In this past's weekend edition of HaModia the cover story of the magazine section was about Kiryas Joel, the Satmar enclave in Monroe, New York. Admittedly I am on pretty shaky ground blogging about it as I have been to the Rebbe's kever exactly once in my life and have never visited the village proper. And, as none of the organs of Kharedi Jewry are known for their hard hitting journalistic accuracy, basically all my information about Kiryas Joel derives from a fluff piece and various things I've heard over the years.
Still some of the data in the article gave me pause and made me wonder whether or not this enclave as it exists today is really the materialization of the great mans dream or if it ever was. Quotes from the Hamodia article are italicized in blue my comments follow.
Ever since the Rebbe set foot on American soil, he harbored the dream of building his own shtetl- a quiet secluded enclave where his Chasidim could lead their lives sheltered from the tumult of the city...."I believe I survived the war to be able to build a Yiddish Shtetl"
Other than the Skverer and Tosha Rebbes I cannot think of any other Gedolei Yisrael who thought that the success of Jewish communities depended on a flight from urbanity. OTC the vast majority of Jewish and kharedi enclaves were not even suburban, let alone rural. I write this not to position myself as a bar plugta on these illustrious Tzadikim but merely to point out that many personalities who deserved "an opinion of their own" thought otherwise.
In particular I think that whatever remnants of Pshiskha-Polish khasidus that survived the war eschewed rural flight as the preferred method of attaining Havdala min Ha'Amim. Insights like the Sokhachover's "The takhlis of nezirus is so that afterwards one drinks wine like a nazir" or the Kotzkers "Only Shlomo HaMelekh had the khokhma to be mesaken both ערובי חצרות and נטילת ידים " i.e. to be mixed into everything and to still have withdrawn hands. Or (I forgot which gitte yid said it) "You think it's a kunst to be a porush in a closet or a misboded in the forest? Real prishus is when you're both a geribbener soikher and a porush and real hisbodedus comes in a room packed with people".
A longtime Kiryas Joel dweller told me:Kiryas Joel is a geshmakeh shtet’l, both materially and spiritually, especially in the areas of tzedakah and chesed...A person who doesn’t have a car simply makes do with a local shopping Center. It's similar to the shtetlakh if yesteryear.
By geshamk materially does he mean it's a wealthy community? From everything I’ve heard it is not. And while poverty may be one of the ways that it approximates old-time east European shtetlakh is this something to be celebrated in this land of wealth and opportunity? As far as the local shopping center I'm sure that this is TOTALLY dissimilar from the way shopping was done in the Alte Heim or even in Wiilliamsburg 35 years ago. So why celebrate the lack of motor vehicles as old world simplicity and then, in the same sentence celebrate a modern up to date shopping Center that is as far fro that old world ambience as possible?
Kiryas Joel is an excellent place to raise children since they’re not exposed to the nisyonos that abound in the city. Especially now in the summer, the kids run around freely outside without fear of spiritual storm winds.
To me this is the most discussion-worthy passage of the whole piece. This is obviously the main selling point of Kiryas Joel to current citizens and prospective immigrants and arguably, just what the founding Rebbe had in mind when creating it. Without challenging the postulate-assertion that reducing ...nay ELIMINATING, nisyonos that abound in the city accrues to "excellent children" the obvious question is: has this experiment in social engineering been a smashing success, a crashing failure or a ho hum, inconclusive gray area in-between? I mean this is no longer a community in its' embryonic stages. It was founded in 1974 and with early marriage ages among khasidim 35 years represents 2+ generations of people born and raised in the secluded atmosphere of Kiryas Joel.
So it's only fair to ask the questions challenging the quoted resident’s opinion. Are the children raised in Kiryas Joel excellent adults? Are there middos more refined than their Williamsburg, Boro Park, Montreal or London brethren? Are they greater masmidim and/or TKs? Are they bigger oivdim? Are they more upgeheeten in חסידישע' ענינים ? Do they daven more ehrlikh and are they greater yirei Shomayim? Do they do better in business or professionally? Have they built unique or outstanding Mosdos of Khesed and Tzedaka that have no peers elsewhere? Do they have fewer dropouts and youth-at-risk? Or, to use a purely
Satmar-dika litmus test, is there anti-Zionism purer and more uncompromising?
I ask all these questions out of ignorance and curiosity NOT really as a challenge, though to be completely candid I've never "heard" that the generations of kids who grew to adulthood in Kiryas Joel were exceptional in any of these ways. So especially you Satmar or generic khasidish bloggers out there... (I know of at least one who actually lives there) I'd love hearing from you on this.
TO BE CONTINUED
Qedusha-Havdala...have you had YOURS today???