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.