Sunday, March 18, 2007

Mein Shtetele Skver

Has anybody else seen LAST week's English HaModia magazine cover story? it's not the Sunday NYT, but it still bears discussing a bit. They discuss the Village of New Square, dubbing it an "American Shtetl," waxing poetic about a village that's really consumed by poverty, corruption, and lack of values. They see it as some kind of utopia, where all people grow up innocent and pure, and all they ever know is Washington Avenue (where the main shul is) and Skverrer K'peydes. While it's true that it's an American Shtetl, I'm not quite sure the rest of us who live in the terrible "big city" (as if Boro Park and Willy are big city) need to feel so bad that we didn't see the terrible danger we're all in. After all, the Satmar Rov was just as frum as the Skverrer Rebbe, and the only reason they went upstate was for lack of housing, not the imminent danger the city posed.

The HaModia looks at a village where all streets are a dead end, and they see opportunity and light. If you think Sue Fishkoff was a K'deysha (to quote those other blogs) then she doesn't hold a candle to the HaModia. The parts where they discuss the history of the village were sort of interesting, until they made the fact that had unpaved roads in the beginning some sort of Mesiras Nefesh. I guess every Yid that lived in Kfar Chabad is on Mesiras Nefesh too, because there were no paved roads? You read the article and you're told that all there is in NS is Torah, Chesed, (evrybody bakes cake for each other) and Rebbe. The Rebbe goes to every Upsheren and Bris, and each Yungerman looks forward to the Tishen every week, his eyes transfixed on the Rebbe's every move.

What we really have is an upstate ghetto of the worst kind. A mass of people, 95% of whom don't work, and have no skills whatsoever. Not having skills would not make them any different than any other Frum group, and wouldn't make it so terrible, but this is different. The cloistered living makes it even worse, with them having little interaction even with the rest of the Chassidishe world. The fruits of this lifestyle are everywhere, and they're no good. The living, which I assume was supposed to be one of clean air and wide open living, has become reminiscent of some of the worst cluttered living known in the United States. Illegal apartments one after the other, with 5-6 families living in what was zoned to be a one family home, and overpopulation of those already tight spaces. Is all this worth it just to be away from Boro Park and Williamsburg?

If only the parts hwere they speak of the devotion to the Rebbe would be half true. Yes, Skverrer Chassidim are very big Mekushorim, and they have Mesiras Nefesh to wear those boots in 100 degree weather just because their Rebbe does. But not for nothing do they say that New Square is the only place outside of Cuba and North Korea that has full-blown Communism these days. Attendance at all davenen and Tischen are mandatory, even if they start at eleven and last for hours. Haircuts must be taken only at prescribed times, a Simchah is the only exception. They had this genius idea to have separate sides for men and women on those tiny streets, and did I mention it's a dead-end town? Every day tens of people from such places as the Five Towns and Teaneck pull up with their fancy cars and well-dressed occupants coming to see the Rebbe to discuss some important business or medical matter, leaving litle time for the distressed locals to discuss their issues with their beloved Rebbe.

I also don't buy the nonsense of the palpable Kedushah everpresent in New Square. The houses not having mirrors, even for the women, and that nobody owns a radio there. Let's go and ask the mailman there how many red envelopes (Netflix, anyone?) he delivers there and the cable guy how many houses are hooked up for broadbad and such. Yes, I know all about Crown Heights. I guess the HaModia wasn't exposed to that side, eh? All they saw was happy kids riding big wheels, and women baking cakes for another Kiddush being held this Shabbos. Some job this repoterette did, she'd be without a job if I was running the paper.


Reuven from Chicago said...

What in heaven have you got against Square??
I hope you don't believe half the things you write.
Most people living in Square are happy, nobody is forced to live there.My kid just spent a shabbos there and loved it.

Chaim G. said...


True or False:

Other than Chabad (and maybe Chofetz Chaim in the Litvak camp)no Chasidus in the last 25 years in America has taken their Rebbe as seriously as the Squarers have taken theirs.

Hirshel Tzig said...


I'm sure your son had a very nice time there, and they're to be commended for hosting him there. It's a personal thing, it just rubs me the wrong way, nothing else.

