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B y Y i t z c h o k C o h e n

KIRYAS JOEL:
A Chassidic Oasis in
Upstate New York
A delegation of Hamodia representatives pays
a visit to Kiryas Joel, the Satmar enclave in
Monroe, on the occasion of the thirtieth
yahrtzeit of its founder, the Satmar Rebbe,
Harav Yoel Teitelbaum, zy”a

I t is an unwritten law in the world of journalism that anniversaries of momentous


events marking a certain number of decades — the tenth, the twentieth, and so on —
deserve more attention than the anniversaries in between. Naturally, the thirtieth
yahrtzeit of an illustrious personality such as the Satmar Rebbe, zy”a, calls for special
coverage.
But special coverage on the Satmar Rebbe is something that is not really feasible. The
countless articles that have been penned to describe this spiritual giant cannot do justice
to the scope of his greatness. So instead of writing about the Rebbe himself, it was
decided to focus on one of his extraordinary achievements — the establishment of the
Satmar shtetl of Kiryas Joel in Monroe, New York.
Ever since the Rebbe set foot on American soil, he harbored a dream of building his
own shtetl — a quiet, secluded enclave where his chassidim could lead their lives
sheltered from the tumult of the city. For many years the Rebbe nurtured this dream,
hoping that one day he would be zocheh to move into such a shtetl along with his
chassidim. Finally, in 1974, his dream was realized, and he settled in Kiryas Joel.
The Rebbe, who did so much to advance Yiddishkeit in America, once said, “If not for
my shtetl, Kiryas Joel, I would feel as if I achieved nothing in this world.” He felt that
founding this enclave would be a way of perpetuating his memory, for all his children
passed away during his lifetime. He once said, “I believe that I survived the war to be
able to build a Yiddish shtetl.”
Building the shtetl was not easy. The establishment of Kiryas Joel came after several
failed attempts to set up a Satmar enclave in Staten Island, Dover, Canarsie, Mount
Kisco, Congress Lake and other locations. In all these places, especially in Congress Lake,
hostile anti-Semitic opposition from residents hampered him.
The first resident in Kiryas Joel was a Jew from Washington Heights named Eli
Birnbaum, a”h; he settled in the tract called Garden Homes. Although a member of the

10 Hamodia Magazine August 12, 2009 H a m o d i a M a g a z i n e 2 2 Av 576 9 11


Ashkenazic community in Washington Satmar chassid. The mayor was out of his Chassidic Jews could raise their families at a administrative offices, we set out on a tour. responders to various emergency situations
Heights, he had been deeply impressed by office just then, so we were welcomed by safe distance from the teeming streets of We first passed through a bustling shopping that crop up in a dense population of large
the Satmar Rebbe’s sefer, Al Hageulah ve’al Mr. Ari Felberman, the government New York City. center replete with a full variety of stores families. Hatzolah’s usual case load is
Hatemurah. Like many others, he had many relations coordinator, who graciously seated “Our mission,” he said, “is to turn Kiryas that furnish village residents with greatly increased during the summer when
questions on the often-debated topic of us and served us cold drinks. Joel into a self-sufficient village enabling the everything from take-out food — both dairy residents of the many bungalow colonies
Zionism, so he wrote down a list of his The walls of the mayor’s office are community to secure for its residents and meat — to fully stocked supermarket surrounding Kiryas Joel utilize their
questions and went personally to present adorned with various pictures that give everything they might require. Our shelves, and a wide selection of toys, services.
