dickenson’s CPA program. The academic year, based on the Hebrew calendar, is divided into three semesters or terms. The academic week is Sunday through Thursday and is rigorous. Most students’ days begin at dawn and are 12-14 hours long, with breaks only for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. BMG’s study halls are large and there are benches or tables for books, chairs for seating, and lecterns, or bimahs, for the lecturer. Students learn through lecture, or shiur, and also by working with a study partner, a chaver; together, they read and analyze the nuances of Talmud and rabbinical commentaries and engage in scholarly debates about ethical and legal issues.

 

According to Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lussatto, an eighteenth century Italian scholar and teacher, virtually every Talmudic discussion between study partners is built from seven principle elements of reasoning, almost hairsplitting logic:

 

Statement: Speaker states a fact

Question: Sage asks for information from speaker

Answer: Speaker responds to question directly, or

Contradiction: Speaker disproves a statement and contradicts or refutes it

Proof: Original speaker presents evidence from which truth of a statement is made obvious

Difficulty: Sage points out something untrue in a statement or idea

Resolution: Original speaker or some other sage reconciles the difficulty raised against statement or idea and everyone goes home happy

 

Study partners, a distinct feature of yeshiva life, are not chosen lightly. Chavrusa Tumult is an annual event at BMG when thousands of students gather in hallways and in the parking lot in search of the perfect chavrusa. Common to large yeshivas such as Mir in Israel, Tumult is an intense and competitive day when, in addition to considering their educational goals, students must choose a partner with whom they feel they can have a successful personal and academic relationship. Students also must arrange to join a particular study group, called a chavurah.

 

Like the majority of the student body at BMG, Yussie* does not mind BMG’s demanding schedule. “However small my existence is,” he says, “I am serving Hashem by studying Torah. Torah is considered the light because it brings light and enlightenment to one who studies and interprets it.” Yussie’s study partner, Mordechai*, agrees: “It’s a mitzvah to observe the commandments and struggle for righteousness in the world. To study Torah is a distinction rather than a burden.”

 

But when young men feel that they are not growing in their study of Torah, they will seek other avenues of maintenance and support. David Berg*, a young Hasidic student currently enrolled in Ocean County College’s Liberal Arts program, with a concentration in Psychology, often stops by my office to visit. David studied at BMG for a few years and says that the most remarkable aspect of his experience was the nurturing environment for, and student dedication to, learning for learning’s sake. “A few of my friends,” relates David, “will become Torah scholars and others will use the argumentative and critical thinking skills they developed at BMG through Talmudic discourse to pursue a career in law,” but David’s goal is to ultimately work in the area of forensic psychology. “But,” he assures me, “I will continue to lead a Torah true life.”

 

Rabbi Kotler is justifiably proud of the fact that his school’s learning focused programs allow motivated students to grow intellectually and in life, with the freedom to develop how to think. Some go on to be successful in business, the rabbinate, academia, medicine, finance, law, or technology; most do not become rabbis, but all are there for the sheer love of learning. BMG has a successful job placement service for their graduates, many of whom are awarded posts in kollels around the country.

 

“Look, I’m third generation and have the huge benefit of having the groundwork,” Rabbi Kotler tells me modestly, “The model is done and I just tinker with it.” Over the period in which BMG has existed,” he continues, “two percent of Jewish history has taken place. Jews are an integral part of civilization; human history would be unrecognizable without the Jewish people.”

 

Today, the total population of Ocean County surpasses 450,000 and, according to the Ocean County Jewish Federation’s statistics, fifty thousand are Jewish. Forty thousand of that figure are Orthodox who reside in Lakewood, making that city home to one of the largest clusters of Orthodox Jews in the United States. One of the many misconceptions about Lakewood’s Jewish population is that they all fall under the banner of “black hat Hasidim” or “black hats.” “Black hats,” for starters, refers to the yeshivish. The term Hasidic, in itself, presents somewhat of a conundrum. On one hand, it comes from the Yiddish word for “pious or pious one” and therein lies the problem. One might argue that technically, the entire community by definition is pious, but the label Hasidic, correctly used, describes a follower of Hasidism.

 

Simply put, there are two groups of Torah observant Jews in Lakewood: The yeshivish and the non-yeshivish, or Hasidic, the latter of whom encompass various sects or dynasties as explained in Chapter Two. It is estimated that maybe 20 percent of the Lakewood Orthodox population is Hasidic. While yeshivish and the non-yeshivish are all considered Orthodox, living according to the Torah commandments, there are subtle nuances in customs and appearance dictated by family tradition.

