Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Under One Roof

Shimmy Blum

When the Lakewood Cheder started with ten children in 1966, no one dreamed it would one day become the largest Orthodox elementary school in the world. Today, as it’s consolidating its three locations into one massive campus, this veritable indoor city — with 99 classrooms, 40 resource rooms, two dining rooms, and a wedding hall — is redefining the word “school.”

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How is a former US base of a major German manufacturer being transformed into a historic makom Torah? A walk through the gigantic commercial building at725 Vassar Avenue inLakewood gives its own testimony.

Dozens of workers are on site daily operating tractors, laying bricks, mixing cement, breaking open concrete, welding iron, pulling wires, and more, in order to construct the largest Orthodox Jewish boys’ elementary school in the world.

The noise is loud, the air dusty, and the massive price tag self-evident, but those in charge of the Lakewood Cheder’s new building project mill about the construction site with an aura of serenity and pride. And they’re staying warm. It doesn’t matter what’s falling from the sky or how cold the weather is outside.

“It’s like building an indoor city,” says Rabbi Yosef Posen, executive director of the cheder and its girls’ elementary twin, Bais Faiga.

Rabbi Posen says that $12 million of the $18 million price tag has been raised, and is confident about accessing the rest, planning to have the ground floor completed in time for the 2014 school year. The ever-growingLakewoodcommunity now has approximately 25 Orthodox boys’ elementary schools. Yet the Lakewood Cheder, founded back in 1966 with about ten students, is by far the largest, and remains widely recognized as “the”Lakewoodcheder.

The older grades have eight parallel classes per grade, and the younger ones have ten, but the original plans for the new building to accommodate ten classes per grade were quickly redrawn to accommodate an 11th.

“We have, bli ayin hara, lots of students’ siblings and children of alumni enrolling each year, but also many new parents want to send here,” relates Rabbi Mattis Gelfand, assistant menahel of the cheder’s oldest division.

A single cheder grade has more students than many full-size elementary schools.

Lakewood Cheder students are currently spread out among three locations. The youngest grades are in a decades-old building atNinth StreetandClifton Avenue, in the heart ofLakewood. The next division is onJames Street, on the south side of the lake. The oldest boys learn in the finished portion of the new Vassar Avenue location in Industrial Park, a 3.5-square-mile area of Lakewood devoted to offices, factories, showrooms and, increasingly, Orthodox community schools.

Housing all talmidim in a single custom-built location is a daunting task, but one that has the cheder’s mechanchim energized. Here is Rabbi Moshe Wilhelm, a third-grade rebbi in the mornings and secular studies principal for the oldest division in the afternoons. He’s just made his daily trip fromClifton Avenue to the new building.

“Every morning, I think about what it would mean to teach in this building,” Rabbi Wilhelm says. “This is Gan Eden.”

After a brief tour of the finished portion of the new building, where over 400 cheder boys are already learning, Rabbi Posen and director of development Rabbi Avrohom Yitzchok Landau open the hallway doors to reveal the future home of the hundreds of talmidim currently scattered in different locations.


To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

Not a Newspaper
Shoshana Friedman A deeper difference between newspapers and magazines
Services in Shards
Rabbi Moshe Grylak “Such a painful, malicious lie!”
The Pittsburgh Protests: All Politics All the Time
Yonoson Rosenblum The old rule — “no enemies on the left” — still applies
Danger: School Crossing
Eytan Kobre The hypocrisy of YAFFED’s assertion is breathtaking
Real Laughter and Real Tears
Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger The two sides of a life lived with emunah
Work/Life Solutions with Eli Langer
Moe Mernick I was proud to be “that guy with the yarmulke”
Is Ktchong! a Mitzvah? When Prayer and Charity Collide
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman These cannot both be done effectively at the same time
An Honest Shidduch
Jacob L. Freedman “Baruch Hashem I’m cured, and this will be my secret”
A Blessing in Disguise
Riki Goldstein “I never thought the song would catch on as it has”
Ishay and Motti Strike a Common Chord
Riki Goldstein Bringing together two worlds of Jewish music
What’s your favorite Motzaei Shabbos niggun?
Riki Goldstein From the holy and separate back to the mundane
Rightfully Mine
Faigy Peritzman Don’t regret the job you didn’t land; it was never yours
Growing Greener Grass
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Nurture your blessings and watch them blossom
My Way or the High Way
Rebbetzin Debbie Greenblatt We know what we want — but do we know what He wants?