them to the Rebbe. The Rebbe patiently visitors a glimpse into the mayor’s standing aspiration is for Kiryas Joel to be a shtetl medications, household items and jewelry. Next we passed by the Public Safety
listened to all his questions and clarified his in the political world. Mayor Wieder has where one can live his or her life peacefully Not far from the shopping center is the Department which, under the skillful
The kollel building
stance against Zionism until Rabbi been photographed with presidents Reagan, from cradle to grave.” Ezras Cholim Health Center, which direction of Mr. Moshe Witriol, dispatches
Birnbaum understood. Afterward, Rabbi Bush, and Clinton, New York governor Regarding the village’s rapid growth, provides quality health care to community the salaried guards who patrol the village
Birnbaum would often come to the Rebbe; Pataki, and other prominent political Mr. Szegedin said that unless Moshiach residents. The center, which logs in about during nighttime hours.
he also studied the Rebbe’s sefarim. When he figures. A small model of Kiryas Joel’s Ezras comes soon, they will have a housing 80,000 patient visits each year, offers dental, Our guide told us that the village’s
heard that a shtetl was being planned, the Cholim Medical Center graces a corner of problem, because according to pediatric, general medicine, physical sanitation department is run by Mr.
idea of living there appealed to him, and he his desk. calculations, the therapy, and speech Yehoshua Blumenthal, and that many of the
The main shul
was among the first to register. Reb Eli lived Mr. Felberman gave us a brief overview Kiryas Joel t h e r a p y sanitation trucks, parked near the sewer
in Kiryas Joel for many years. of the shtetl’s development. Kiryas Joel, he services. plant, are driven by village residents.
A longtime Kiryas Joel dweller told me, said, has a much higher population density As we drove through the streets of Kiryas
“Kiryas Yoel is a geshmakeh shtetl, both than other villages in upstate New York. In Joel, we witnessed the incredible realization
materially and spiritually, especially in the other Orange County villages, a one-family of the dream initiated by the Satmar Rebbe,
areas of tzedakah and chessed. There are house is built on one to three acres of land, who established the village with just a
facets of our lives that are somewhat limited, whereas in Kiryas Joel up to fifteen handful of families on Quickway Road.
One of the yeshivah buildings
but in a positive sense. A person who apartments are built on one acre. The reason Today, countless new housing projects such
doesn’t have a car simply makes do with the for this is, of course, financial, but there is as Shechunas Atzei Hatemarim, Shechunas
local shopping center; it’s similar to the also the issue of convenience. If the village Beirach Moshe, Lemberg and others,
shtetlach of yesteryear. Kiryas Yoel is an were more spread out, the men would have provide additional housing units to
excellent place to raise children since they’re to walk farther to go to shul, and the women accommodate the young families who
not exposed to the nisyonos that abound in to go shopping. The village is comprised of Near choose Kiryas Joel as their home. By local
the city streets. Especially now in the 860 acres, or 1.1 square miles, and another population the shopping ordinance, each new housing development
summer, the kids can run around and play 1,000 acres are available for future doubles every center, we saw the has its own small beis medrash so that fathers
freely outside without fear of spiritual construction. eleven years. This means beautiful new simchah hall can easily walk to shul with their children
storm-winds. In my opinion, it’s much Ari introduced us to Mr. Gedalye that in a little over 22 years, the population Keren V’Yoel Moshe, which has motel who might find it difficult to walk all the
easier to raise children here, far away from Szegedin, the Kiryas Joel village will be close to 100,000. rooms on the upper level so that guests from way to the central beis medrash. An indirect
the hullabaloo of the city.” administrator. After shaking hands with When we invited him to come visit us in outside the village can share family outcome of the smaller shuls is the close-knit
each of us, he modestly asked that another the city, he responded jovially, “If you can celebrations in Kiryas Joel. connection that forms among the Keren V’Yoel Moshe simchah hall and motel
Welcome to Kiryas Joel chair be brought into the room for him since show me in the city what I am about to show We drove along the hilly streets, many of mispallelim, who share in each other’s
On a sunny summer morning, a car he did not want to sit in the mayor’s chair. you here in Kiryas Joel, then I’ll come.” which are named after European shtetlach simchos and are a strong support system for
carrying a delegation of Hamodia Hamodia presented Administrator that were decimated in the Holocaust, such those facing sometimes overwhelming life
representatives drove slowly into Kiryas Szegedin with an enlarged, framed copy of A Bustling Center of Commerce as Kozhnitz, Zenta, Satmar, Sighet, Kroli, challenges. This family-type relationship
Joel, a village in the Town of Monroe. We an interview that the Satmar Rebbe, Harav And Services Lizhensk, Uhel, Gorlitz, Krakow, Dinov and among neighbors would be more difficult if
pulled up in front of the main shopping Yoel Teitelbaum, had given the Times Herald Our visit had begun a little earlier in the Nicholsburg. Some are even named after everyone davened in one central location.