Chaim G

Absolutely. Just ask anybody who's been at a function when the Skverrer Rebbe arrived, or walked within his Daled Amos. They're devoted all right.

rocky said...

Kedushas Eretz Yisroel?! in SpringValley?! c'mon Skver, I knew you were square, but this is a bit much to take. Even the Lubavitchers only say that it's Kan Tzivoh Hashem es HaBrochoh.

zezmir said...

Wrong side of the bed thir mornin' Hirshel?

And while I dunno much about squares or triangles (new or old) I assure you that there can be many realities and the Homodia expressed the positive. You don't like the positive, so you express negative. You both (probably) speak speak truth while you lie at the same time.

Is the cup 1/2 full or 1/2 empty? It depends of wheather it's our's or yenems.

Chaim G. said...

My point being that the shtet'l social structure ,either by design or by serendipitous accident, may have something to do with the level of "mekushor"-keit.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe z"l was unique in his capacity to command similar levels of devotion and still lead a diverse, urban, urbane 21st century Chasidus. For many others urbanity /exposure to the dominant culture has spelled a loosening of "mekushor"-keit, a diminution of learning Chasidisha seforim and practicing characteristically chasidisha avodos and the reduction /replacement of, all of these to /by extreme maximal halakhic compliance.

For most so-called chasidus'n today group identity is formed by adhering to common uniforms and group-think or common chumras/kulos/minhagim rather than to a leader / Vegveizer who might actually have something new and original to impart that speaks to the unique needs of this time and place in the history of the development/devolution of K'lal Ysiroel.

Chaim G. said...

In this respect Shlomo Carlebach may have had more true chasidim, and been a truer Rebbe, than many a mainstream leader.

Friendly anonymous said...

Aniyus ma'avir es ho'odom al daytoi v'al da'as koi'noi.

Other than that truism, it sounds like a very g-d fearing shtetl

Anonymous said...

It's always a mystery to me, why in the Chreidi world, people love to hate Skver, as HT himself admitted; they rub him in the wrong way. For quite a while I am attempting to get to the bottom of this Skver-phobia. Hatred towards Chabad I understand, although disagree, since they are so alien and so in the face, it can make the calmest person mad. But why this vehement and visceral resentment of Skver? A quite non threatening group, with no special expansionist aims besides the regular Chasidic drilling about them being the salt of the earth.

Its also quite hypocritical coming from HT, who would be utterly infuriated if the Hamodia, would write about all the shenanigans of CH or KC. attempting to write a a “fair” and "balanced" depiction of what is “really” happening in Chabad? Can you imagine the wrath? Can you think of the howling?

Anonymous said...

As a chabadnik you had no right to condemm Square in this fashion,The rebbe never proposed being open to society, a chabad yungerman that is not into shelichus has no legitimacy to be more openminded then the avreage squarer yungerman. The rebbe said in many fabrengens a lubavitcher chosid should know lubavich and noting else, was ridiculing reading newspapers etc.. look in the early Toras Menachem volumes. I believe for a polish chasidus Square is quite true to its roots.

Anonymous said...


ur right, but another thing HT admitted was that he knows abt. CH, but he just doesn't understand why HaModia couldn't write a balanced report, or at least some of the other things that also go on there.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry you write like MO,Maskil

Hirshel Tzig said...

Howling? me, nah. I would complain, yes, but not howl.

maybe it's me, maybe I'm prejuduced to their shtick. The black glasses, the boots, the Terkishe Taleisim that look like potato sacks. I would defintely say that in this sense I'm 100% in accordance with most of the Chassidishe world.

Hirshel Tzig said...

I don't expect the Hamodia to write about the "dark side" of Skver, just like I wouldn't want them to write about the dark side of Crown Heights. I just happened to see the article, and was very taken aback by the style of writing. It sounded like something straight out of Pravda.

Anonymous said...


It's an extremly shallow and lazy excuse when you admit that your diatribe against a particular community is based on their "boots" or alien dress code. I agree the dress code is somewhat tasteless, but even more tasteless is your repugnant comments based on those preceptions. Moreover, if you are a pre do hashvi'i Chabadnik, and "Chabad mont Pninmous", so this is pnimious, to judge a community by its cover (up)? And if you adhere to the Dor Hashvi'i doctrine of loving every fellow Jew dispite his external state, so again, the non frill Gartel, knotted peyios, boots, sack bekisha, which indeed creates a jarring look, is worse than the hippy ponytail look?