 

The Orthodox, individually and as a group, are often referred to as Frum or Haredi. The word frum comes from the Yiddish word for “religious.” Haredi (pl. Haredim) is a term meaning “devout.” For purposes of clarity, I refer to the collective Lakewood religious community, including Hasidic, as Orthodox, haredim, or frum. Only when necessary do I make specific references to yeshivish or Hasidic.

 

There are some outside the Orthodox enclave who mistakenly refer to Lakewood’s haredim as “Ultra-Orthodox,” a seemingly redundant term. To my mind, “ultra” is a judgmental term negatively suggesting fanaticism or extremism. Orthodox, by its very essence, implies the highest adherence to a belief. It does not get any higher. Are there Ultra Reform Jews? Ultra Protestants? Ultra Buddhists?

 

Manner of dress is a means to ensure Jewish identity, tradition, and distinctiveness. Certainly, clothing is but the outer garment, not an indication of what is within the soul of the person, but a simple understated mode of dress is viewed as conducive to inner reflection and spiritual growth. It is difficult to broad brush a picture of what a “typical” Hasid or yeshivish Jew looks like. Often times, Hasidic men will follow the specific dress style of their sect which may include a long coat, called a frock coat, or a full length suit jacket called a rekel. This mode of attire was common to Hasidic and non Hasidic Jews in pre-World War II Europe, though many Hasidim, especially those who have businesses, opt to wear a black business suit with a conservative light colored shirt and tie.

 

Payos, or side curls, and beards are worn by most Hasidim and the vast majority of Yeshivish. Both Hasidim and Yeshivot men wear a kippah, or yarmulke, to cover their heads. The kippah is made out of black material or black velvet. Very few members of both groups wear do not wear hats over their yarmulkes. Yeshivish men will wear a fedora or trilby style hat made out of felt. The Hasidic men wear hats that, depending on dynasty affiliation, range from fedoras (often with the brim turned down) to bowler hats made out of felt or beaver. The formal shtreimel, a wide and flat fur hat is reserved for the Sabbath, or Shabbos. Some sects of Hasidim may wear a spodek, which is a higher and narrower fur hat. Whatever the style, the hat is worn out of respect for G-d by showing that there is a higher power.

 

Modesty in dress and behavior, one of the most fundamental of Jewish values, is viewed by some outsiders as provincial, prudish, and chauvinistic when, in fact, it nurtures individuality and relationships based on wisdom and good deeds which are, one might say, the garments of the soul. Both Hasidic and Yeshivish women’s modest attire is limited to conservative dark colors and skirts that at least cover the knees, blouses with high necks, and sleeves which cover at least the elbows. There are some Hasidic women who wear ankle length skirts, and some yeshivish women who do as well. You will find teenage Bayis Ya’akov girls garbed in long denim skirts and hoodie sweatshirts or conservative sweaters congregating in places such as Jerusalem Pizza or Taste Buds on Route 9, or Barnes and Noble on the Howell border. Once married, both yeshivish and Hasidic women are required to wear a sheitel, or wig, and some may wear a hat or head scarf as well. The fitting rooms in clothing stores for women in Lakewood, as well as in Boro Park and Williamsburg, post charts with appropriate rules of attire.

 

It is certainly not unusual for Hasidim and yeshivish to pray together in a common shul, or synagogue. Some Hasidim do, however, have their own shteebel, a smaller and less formal shul in the basement of a house, where there is more exuberance with singing and dancing. Many yeshivish opt to daven, or pray, in a shteebel. While it is possible to find a Hasidic young man or woman in a yeshivish school, the majority prefer to attend schools more in keeping with family traditions. Hasidic and yeshivish men study side by side at Beth Medrash Govoha where such distinctions disappear with attention to advanced Torah study.

 

Today, Lakewood’s Orthodox abide by secular civil law, but they also have their own governing body called the Vaad, a tradition that comes from Poland and other countries where it played a major role in giving East European Jews as sense of community and people-hood. The Council of the Four Lands (Vaad) consisted of lay leaders and rabbis whose major function was to defend Jewish interests and to interpret, modify, and adapt the legal code of Polish Jewry which required a great deal of rabbinic expertise in Talmudic law and commentaries. Lakewood’s Vaad is composed of Rabbis and leaders of the Orthodox community, and one of their functions is to ensure that any planned secular legislation is not harmful to the entire Lakewood Jewish community. Since the Torah discourages going through the secular court system, the The Vaad has a tribunal or rabbinical panel, called Batei Din, located on Forest Avenue, which oversees a myriad of Orthodox legal and civil disputes.