center and proceeded to the village’s Record on September 1, 1974, shortly after he day when we davened at an early-morning cities in Eretz Yisrael, such as Meron, Tzefas, Of the 22,000 residents of Kiryas Joel,
administrative office, which is moved into his newly established shtetl. At minyan in Kiryas Joel’s main shul. A unique and Chevron. Several streets are named only 1,500 are licensed drivers. Most of the
located on the upper level. that time the village was comprised of a feature of the shul is a special room called after popular Satmar roshei kehillah and population get around on foot, a fact that
The receptionist, a mere handful of houses; today it is the Chok Shtiebel. Four separate shiurim in philanthropists, including Lipa Friedman requires the village to maintain wide
heimishe resident of the home to more than 22,000 Chok L’Yisrael are given here in the early- and Mordechai Sher. Our guide remarked sidewalks in good condition. Mr. Szegedin
village, ushered us into Satmar chassidim, morning hours, and throughout the rest of that the streets that were built before the mentioned that the village municipality is
the office of the mayor, about 4,000 families. the day taped lectures of the popular establishment of Kiryas Joel bear secular scheduled to begin construction of a park-
Abraham Wieder, a Mr. Szegedin speaker Rabbi Yosef Chaim Greenwald are names, and on one of them we watched a and-ride project, enabling people to park Above and below:
The Bais Rochel complex
related that he had come played over a sound system — so anyone crew installing traffic lights at an their cars at the entrance of the village and
to Kiryas Joel as a young who comes to enjoy a snack in this room is intersection. This is only one of an array of take a bus into New York City. Two-
child of seven. Even at such a instantly treated to words of inspiration. federally funded projects geared toward hundred-fifty parking spaces are planned
young age, he absorbed the On the same floor is Heichal Rosenberg, upgrading safety services available to for this federally funded project.
values of the shtetl and understood another beautiful section of the shul that is village residents. Since the Satmar Rebbe strongly held
that its purpose was to provide an dedicated to learning and resonates We drove by the headquarters of that the women in his community should be
unspoiled environment where constantly with kol Torah. Chevrah Hatzolah, the heroic group of given the opportunity to be full-time
Following our meeting in the dedicated volunteers who serve as first mothers to their children while parnassah
Mr. Szegedin receives plaque from
12 Hamodia Magazine August 12, 2009 Hamodia delegation. H a m o d i a M a g a z i n e 2 2 Av 576 9 13
should mainly be her spouse’s complete. engaging in special exercises with a devoted The Fire Department a steep hill known as the Yeshivah
responsibility, there are dozens of buses that The Satmar chasunah takanos have become therapist; and a third, who was injured in a After our extended visit to Shaarei Mountain, at the top of which we entered the
shuttle the men to their workplaces in New a groundbreaking revolution in the Jewish car accident a few months ago, appeared to Chemlah, we continued our tour, admiring gated beis hachaim where the Satmar Rebbe,
York City. These buses are like shuls on world as families, rich and poor alike, now be receiving intensive rehabilitation therapy the well-maintained homes, most of which Harav Yoel Teitelbaum, his wife, Rebbetzin
wheels, with regularly held minyanim for save thousands of dollars that were as he recuperated at Shaarei Chemlah. are surrounded by lawns and set apart by Alte Faiga, and the Satmar Rebbe, Harav
Shacharis, Minchah and Maariv. A hachnasas previously spent on superfluous luxuries. The older children and bachurim bushes, and the clean streets in both the old Moshe Teitelbaum, zy”a, are interred.
