Saturday, January 10, 2015

Historian offers insight on Kiryas Joel 

A rapt audience of about 160 people listened Tuesday night as history professor Richard Hull lectured about the history and culture of a community located less than two miles away, a place isolated from the surrounding area and yet central to some of its sharpest political and cultural rifts.

Hull, a New York University professor and longtime Warwick resident, gave the latest in a series of public talks on Kiryas Joel at the packed Woodbury Senior Center, taking his educational mission to a town that borders the Hasidic community and has had a string of political and legal clashes with it over development and infrastructure. For more than two hours, Hill guided listeners through the Satmar Hasidim’s path from 19th century Romania to 21st century Orange County, discussed such subjects as the community’s rapid growth and outsized political reach, and fielded audience questions.

Hull told the crowd at the outset that he planned to continue lecturing around the county on the subject to improve public understanding of an insular but rapidly growing community, and to promote dialogue between two cultures that often have none.

“It can be argued that Kiryas Joel and its neighbors are on a collision course,” he said.

Before delving into current events, Hull described the blossoming of Hasidism in Eastern Europe in the 1700s as a populist Jewish movement, one that emphasized piety and an emotional connection to God over formal education. He traced its development into a constellation of communities led by charismatic rabbis, increasingly withdrawn from the outside world and yet politically adroit in its relations with it. Kiryas Joel's founder, Joel Teitelbaum, started out as chief rabbi of the Romanian city of Satu Mare in 1928, and would eventually lead a small group of surviving followers to settle in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn in 1946 after escaping the Nazi genocide.

From there, Hull outlined the founding of Kiryas Joel in the 1970s, internal divisions that later flared, the court fights over its public school district and more recent flashpoints for tension, such as the village's $45 million quest to tap New York City's aqueduct. He noted the community's political clout and success in securing financial support, which he described as a practice that Hasidic communities began in Hungary and Poland two centuries ago. "I would argue that it has become part of their culture, and it has been developed almost into an art," he said.

Most audience questions and comments that followed dealt with reliance on government aid programs such as food stamps and Medicaid in Kiryas Joel. "Is it not part of the Talmud or their studies that when you have a large family, you should support them?" one woman asked.

Hull's lecture, titled “The Satmar of Kiryas Joel: A Historical and Cultural Perspective,” was sponsored by Orange County Democratic Women and was similar to one he gave on Nov. 6 in Cornwall, which attracted an audience of about the same size. He previously lectured about Kiryas Joel and the Satmar movement in Warwick in 2011. He said Tuesday that he’s considering holding talks on specific topics related to Kiryas Joel, such as land annexation, in addition to reprising the broader discussion he gave that night.


Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Chaptzem! Blog