You have to understand that a blog is not a mikvah belching forum. but a public forum which demands some responsibility. You just cant justify being hypocrictical by claiming that this is how you felt at that moment.

A Chabad friend of yours.

Hirshel Tzig said...

I don't condone the hippy ponytail look, so why am I being hypocritical. Critical, yes, but not HYPOcritical.

Anonymous said...

I hope you can see beyond the ponytail. (At least that should be your official belief system). Nobody asked you to condone, just don't condem.

Anonymous said...

The squarer pyous is the only place besides chabad that stick to the arizal

Anonymous said...

You are hypocritical from a Chabad vantage point of view. Since Chabad, and in this blog you advance that view quite adamnatly, has the view that we always have to look beyond chitzonious, We asks from others: Don't look at the hat, don't get wrapped up by the tie, the grey suit, look beyond, penetrate deeper. in the soul of things and people. Why should the wierd Skverer garb be different?

If you would offer a critique on the Skvere philoshophy, if they have one, then there would be a point. But just because I dont like there black glasses? Use your (hypo)critical powers on more important offenders. You just undermine your effectivness when you dont have any consistancy.

kishke said...

"The black glasses, the boots, the Terkishe Taleisim"

Yeah, and the stupid wedding invitations that give the time of someone else's wedding that took place decades ago ...

Oh wait, that's Chabad. Sorry, it's fine then.

Anonymous said...

סקווירא האט קדושת ארץ ישראל

די קינדער פון סקווירא זענען
קינדער פון די רבי

I guess Chabad and Skver are not so different after all.....

Friend of Skver said...

Your take on Skver is remarkably trite, with an odd udercurrent of irrational dislike. Skver has many problems, some unique to their community, some in common with other chasidim/Charedim. But you mentioned very few substantive issues. The way you protray it, you'd attribute no merit at all to a community that is--as a whole--largely devoted to higher ideals of Yiddishkeit.

Skver has committed some egregious blunders over the years, and the leadership has shown itself quite myopic in many respects. The PELL grant fraud was one such instance. In addition, the Skverer Rebbe and his sons are extremely insecure--an insecurity shaped and fostered historically by aides committed to delusional visions of grandeur for the community--and they fear loss of control to the slightest degree, which impels the imposition of draconian ordinances to reinforce the community's homogeneity.

But none of this discounts from the remarkable fact that Skver has managed to sustain a core of yingerleit and bachurim who are committed to "avodas hachasidus" as very few other communities in the U.S. Contrary to your outright ignorant assertion, the shtetl was not built for housing purposes. The previous Skverer Rebbe had a vision for establishing a community that would mirror that in which he was raised in Eastern Europe. His stated motive was to build a shtetl "vie es velen oifvaksen yingerleit mit pnimius." For you to doubt that fact is to know absolutely nothing about its founder and his legacy.

You might find ome Netflix customers in NS. You'll certainly find plenty of residents swept into 21st century materialism on par with the best (or worst) in BP, with their Lexus SUVs and their complete disregard for matters spiritual. Heck, nowadays I wouldn't be surprised to find a TV or two. But the overall atmosphere in NS is by far one of living simply and being dedicated to ideals of Torah and chasidus--Chabad's patronizing moniker of "poileshier chasidus" notwithstanding.

Skver has its challenges, no doubt. And perhaps they're at times over-romanticized by their sympathizers. But the problems aren't the boots or the gender-separated streets or the Netflix customers. Its most significant shortcoming is a failure of vision to re-imagine their ideals in the face of 21st century challenges; a problem for which, it just so happens, few other charedi communities have proven any better.

Anonymous said...

just to be m'eir i recall hearing a story with rabbi wollfsohn from the moonys who came to the rebbe for dollers when passing by,the rebbe asked him if he is coming from eretz yisrael he said no,the rebbe asked if hes going to er"y he said no the rebbe wanted to know were he was coming from since there was a hergesh of kdusha and he was coming from new squar
i think that this story can still be confermend
just thaught of being m'eir

Anonymous said...

Hey I agree Square people are missing the boat. but who cares as long as they don't bother me.