sefer Torah for the sifrei Torah used for leining On high, the Rebbe must surely be deriving served by this facility, who occupy an and new developments. Surrounding the Rebbe’s ohel, like a circle
on the buses was an unforgettable event. nachas from the fact that his chassidim’s upper floor in the spacious building, We reached Chevron Street, where the of sentries, are the final resting places of
The Satmar Rebbe, Harav Yoel Teitelbaum, One might think that commerce in a financial burdens are lightening, thereby greeted us with a genial shalom aleichem. Kiryas Joel Fire Department, known as individuals who were very close to the
farhering talmidim in the early days of Kiryas Joel suburban enclave that is dedicated to enabling them a measure of harchavas hadaas One of them told us excitedly that his Matzilei Eish, is located. We met the fire Rebbe, among them his longtime gabbai Reb
serving G-d, such as Kiryas Joel, would take while focusing on the spiritual aspects of brother had just become a chassan and chief, Mr. Yehoshua Blumenthal, and some Yossel Ashkenazi, and the devoted roshei
a back seat. The huge building housing the their lives. showed us a mazel tov sign he had of the firemen, all of them village residents. kehillah Reb Leibish Lefkowitz and Reb
Kiryas Joel Business Center puts that notion Bais Rochel Paradise wedding hall, created. One of us farhered a charming We enjoyed peeking into a fire truck and Sender Deutch.
to rest. The center, completed eight months another popular village venue that hosts little boy suffering from injuries he examining its sophisticated equipment. The A palpable aura of holiness enveloped us
ago, is a pulsating business hub, with the weddings five nights a week, is located in sustained several years ago during a fire department was established to fill an as we entered the resting place of the holy
first floor housing shops and the upper one of the several girls’ school buildings, terrorist suicide attack on a Jerusalem urgent need for a local fire
levels filled with offices that provide all of which are beautiful edifices. Kiryas bus in which his mother and younger squad, especially in this rural
residents with all types of services and Joel schools put tremendous emphasis on brother were killed. The child displayed setting, where most of the
employment opportunities. tznius, modesty, a topic that the Rebbe excellent knowledge of the parashah, and homes are built from wood and
found important enough to talk about staff members showed us a special present a grave danger in case
The business center From Satmar to Satmar during many of his Kol Nidrei addresses Chumash that facilitates the children’s of a fire.
Elderly natives of the town of Satu-Mare, on the holiest night of the Jewish year, Torah learning. All of us enjoyed
Hungary, colloquially called “Satmar,” still Yom Kippur. watching other children enjoy a The Eishes Chayil
fondly remember the charming look of the On our tour, we passed several yellow swimming session at the indoor pool. Kimpaturin Home
town’s young boys, who sported buses, part of the fleet of forty-five that daily As we walked through this The beautifully appointed
suspenders, caps, and long curly peyos. They transport a total of 7,000 children to and impressive building, its floors and walls Eishes Chayil Women’s Services
also recall the little girls with their trademark from school and cheder. White village buses gleaming with cleanliness, we learned Center welcomes mothers from
long braids and long-sleeved dresses. Hitler, provide transportation to residents that the 44,000 square-foot structure cost all over New York State, who
ym”sh, in his lunatic brutality annihilated throughout Kiryas Joel. $15 million and that the school district’s come to regain their health and
many tens of thousands of Hungary’s annual budget is $25 million. The strength after birth or illness in
innocent children. But lest anyone think he Shaarei Chemlah institution serves 250 this luxurious establishment.
emerged victorious in his plan to wipe the Kiryas Joel’s municipal children, some full-time and “It’s called a kimpeturin
image of Hungarian-Jewish children off the leaders take the slogan “No some part-time, under the home,” says Mr. Szegedin, “but
Davening at the tziyun of the Satmar Rebbe, Harav Yoel Teitelbaum, zy”a.
