Beth Medrash Govoha, the crown jewel of the Lakewood community, operates at the highest levels of professionalism and efficiency, thanks to its dedicated staff who do their utmost to ensure that the needs of both the collective yeshivah and of every talmid individually is met.
After spending the better part of a decade reaping the fruits of that effort, Rabbi Shneur Kotler, son of the yeshivah’s president, Rabbi Aaron Kotler, recently joined the staff as vice president of Beth Medrash Govoha. Hamodia spoke to Reb Shneur about transitioning from learning in the yeshivah to working for the yeshivah, and about his vision for the future of BMG.
What was the transition like going from a talmid of the yeshivah to overseeing it on an operational level?
Growing up, and throughout my years learning in the yeshivah, I had the opportunity to see firsthand the shutfim who are busy day and night enabling the yeshivah to thrive. Until recently, I was able to enjoy the fruits of those efforts as a talmid of the yeshivah, and today it is my greatest privilege to be a part of this group.
Many times, when my uncle, the Rosh Yeshivah, Harav Aryeh Malkiel, shlita, gives a vaad to the staff, the message he relays is that it is a zechus for all of us to be machzikem of one of the greatest mekomos haTorah in the history of Klal Yisrael.
As someone who spent years as a talmid of the yeshivah, you are bringing a unique perspective to how things are run. Do you want to see any changes implemented?
I look back fondly at my years of learning in BMG and realize how this has helped me understand the needs of the talmidim in a unique and authentic way. It was a privilege to have experienced what a special place BMG is and how true and real the learning is. I gained a tremendous amount from the Roshei Yeshivah, my chaverim, as well as from my longtime Rosh Chaburah, Rabbi Moshe Greenfield, who I am still close with today.
I joined an administration whose focus is to make sure they keep the talmidim at the front of our collective mind with the decisions that are made. My years in yeshivah serve as a guide for every meeting and discussion that I am part of. One small example — this year we set up self-serve kiosks to allow talmidim to quickly print student letters or reconfirm their dorm rooms, thus minimizing any bureaucracy and waiting time.
I also experienced the parking challenges firsthand. I recall one summer zman getting three parking tickets. We are working diligently on alleviating the parking difficulties around yeshivah.
What is your vision for the yeshivah going forward?
When my great-grandfather Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, came to America, he started BMG with 13 talmidim, a vision, and a burning passion for spreading limud haTorah. My grandfather Harav Shneur Kotler, zt”l, expanded the yeshivah and expanded its reach by starting the community kollel movement together with the Lakewood Mashgiach, Harav Nosson Wachtfogel, zt”l, furthering Rav Aharon’s vision.
When Rav Shneur was niftar, my uncle Harav Aryeh Malkiel, shlita, became the Rosh Yeshivah, and my father joined in 1994. Over the past two decades, the yeshivah grew exponentially. In a world that is rapidly changing, it is more important now than ever to continue the legacies of Rav Aharon, and Rav Shneur. This is something I look forward to being a part of for future generations. I am lucky to have the opportunity to work in close proximity with and learn from my father and uncle, seeing how they are perpetuating this vision.
We understand the yeshivah is in the process of opening a beis medrash out of the 7th Street/Forest Avenue area. What happened now that the yeshivah decided to take this leap?
All our 16 batei medrash are full to capacity, and we are already using temporary space to house some 300 talmidim. With each zman, the number of talmidim continues to grow. Last summer, I went around the batei medrash to see how many open seats there were, and even with the use of temporary space, there were fewer than 100 open seats in a yeshivah of nearly 7,000 talmidim! Looking forward, we anticipate the number of talmidim to outpace the number of seats, and we need to be prepared.
When the Princeton beis medrash first opened, we saw how convenient it was to have a beis medrash near our talmidim’s homes. As such, we are currently leasing the Woodlake Country Club on New Hampshire Avenue for use as a beis medrash, and we are exploring the purchase of the property as a new yeshivah campus.
Woodlake serves the dual purpose of being near a large and growing nucleus of talmidim in the South and East ends of Lakewood, as well as alleviating traffic and parking around the main campus. As our talmidim increasingly move into the surrounding townships, having a campus at a closer location to their homes will be a tremendous benefit to the talmidim, their families, and the local residents.
Is it going to be similar to the current batei medrash, or is the yeshivah going to have Campus I and Campus II?
BMG today is an urban campus spread out over four different locations. Woodlake will be no different; however, due to the slightly increased distance, we will take extra care to make sure that it has all the conveniences and amenities found at the other campuses, while having parking and commute advantages.
One last question — recently some have noticed a change in the yeshivah’s fundraising efforts. Most noticeably, the popular “Tent Event” does not occur anymore. Why is that?
With the growth of Lakewood, the Tent Event grew to an unmanageable size, with some of those who wanted to attend spending well over an hour in traffic just getting to the site. Instead, we have doubled down on smaller, more intimate events that allow us to really connect to people. We have expanded our fundraising team too — adding many young alumni to our team who are reaching out and building kesharim to the yeshivah and securing support.
From our perspective, there is no such thing as an insignificant gift. Every single donation of any size is needed and valued and enables the talmidei hayeshivah to create Torah for Klal Yisrael at the absolute highest level. The urgency is now greater than ever with both the growth of the yeshivah, as well as the expansion of the programs available to our talmidim.
The Tent Event was also very costly to run. With the lion’s share of our budget going directly to our yungeleit in the form of kollel stipends, we want to spend as little of that money as possible. Our attitude is that if we don’t absolutely have to spend it, we would rather give it to talmidim as scholarships and stipends. We are very conscious of our fundraising expenses, our total cost of revenue for 2018 was under 10%, which is exceptionally low for any institution.
Thank you, Rabbi Kotler. May you have continued hatzlachah.