or first-time emailers to ecommerce retailers, this filtered Internet center makes sure it never hits home. Shmully Zellermaier is the manager at Cubicles, a filtered computer center, in Lakewood, New Jersey.
What we do
We offer filtered Internet access in our computer center so you don’t need to have it at home.
What that means
There are two options. You can either work at a private enclosed cubicle or a semiprivate kiosk, and both come with a desk, computer, and basic office supplies. Approximately 60 percent of our clients use kiosks and 40 percent use the private cubicles. We offer different types of access: If you’re a computer-only user, you can use only non-Internet programs like Microsoft Office and Adobe. If you’re an email-only user, you can also use email sites but that’s it — other websites and links from emails aren’t accessible. Our whitelist users have access to a list of preselected websites they request, that’s all that’s available, and then there’s a standard account where you have general filtered Internet access with the ability to browse. We use the Meshimer filter, and we don’t have any real control over it or set any policies. Of course, we can help you send Meshimer a request to open a page or site that’s blocked, and they’re generally able to accommodate users’ needs.
People from all walks of life: kollel yungeleit, professionals, rebbeim, real estate investors, teachers, ecommerce retailers, housewives, you name it. To my surprise, a non-Jewish lady from Toms River stepped in once — she said she usually uses the public library, but there she can use the computer for only 30 minutes at a time. Most of our clients come from the local Lakewood community, though we’ve had people visiting from Baltimore to Beit Shemesh and everywhere in between. And they come to do literally anything and everything: researching products, applying for credit cards, online banking, studying for exams, medical research, online courses, online purchasing, email, printing documents, airline bookings, applying for health insurance or government programs, or just simply for access to programs like Microsoft Word, Excel, Photoshop, InDesign, and so on.
How it works
You purchase time to use at our computers, so once you create an account with us and put time on it, you’re ready to go. Some customers use Cubicles services for a few hours at a shot while others come for just a few minutes. Some come daily, while others come once in a while. There are countless online business ventures operating out of here — in fact, you’d be surprised how many successful businesses have started here. We have one large online retailer who actually runs his business out of Cubicles. His two employees work here, and he has a warehouse somewhere else. Then we have ecommerce clients who aren’t running huge operations — they’re either doing it on a smaller scale, or as a side job, or starting out and testing the waters.
Our customers range from computer savvy to those who don’t even know how to power on a computer. I’ll never forget when an innocent bubby came in and asked for assistance sending a simple email. We started with, “Go to your browser and enter gmail.com.” She placed her finger on the “G” key, and after ten seconds she looked up and asked, “When can I leave go of the G?”
The biggest challenge we faced when setting up shop
Working out all of the IT aspects. It took a lot of time and investment to keep our machines secure and virus-free, and the setup was quite complex because we installed a sophisticated central network server together with special hardware to run Meshimer on our systems, so each customer can get his own filter settings. Typical Internet cafe stations aren’t geared for such an advanced setup.
The biggest improvement
Because we have so many different users on each PC, the computers get abused and full of garbage — people download all types of files that unintentionally mess up settings. We’ve had customers accidentally deleting the printer from a computer, for example. In the beginning, I had to keep scanning the PCs and manually cleaning them from viruses and malware that customers unintentionally put on. Some of those scans would run for a few hours. The whole thing was a big headache, and what made it even worse was that even though we were constantly on top of it, we were still having issues! Baruch Hashem we came across a program that every time the computer is restarted, it brings it back to our original settings. No matter how many viruses, malware, and junk were downloaded, and no matter what settings were changed, everything magically goes back to our original setup.
Feature I’m proudest of
What we call our user profile or active directory setup. Each user has a profile, so the filter settings for your account are there automatically every time you log on from any of our computers. That took a lot of time to set up, but it really makes the customer experience easier.
Best compliment I ever received
Although I constantly hear compliments from our customers, the one closest to my heart was a note someone left me one afternoon before Purim. I stepped away from my desk for two minutes, and when I returned I saw a mishloach manos on my desk with a simple yellow paper attached. It had a handwritten thank-you statement on it — “Thank you so much for everything you are doing to help many people have Internet-free homes,” and it was signed “From an anonymous customer.” It felt like the words went straight from their heart to the paper — I really felt the gratitude.
When Cubicles Lakewood was in the planning stages, the owner asked a rav who’s very involved with the klal in these areas if we should withhold from launching such an operation since some people who generally wouldn’t access the Internet would feel more comfortable doing so here. The rav immediately dismissed the question with a wave of his hand. We never market ourselves as a l’chatchilah — we have a disclaimer hanging here that Cubicles doesn’t encourage Internet usage, but we’re here to provide a better alternative to having Internet at home, carrying a portable device with Internet access, or getting access from a non-kosher source like the library or Optimum unfiltered Wi-Fi. To quote my boss, Cubicles Internet shouldn’t be considered kosher either, since real kosher Internet doesn’t exist.
How I got started
My father was a programmer for Chase Bank, and we always had computers at home that I played around with — I got pretty familiar with them. When Cubicles in Lakewood launched four years ago, after they saw how useful Cubicles in Brooklyn was, they needed someone to run the place, and here I am ever since!
Equipment I always have on me
A USB flash drive
Best advice my mentor gave me
Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Mintz, my menahel at Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel in Brooklyn, once told me, “A person can’t try to lift his hand — it’s either you lift it or you don’t,” meaning that even though the main thing is to try your best, sometimes it’s a matter of really doing something or not, and trying is just a code word for not willing to give it all you got.
Best question I ever got
I’ll never forget the time when we were still new to Lakewood and someone stepped in to inquire about ordering cubicles for his business. No, we do not sell office furniture…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 716)