With Hakaras Hatov to the Lakewood Community | Mendel Singer, PhD MPH

I wish to give a public hakaras hatov to the Lakewood community. From time to time I read The Lakewood Scoop and it is often filled with amazing examples of what an incredible community you have! And what a great community service TLS is!

When I was about 20, I had the great privilege of going to Lakewood for Shabbos on many occasions. Seeing first-hand what a community of talmidei chochomim looks like – what an experience! I remember one time sitting alone in the back of the main Beis Medrash of BMG shortly before Shabbos, Rav Shneur Kotler, zt”l, came over to me and asked how I was and where I was learning. Speaking to me! I was (and perhaps remain) a nobody.

Of course, your community grew into a whole Torah metropolis since then! Yeshivos and kollelim are the local crop! Torah is still what makes the community’s heart beat. With the enormous growth came an exponential need (read: opportunity) for chesed and The Lakewood Scoop is filled with constant reminders of how your community has risen to that challenge.

In my neighborhood, most of us with multiple married children have someone in Lakewood and we’re proud. OK, we want them to come back eventually, and we do have a wonderful community here with many kollelim and a well deserved reputation for chesed (and school vouchers!). But I am proud to have two sons in the great Torah center of Lakewood, the married one a Rebbi. And most of my closest friends live in Lakewood. So it is very dear to my heart. Which is why I check TLS, and also why I have occasionally posted about COVID-19 on TLS. As a professor of public and population health, this is my field. Just as I publish letters here, I shared a couple with TLS because Lakewood is important to me and it’s a way I can try to give back.

But I fully realize that you are blessed with many outstanding doctors who can review the evidence with a professional and unbiased eye (devoid of politics!), providing leadership and guidance during COVID just as they always did before COVID (which seems awfully long ago, doesn’t it?). Dr. Shanik’s leadership, in particular, is legendary. How few Dr. Shaniks there are! I feel very happy that this amazing doctor who the community has trusted and relied on for so long, to whom so many parents and children are indebted to, continues to provide guidance through this challenging time.

But there’s something else. In my work, I do a lot of modeling of different diseases, including infectious diseases, and try to determine things like what level of risk warrants which interventions. For COVID, I understand how to model infectious disease transmission, impact of interventions, community adherence with policies (like masks, social distancing). I understand how to build in the economic piece, and even how to factor in the long-term impact of extended unemployment and school disruptions. There would be very many estimates, but models are always built with varying levels of uncertainty and provide ranges of results under different scenarios, not a single number (despite how the media report on them). What I can’t even begin to fathom, however, is how to incorporate the koach and zechus of limud hatorah and communal tefilos, the spiritual impact of disrupted yeshivos or the impact in shomayim of school disruptions and lockdowns on shalom bayis. That has to be balanced against the medical risk of COVID. That’s not just a decision that’s way above my pay grade, it’s way above my ability to comprehend. For this we need our Rabbonim and our Gedolim, and Lakewood is rich in talmidei chochomim to deal with this issue, and has the community structure for implementation.

This Simchas Torah may look different. Certainly some people at high risk will be unable to participate in hakafos, as others who are caregivers. Depending on how things develop and forthcoming guidance, perhaps it will look different for many more. But one thing I know for certain: the heart of every Lakewood Jew is singing and dancing with the Torah 24/7/365.

With hakaras hatov and admiration,

Mendel Singer, PhD MPH


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There are 4 Comments to "With Hakaras Hatov to the Lakewood Community | Mendel Singer, PhD MPH"

  • Superbusy says:

    Finally one doctor who understands how devastating it is for our schools and yeshivas to close !! We are losing our bochurim!!! You know how many yungeleit after months of babysitting said enough I’m going to work! The damage cannot be understated!! We will lose a generation ! All precautions must be taken but schools and yeshivas cannot close!

  • Aaron says:

    Kudos for writing this letter. Is this the first covid letter written in such a positive format on the scoop. Unfortunately most of the frum population outside, and even in Lakewood have forgotten about the true foundation this city was built on. This writers attitude is the attitude that most people had of Lakewood just a short while ago.

  • Chaim says:

    This is the first letter written on the Lakewood scoop since April that has nothing negative in it. The saying: ‘if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it’, seems unpopular these days. A letter like this is long overdue. Not only does it remind everyone what the core of Lakewood really is, and will always be, it brings out a point that many of us have forgotten with the current circumstances. The Torah is what has kept us in existence since the beginning of time and it is what will get us through this as well. Whether in Lakewood or on Zoom, let us not forget who we really are and what keeps us in existence.

  • Anonymous says:

    @ Superbusy The only way for schools to remain open is if they implement the safety protocols that are set by public health experts. Otherwise COVID-19 we will keep on spreading.