A Community in the Making – Manchester, NJ

NEW JERSEY -
(via social media)

In the last few years, Lakewood’s housing shortage has caused many people to move to Jackson and Toms River. What prompted you to move to Manchester, New Jersey?

Essentially, we were motivated by the same factor that has brought people to settle in Jackson and Toms River: the availability of affordable housing (which is almost impossible to come by in Lakewood itself these days). But since the growing demand for housing has also pushed up prices in those places, we decided to look a little further afield. As it happens, I had done some bike-riding in Manchester as a bachur, so I already knew that it was within easy reach of Lakewood. With its quiet, leafy neighborhoods, I felt it might be an attractive proposition.

We were further encouraged by the fact that another frum family had already moved in to Holly Oaks, a pleasant residential section of Manchester. Knowing that we weren’t the only “crazy” family to think out-of-the-box, we began to look for a house and found a well-priced spacious home with a front and back yard (just what we were looking for!). By the time we moved in in January 2020, another family had just preceded us.

About 20 families live here now; some more families have bought houses and are delaying moving in because they don’t need the space yet, or because they’re waiting for the frum presence to become more established.

Realtors stress that the most important asset of a property is its location. Is this true of houses in Manchester?

People often gasp when I say I live in Manchester because they mistakenly think that it’s miles away. Holly Oaks is close to the borders of Jackson and Toms River, so we’re really not that far from Lakewood. I’ve driven to BMG in 18 minutes, and since it’s possible to drive to the center of Lakewood without going on Route 9, my commute can actually take no more time than it does for some of my friends who live in Lakewood and get stuck in heavy traffic on their way to yeshivah.

Shopping opportunities are still closer. It takes about nine minutes to Seagull Square and even less time at night. The Evergreen plaza takes a few minutes longer.

Would you say the families who’ve moved to Manchester are a homogeneous group?

At present, we’re a group of young couples in our twenties and low thirties. Many of the men learn in BMG or other yeshivos in town and their wives generally work. I would describe us as a young, yeshivishe crowd, who are also a little open-minded. In Manchester, most of our neighbors are not Jewish, so living here requires a different mindset than living in an established yeshivishe neighborhood.

What has been the reaction of your neighbors to your arrival?

Our relationship with our neighbors is extremely cordial and we intend to keep it that way. They’re decent, hardworking people — including two Lakewood police officers — and they’ve been very welcoming. I think it helps that there are relatively few of us; we didn’t arrive all at once, and our houses are spread out over a few blocks. They don’t feel we’re “invading” their neighborhood, and the truth is, we’re not!

At the same time, from speaking to several people in Holly Oaks, I learned that they are willing to sell their houses either because they were looking to downsize or because they’d heard they could get a good price. Properties in Manchester have become costlier in the past year, even though they remain considerably less expensive than in other areas.

As a result, I’ve personally been involved in the sale of 10 Holly Oaks houses to Jewish families, even though I have no aspirations in real estate.

People are obviously very curious to know where you daven in Manchester.

Initially we walked 25 minutes every Shabbos to a shul in Toms River. But once our numbers started to grow, we established a “shul” in a backyard pool-house, and this is where we daven on Shabbos. As the frum population increases, we’re going to have to move to somewhere bigger and there are some vague plans in the air, although we don’t have anything definite.

There’s also a plan to open a night kollel in Holly Oaks.

Weekday davening presents no problem as there are shuls in Toms River that are only a few minutes away by car. Some people drive into Lakewood to daven in their yeshivos.

What do you do about schooling your children?

Most of the children are very young, although one family has a 9-year-old. The children go to playgroups and schools in the Lakewood vicinity, and as we don’t have bussing as yet, we have to provide our own transportation. If you come to live in Manchester, you know you won’t be getting all the conveniences of Lakewood and, of course, you expect to do a lot of driving. Incidentally, we already have two Chaverim members (myself and another person) and we should be getting Hatzolah representatives after Pesach. There’s even talk of an eruv, but that probably won’t be happening all that soon.

Notwithstanding its drawbacks, what are the advantages of living in Holly Oaks?

Well, affordable housing — as we’ve mentioned — is obviously the main plus, seconded by lower property taxes. But the advantages don’t end there! Our neighborhood is calmer and quieter than other places, and there’s a slower pace of life. Being that we’re somewhat on our own, we’re very friendly with each other and even the non-Jews often greet us with a cheery “hello.”

Another good thing about our neighborhood is the lack of competitiveness. Although the houses come in several models, huge and ostentatious houses simply don’t exist here. Many of the houses are about 40 years old — mine is older! — but they’ve largely been kept in good shape by their owners.

I’d venture to say that people who are moving to Holly Oaks are actually looking for a comfortable but modest lifestyle, and don’t want the pressure of having to keep up with — or outdo — their neighbors. There’s a nice “out-of-town” feel about our neighborhood.

Do you envision that this will change once the neighborhood becomes more populated with frum Jews?

I really don’t see it happening. There are only 508 houses in Holly Oaks, and no extra space for developments or for building duplexes and so on, so I can’t envision that we’ll ever become all that large. But I can envision that there will be more and more like-minded Yidden moving into these houses in the next few years. With Hashem’s help, we’ll be able to form a wonderful, close-knit and thriving community together.