face of earth, let them visit Kiryas Joel and child left behind” very combined supervision of the it’s really much more than a
watch the thousands of adorable boys and seriously. Just as they had made school superintendent, Mr. facility catering to mothers’ of newborns.” founder of Kiryas Joel. We recited Tehillim, lit
The shopping center
girls playing on grassy lawns, riding “big sure to provide top-quality Joel Petlin, administrator The Eishes Chayil Center is the most candles, and placed kvittelach on the
wheels” down sloping streets, as well as chinuch and general education Joseph Hartman, and Rabbi comprehensive women’s convalescent home impressive tombstone, asking that Hashem
learning and davening with enthusiasm — to the community’s children, Yedidya Fisher, who shower in any Jewish community. Its services answer our prayers in the zechus of these
the boys in their chedarim under the tutelage they were determined to do no these special neshamos with include pre- and post-natal care, health and tzaddikim. Leaving the ohel, we noticed the
of their devoted melamdim and the girls in less for children with special warmth, love and a variety of hygiene courses, and a senior program yeshivah building where hundreds of
their schools under the care of their needs. A complex framework was built to services. where elderly women meet each day for bachurim sit and learn Torah — a fulfillment
dedicated teachers. When we visited it was accommodate these children, and to provide Rabbi Fisher explained that many of the lunch, Tehillim, lectures, and exercise. On the of the Rebbe’s wish to have a yeshivah right
summertime and a large number of the them with an environment of love and children attend special education classes drawing board are plans to add the services near his kever.
villages’ children were away in summer warmth where they can blossom to their and receive necessary therapy for only part of a nutritionist who will help women with As we drove out of Kiryas Joel, we were
camp. However, the numerous, huge school maximum potential. of the day, and that a transportation system weight control, and a special wing that will filled with admiration, nostalgia, and
buildings attest to their presence during the Emotions ran high during our visit to the shuttles them from cheder or school to be reserved for a complete medical center perhaps even a drop of envy of these
school year. state-of-the-art building that houses the Shaarei Chemlah, where they receive the dedicated to women’s health needs. We were Yidden, who lead such peaceful lives in this
The medical center
Our guide next pointed out the new Kiryas Joel school district, known to the extra help they need. also shown the center’s beautiful idyllic haven.
Eckstein Wedding Hall, in which the Satmar locals as Shaarei Chemlah (which means We were very moved when we multipurpose hall, which is used for the ***
chasunah takanos, initiated and strongly Gates of Compassion), an institution that witnessed the teachers’ joyous reaction to brissos of newborn clients. Thirty years have elapsed since the
The fire department
encouraged by Harav Aharon Teitelbaum, serves special-needs children. a seven-year-old child who was singing, Rebbe’s petirah, but his sacred spirit
shlita, Satmar Rebbe, have been Though we didn’t photograph any of the “Hamalach Hago’el.” The teachers At the Rebbe’s Kever continues to hover over his followers, and
implemented. The total cost of a wedding at children there in order to protect their explained their unusual excitement: this After an uplifting day of observing the the seeds he planted are blossoming
this hall amounts to no more than $6,000 for privacy, their images will be forever was the first time in two years that the fulfillment of the Rebbe’s dream shtetl, where exponentially. The shtetl that he founded
both sides combined; the price includes a embedded in our memories. One little boy child had opened his mouth to utter a even mundane, day-to-day routines are with the purpose of eternalizing his religious
festive catered meal, music, a badchan, and all wore a unique “cage” that protects his body sound. Their “never give up” attitude had marked by an almost-tangible spirituality, principles bears his name and remains a
the other amenities that make a simchah from injury when he falls; another was finally paid off. we reached a climactic ending. We ascended M
glorious tribute to his saintly life. ]
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