Meet the Satmar Hassidim Planning a Zionist Community

They take part in anti-Israel demonstrations but secretly, they plan a haredi-Zionist agricultural community in Israel.

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Gil Ronen,

Illustration: Satmar hassidim at wedding
Illustration: Satmar hassidim at wedding
Flash 90

The Satmar Hassidic sect is infamous for its anti-Zionist creed, but according to a weekend exposé by Zvika Klein of Makor Rishon & NRG, a small group of the hassidim in New York City is secretly planning to make aliyah and establish a Zionist agricultural community.

The organization is named “Zoreah – Hassidim for Settling the Land of Israel” and includes mostly Satmar hassidim, as well as some hassidim from other dynasties. They were all raised to hate Zionism and the state of Israel, and some of them even attend anti-Israel protests to this day. But they all decided, after deep study, that making aliyah should be their main goal in life.

"There is great hatred for Zionism in the community I live in,” one of them told Klein. “Anything I say that can be understood as support for Zionism, will haunt me and my family. There is a real mafia out there that can threaten to throw my children out of the educational institutes, and since we do not have an alternative at the moment, I and the rest of my friends cannot expose our identities yet.”

Instead, the hassid said – they are opting for an approach to their dream that is gradual – “like everything having to do with the Redemption.”

Rabbi Kook's books next to Satmar Rebbe's books. Yishai Fleisher

The Satmar stream was established in Satu-Mare, Transylvania, in 1905, and moved its center to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, after World War 2. Its founder, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, saw Zionism as the root of all evil and the main cause of the misfortunes that befell the Jewish people in the 20th century. The stream is currently divided into two sections, both of which abhor Zionism.

"I grew up as a complete anti-Israeli,” one of the members of the secret stream told Klein. He is 34, married with seven children, and works in marketing. “In the Satmar institutes we were taught that there are 613 mitzvot plus the 'three vows' of the nation of Israel, one of which is not to make aliyah to the Land of Israel in an organized fashion. Once in a while, the Yeshiva Head would give a speech and tell the students that the State of Israel is based on the uprooting of religion, and that it tries to turn Jews into non-Jews.”

Starting to ask questions

In addition, he said, the students would be bused to 2nd Avenue several times a year to demonstrate opposite the Israeli consulate, when an Israeli prime minister or MK visited. However, in his late 20s, he began asking questions. “When friends in the yeshiva told me stories, I simply fell in love with the Land of Israel. The access to internet and to the world also exposes you to a different reality, one you did not previously know. I decided that Israel is the place for me.”

The man, who is referred to by the pseudonym Aaron in the report, went on to relate that he and other Satmar hassidim who were frustrated with the anti-Zionism they were raised upon, began praying together in Williamsburg, at their own “shtibel,” and did so in the style of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, which is not accepted in any other local synagogue.

"Bit by bit, more congregants who were looking for something more free joined us. It made sense that these people would also open up and begin to love Israel. We have a Whatsapp group with 50 members and an internet blog as well.”

The plans to make aliyah are very real. Members of the group have already visited Israel in search of a suitable location for their agricultural community. Aaron visited Givat Ze'ev, became enamored with the scenic view and the proximity to Jerusalem, and told the other members – “this is the spot.”

The members' wives and children speak Yiddish and some English. However, Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Bet Shemesh and other haredi concentrations are “irrelevant for us,” Aaron said, because the haredim in Israel “are not in love with the Land they live on, like we are.” Finding the right place is not easy, he conceded: “finding a Yiddish-speaking congregation that is not anti-Zionist is very hard. If you are a nationalist, you do not speak Yiddish.”

The first group of Zoreah olim will take a few years before it makes aliyah, according to Aaron, but he does not intend to wait. He plans to make aliyah this summer, with his family.

The group does not have a spiritual leader, but informally, they are guided by a 35-year-old resident of Monsey who is identified by the pseudonym "Shabtai." Shabtai's own rabbi introduced him to the writings of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hakohen Kook, one of the founders of modern religious-Zionism. He sees Rabbi Eliezer Melamed of Har Bracha as his halachic decisor.

Asked by Klein how he defines himself, Shabtai answered – “nationalist-hassidic.” When he is asked about service in the army, his answer is clear: “I am from the Levite tribe, which was always in the front ranks, with the Ark of the Covenant and a drawn sword. Until the Sanhedrin of 72 wise men is established, the IDF is apparently the holiest organization in the Nation of Israel. And if there are religious problems in the army, that will be only be solved through communication and carrying the burden together, not by running away.”

Between Feiglin and Kahane

Zoreah's advisor on aliyah and contact to Israel is journalist and aliyah activist Yishai Fleisher.

“They are Zionists in the full sense of the word,” he explained. “They want to live in the Land of Israel, fulfill Zionism and serve in the army. In the basement where they meet, you can see a book by Rabbi Kook leaning on a book by the Satmar Rebbe. It moved me very much.”

Some of the members dream of living in Judea and Samaria and establishing farms, but according to Aaron this is “probably less possible in reality, because our children are not used to that kind of life.”

The group is very knowledgeable about Israeli politics. “We love Moshe Feiglin very much. Regrettably, he did not enter the Knesset, so some of our guys support Eli Yishai, others Naftali Bennett. Our guys are further rightward than Bennett, some are even in the direction of Kahane.”

A member of the group identified as Yaakov told Klein he wants to live in the Land of Israel and does not care where. “It can be in Damascus, as far as I am concerned. I'm not joking, That, in my eyes, is the problem of the religious-Zionist public, which is always fighting not to give back territory. It's absurd – we should talk about annexing more territory. “