There is a lot about Lakewood to cherish, from the unparalleled camaraderie to the infrastructure allowing Jewish life to thrive, and so much more. But we also have a blind spot, one that cannot be ignored any longer.
While we like to imagine Lakewood and its environs as peaceful and lacking crime, the reality in recent months and even years has not been that. Everyone is aware that car thefts in Lakewood are common, but how many know that most of those thefts are being committed by kids that grew up or live here?
How many people are aware of the mischief, harassment, and otherwise deviant behavior that is going on, with little to no repercussions for the offenders?
The truth is, people are waking up to it. Following the stabbing of two men this past Motzei Shabbos in West Gate, the town is abuzz with calls for change and for dealing with these juvenile delinquents with the justice they deserve to be on the receiving end of.
But beyond these children needing a good whipping, we also have to recognize that we, as a community, are failing. Kids don’t wake up one day and decide to steal a car. Kids don’t get into knife fights after coming home from a long day at school. These incidents happen only when children are given no option but to conform to strict standards and a cookie-cutter approach to chinuch.
Lakewood boasts over 135,000 residents; it is inevitable that there will be differences among us. It is inevitable that some kids will need outlets that others don’t, and it is inevitable that some children will not make it through the yeshiva system and need other, healthy ways to express themselves.
Are we giving them those healthy ways to express themselves? Are we giving these children for whom the “system” doesn’t work a chance to blossom into healthy adults, or are we relegating them to the trash with a big label that says “bum” on it?
There is no doubt a growing number of organizations and clinics that are trying to more for these kids. But as a whole, Lakewood remains blind to the plight of kids falling through the cracks. Waking up to those kids only once they start stabbing people is a failure and lack of foresight of epic proportions.