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This week's Shabbat message

Jews in Lakewood??

Hi everyone! Ruchi here! This week, JFX led a road trip for six women to the town of Lakewood, New Jersey -- the biggest population of Torah-observant Jews in the USA! I was honored and privileged to lead these amazing women through a packed itinerary of learning, touring, shopping and eating. Here are their words:

Cindy Attias
My first impression when we arrived into Lakewood was “everyone looks the same.”  Put on the black slacks and you’re ready to go. Instinctively, I assumed all the obvious conclusions about why communities adopt and conform to similar outward dress codes: sense of belonging, avoidance of rejection, and reflections of values and customs. 

The moment we met Batsheva Krupenia, the granddaughter of the rabbi who founded the Lakewood Yeshiva, I understood that the community's wardrobe is actually a blank canvas for unique individuals. Rebbetzin Krupenia is a truly holy woman and glows from within. What makes her holy? Maybe it’s her self control? She had just recently had knee surgery, yet this did not stop her from shuffling to the door and welcoming us with a beaming smile (a huge scar and extreme swelling momentarily poked out from under her dress -- it was nothing to sneeze at).

As she described her family's struggle to escape the war, she did so with a touch of humor. She thanked us for visiting and offered us snacks, and we left believing that we were the ones who received a mitzvah that day. She is the most humble lady I have ever met and this is reflected in her home. Before we left she asked if we had any questions. I wish I'd asked her about the one and only personal item she had on display in her home: a set of stunning crystal candle sticks flanked by portraits of her ancestors.    

When we left I noticed a driveway filled with children’s toys (the Rebbetzin has over 100 grandchildren). This made me understand that the "black pants" uniform and the undecorated home of the Rebbetzin are the same thing. If you keep the outside simple, there is more space on the inside for what’s really important. 

Heather Greene
So I’m in this Cleveland-based WhatsApp chat with hundreds of religious women. This may or may not be hyperbolic, but it seems that on a daily basis, someone is asking if anyone is traveling from point A to point B and if they can deliver a small package. It seems people in the community are always sending things back and forth to friends and relatives in other communities, and other community members take these items back and forth when they travel! What a great way to do acts of kindness for each other! I always scroll past these messages, feeling dejected because I want to perform this chesed/act of kindness so badly, but I’m a homebody and usually going nowhere. 

Then, two days ago, I thought my prayers were answered. I saw Rabbi Josh’s wife, Serena, posted and I responded immediately!!!

Notice how calm and cool my response was, when actually my heart was racing? I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Yes!!! I’m FINALLY going to get to do this!! (Are you with me people? Can you feel the excitement is mounting?) I felt like Hashem/G-d was blowing me a kiss. And then the momentum to what was supposed to be the greatest day of my life, came to a halt. For reasons beyond my control, I wasn’t able to do this kindness. I was so disappointed.

Ruchi’s sister, who lives in Lakewood, and whom we met on the trip, heard my story and offered to throw me a bone and give me a package to take back to Cleveland, but it just wasn’t the same. And honestly for me, the camaraderie we experienced on this trip was the greatest part of all and definitely helped cushion the blow.

And if you know anyone coming from Lakewood to Cleveland, I have a small package I need delivered!

Laura Simon
Experiencing Lakewood through the eyes of Ruchi has been is a uniquely magical experience. The tightly interconnected, observant community of 90K people is thoughtfully planned and runs in a way that benefits its citizens to elevate their spiritual lives. The opportunity to learn about and visit many of the organizations that make up the community illuminates how the individual building blocks of Torah and ahavat yisrael (love of one's fellow Jew) create an infrastructure that meets the various needs of its members. 

Bikur Cholim, technically the mitzvah to visit and provide aid for the sick, has evolved into an organization that cares for the community’s sick and their families.

Visiting the Bikur Cholim of Lakewood felt akin to stepping into a sanctuary of kindness and support, reminiscent of a chic boutique hotel infused with a deeper purpose. Bikur Cholim programs and services include physician referrals, help with treatment costs, free loan of medical equipment, visitation and advocacy, lovingly prepared fresh meals (which we got to help with!), blood and bone marrow banks, accommodations for family members, and more. Their mission is clear and heartfelt -- to assist anyone in need, anywhere, at any time, with dedication that makes every individual feel valued and cherished.

Bikur Cholim of Lakewood not only provides five-star hospitality and extensive community services, but does so with a level of enthusiasm and love that inspires and warms the heart. 

Lana Lowenkamp
The community of Lakewood blew me away. In a sense, it reminded me of being in Israel. Jews are in the majority here, not the minority. We felt safe, supported and embraced. All the kosher restaurants and grocery stores catered to us -- the Jewish people -- and to our needs. It was so welcoming and unique, I only wish I had discovered it sooner. 

Shopping at Judaica Plaza, the largest Judaica store in the USA

Avril Burg
I chose to write about the mikvah because, although it wasn’t my first tour of a mikveh, having it explained by our tour guide and teacher Avigail made it feel as though it was. She so beautifully used metaphors to illustrate how the immersion and completion steps parallel how we think of death and rebirth. She told very touching and personal stories demonstrating how the mikvah has been a centerpiece in her life. It renewed in me a connection to this mitzvah. The physical beauty of the mikveh paralleled the spiritual beauty of all the symbolic ideas inherent in this special mitzvah.

Robin Green
Walking into Reena’s sheitel (wig) salon in Lakewood, New Jersey, felt like entering a magical portal to Fantasy Hair Land. Reena, the owner, met us on the sidewalk outside her salon and welcomed our group with a a royal stretch of her graceful arms. She shared with us that selecting and styling sheitels (wigs) was her art form, her joy, her expression of creative passion. Indeed, it was her superpower. As she spoke, I was transfixed by the very sheitel atop her head. It was my dream hair. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it to try on. Alas, once inside I learned the hard way that it was not the right look for me. Although not actually in the market for a sheitel, it was evident by the selection of lengths, colors, styles, attachment methods and styling tools, that I would have ended up with *exactly* the right sheitel for me. Reena let us try on everything we wanted to as we acted like kids playing dress-up. No doubt that Reena’s passion, talent, skill, and downright sparkle make her the queen of Fantasy Hair Land. She helps women who observe the mitzvah of hair covering to feel beautiful, pampered, and special. What an honor to meet her!

Shabbat shalom, 

Ruchi & the Lakewood Six

Ramblings of 2024

Wed, July 17 2024 11 Tammuz 5784