 

Though Lakewood appears, to the outsider, to be a cloistered community with regard to its internal experience vis-a-vis Jewish life and Torah study, the Orthodox community’s deep roots branch out to the needs of fellow Jews throughout the world. For over six decades, they have been able to create and sustain a Torah-true lifestyle and ensure Jewish continuity through education and preservation of family tradition. Far from the restrictions of the Old World shtetls, they can maintain the traditional practices of their Eastern European ancestors with the conveniences of modernity.

 

Asked about the different strains of Orthodox Judaism in Lakewood, Rabbi Aaron Kotler explains that yeshivish and Hasidim live and pray side by side: “The basic difference is that Hasids are centered on dynasty rebbes, many of whom studied at BMG. Yeshivish Orthodox are affiliated with synagogue rabbis. All go to shuls. There are subtle differences in customs, but it is important to recognize that we share more similarities than differences. Ultimately, all of us are bound by Torah, Jewish history, language, and by following the 613 commandments.”

 

As to the future of American Orthodoxy, the young CEO of BMG believes that “Orthodox Jews are the keepers of ancient tradition [and that the] Orthodox experience in the United States is very successful, more so than the European model insofar as the latter had little diversity and was monolithic. Jews were the perpetual minority where American culture is more hospitable to diversity.” And when it comes to fostering diversity, as will be discussed in chapter 16, Rabbi Kotler has had enormous success. He is committed to improving relations and building bridges with the other ethnic groups that reside in Lakewood, and for fulfilling the core values of BMG for excellence in Torah education and service to community.

 

Over the six and a half decades since Bezalel Goldstein and Rabbi Waxman welcomed their beloved colleague, the venerable Rav Kotler as Rosh Yeshiva, Beth Medrash Govoha has been the centerpiece, the heartbeat, of Lakewood’s religious and social life. From its inception with under fifteen students, the now sprawling BMG campus in central Lakewood with a student body of five thousand – and still growing – stands as a tribute to, and reflection of, Rav Kotler’s dream for future generations of Orthodox Jews to study and live Torah, and to become immersed in intellectual activity for a higher spiritual purpose.

“Ali Botein-Furrevig is both courageous and empathetic as she provides  a vivid  portrait of Lakewood’s Orthodox Jewish Community. In Heart of the Stranger, she crosses the boundary by demystifying stereotypes of the other and calling for compassion, inclusion, and respect.  In our diverse and increasingly interdependent communities, state, nation, and world, it behooves all of us to use our voice and touch, as Dr. Botein has done, to reach out to the other.  Ultimately, isn’t the heart of the stranger the heart of a friend? Our heart?”

 

Saliba Sarsar, Ph.D , Associate VP Monmouth University, NJ Professor of Political Science and author of articles on Middle Eastern relations


“In her book, Dr. Botein-Furrevig describes a horrific event from the Holocaust when a Nazi soldier throws a three year old boy into an open grave containing the bodies of Jews who had been shot; he then fills in the grave with this little child still in it. The boy looks up and innocently asks, “Why are you putting sand in my eyes?” In a read that is sometimes joyous, sometimes painful, but always interesting, Dr. Botein-Furrevig removes the sands of misunderstanding and prejudice from the eyes of non-Jews and non-Orthodox Jews alike, and paints a clear and concise picture of the history, beliefs, rituals, and customs of Jewish Orthodoxy. As a Roman Catholic priest and teacher for 48 years, I believe that this book can do more to improve Christian-Jewish relations than much of what I have previously read.

 

”Msgr. Joseph C. Ansaldi, Principal EmeritusSt. Joseph-by-the-Sea H.S., Episcopal Vicar Emeritus, Staten Island, NY

Dr. Ali Botein is an English Professor at Ocean County College in Toms River, NJ, where she also developed and teaches courses in Jewish and Holocaust Literature and The History of the Jewish People and Culture.



Dr. Botein is the Academic Advisor to the college's Center for Peace, Genocide and Holocaust Studies, and spearheads their annual Holocaust Remembrance Week program. She is a popular speaker on Yiddish culture and Jewish-themed books throughout Ocean and Monmouth counties as well as an accomplished oil painter.


Dr. Botein, who grew up in Cedarhurst, NY and  Far Rockaway, Queens, NY resides in Brick, NJ with her husband Allan Furrevig, a retired bank executive, and their toy poodle, Maxwell Boo-Boo Moritz.

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