Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY - Mourning Rituals Deepen Satmar Community Divide
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY - In the week since Grand Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum died, even the mourning rituals are deepening the fracture that divides the Satmar community.
Custom demands that the grieving chasidim pay their respects to the family of the deceased. But in Williamsburg, where the Satmar movement is centered, the family in mourning has not met under one roof to receive its visitors.
Followers say that the headquarters each brother chose to receive visitors have emerged as the centers of the two rival camps. The eldest son, Rabbi Aaron, who, his supporters say, will permanently move to Williamsburg from his congregation in Orange County to succeed his late father, receives visitors at 152 Hewes St., the site of his father’s first synagogue. Rabbi Zalmen, who has been at the helm of the central Williamsburg congregation since 1999, has moved into his late father’s home on 550 Bedford Ave., where his father’s former personal attendants now surround him.
“Aaron has come to fight with his brother,” Joseph Landay, 19, said as he waited outside of Rabbi Zalmen’s home. “But we will have one rabbi and we will ignore Aaron always.”
Outside Rabbi Aaron’s current stronghold on Hewes Street, his followers speak of the thousands upon thousands who turned out this Sabbath for the services that Rabbi Aaron delivered under a tent on Lee Avenue.
As the customary week-long period of mourning draws to a close, the discord between the brothers has given rise to two scenes that are strikingly similar. As they receive visitors, the two brothers, both in their mid-50s, are nearly indistinguishable. Both wear glasses with black plastic frames and have the same amount of gray in their respective beards. Each sits at a table largely bare except for tape recorders that serve to capture memories about the late grand rebbe that community members come to tell. Each man is flanked, at times, by more than 100 supporters, who press close, sometimes standing on tables or even on benches that have been placed on tables to catch a glimpse of their favored rabbi.
Yesterday, as they have been doing for several days, various leaders from outside the Satmar community came to pay their respects to both sons, traversing easily from one camp to the other. Senator Schumer made his visits yesterday, and took the time to tell the followers of Rabbi Aaron that he is descended from a leading disciple of a renowned Eastern European rabbi. As Mr. Schumer pressed through the crowd when leaving, he crossed paths with the grand rebbe of the Skver Chasidim, David Twersky, who is based in Rockland County.
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