Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin
Rabbi Yitschak RudominCourtesy

Seventh in a series about the rise of Jewish and Torah education in America after the Holocaust (each article can be read alone)

Part One: The Difficult Progress of Jewish Education in America Before the Holocaust

Part Two: How a Handful of American Rabbis and Activists Tried To Save Jews During the Holocaust

Part Three: The Holocaust and the Growth of Jewish Day Schools in America

Part Four: Post-Holocaust American Haven For Yavneh and Its Sages

Part Five: Mir and Telz, Two Yeshivas Renewed in America After The Holocaust

Part Six: How New York Was Renewed by Torah Judaism After the Holocaust

Rebbes of Chabad-Lubavitch Come to America as a Direct Result of the Holocaust

The arrival in America of the sixth and seventh Chabad-Lubavitcher Rebbes, was a consequence of the Second World War (1939–1945). On March 19, 1940, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn (1880–1950) arrived in New York from war-torn Warsaw. In the late spring of 1941, his son-in-law and eventual successor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902–1994) arrived in New York from Marseilles in occupied France. Both Rebbes were not newcomers to the challenges of modernity, having had firsthand encounters with the protagonists of the Haskalah in Europe prior to the Holocaust. The two were distant cousins, that's why there is an "h" in the family name of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn and no "h" in the family name of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn

In 1929, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn was released from prison by the Soviet authorities, after having been tortured and abused. He traveled abroad, visited America, was received by President Hoover, and attracted large crowds at various places. Daniel Goldberg writing in The Torah World writes that the visit left a profound impression upon Rabbi Schneerson: "Though certain facets of the American scene he found distinctly distasteful...he did later tell how impressed he was with the simple sincerity of the American Jewish youth...He almost decided to make America his permanent home, but eventually chose to return to Europe." The impressions gained of American life, were soon to stand him in good stead.

In 1934 he established himself in Warsaw, Poland, continuing his drive to establish yeshivas and communities based on the tenets of Chabad Hasidism. At this time, his son-in-law and heir-to-be, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, traveled to Heidelberg, Berlin in Germany, and the Sorbonne in Paris, France for university studies. The Lubavitch movement prides itself with being the "intellectual branch" of Hasidism founded by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812). It was in this spirit that the Lubavitchers established the Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim, with Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn as its first dean. It was "a daring innovation to counteract the winds of secularism...by establishing the first formal hassidic yeshivah for teenaged young men where study of Chabad philosophy was incorporated as an integral third of the daily curriculum." Thus hassidic education lay at the basis of Rabbi Schneersohn's notion of counter-acting secularism.

In a Lubavitch publication: "Challenge: An Encounter with Lubavitch--Chabad" (1970), we are told that at the outbreak of war in September 1939, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn refused every opportunity to leave the inferno of Warsaw until he had taken care of his yeshivas: "He remained there throughout the terrible siege and bombardment of Warsaw and its final capitulation to the Nazi invaders". It was with the "co-operation of the Department of State in Washington", and with friends of the Lubavitcher Rebbe who worked behind the scenes, that his journey from Warsaw to New York was arranged. Rabbi Schneersohn saw his mission as one of rebuilding Jewish life in America in the vision and mould of Chabad Hassidism.

A summary of the fascinating move from war-torn Europe to the United States, as described in Wikipedia: "Following Nazi Germany's attack against Poland in 1939, [Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok] Schneersohn refused to leave Warsaw. The government of the United States of America, which was still neutral, used its diplomatic relations to convince Nazi Germany to rescue Schneersohn from the war zone in German-occupied Poland. He remained in the city during the bombardments and its capitulation to Nazi Germany. He gave the full support of his organizations to assist as many Jews as possible to flee the invading armies. With the intercession of the United States Department of State in Washington, DC and with the lobbying of many Jewish leaders, such as Jacob Rutstein, on behalf of the Rebbe (and, reputedly, also with the help of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the [Nazi] Abwehr), he was finally granted diplomatic immunity and given safe passage to go via Berlin to Riga, Latvia, where the Rebbe was a citizen and which was still free. From Riga, the Rebbe left for America by way of Sweden with his wife, his mother Shterna Sarah, Shemaryahu Gurary, his wife Chana and son Berka, Chaim Mordechai Aizik Hodakov and his wife, and Nissan Mindel. They traveled in a small plane to Sweden since boats were no longer permitted out of Riga, landing in Stockholm, and then took a boat to Gothenburg. There, they boarded the Drottningholm which sailed to America, arriving in New York City on 19 March 1940, and where they stayed at Manhattan’s Greystone Hotel.

"Major Ernst Bloch, a decorated German army officer of Jewish descent, was put in command of a group which included Sgt. Klaus Schenk, a half-Jew and Pvt. Johannes Hamburger, a quarter-Jew assigned to locate the Rebbe in Poland and escort him safely to freedom. They were a few of up to 150,000 Jews and people of Jewish descent who were classified as Mischlinge ("mixed-breeds", i.e., Germans with one or two Jewish grandparents) by the Nazi government, but served in the German armed forces during World War II. They wound up saving not only the Rebbe, but also over a dozen hassidic Jews in the Rebbe's family or associated with him.

"Working with the government and the contacts Schneersohn had with the US State Department, Chabad was able to save his son-in-law (and future successor) Menachem Mendel Schneerson from Vichy France in 1941 before the borders were closed down. When Schneersohn came to America (he was the first major hassidic leader to move permanently to the United States) two of his hassidim came to him, and said not to start up all the activities in which Lubavitch had engaged in Europe, because 'America is different.' To avoid disappointment, they advised him not even to try. Schneersohn wrote, 'Out of my eyes came boiling tears', and undeterred, the next day he started the first Lubavitcher Yeshiva in America, declaring that 'America is no different. In 1949, Schneersohn became a U.S. citizen."

The growth of Lubavitch educational institutions in America following Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn's arrival is noted by the noted Jewish educator Alvin I. Schiff in "The Jewish Day School in America" (1966). In March 1940, the same month Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn arrived, the Central Lubavitcher Yeshiva was established in Brooklyn. Called Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim, it was the beginning of a network of elementary schools. By 1963, there were over twenty yeshivas for boys, and a Beth Rivka School for girls under the sponsorship of Lubavitch. A high school was organized in 1943 as well as a Rabbinic Seminary. In 1941, a branch was established in Montreal, Canada. Schiff writes that the events leading to the establishment of this school are worth noting:

"After his arrival in the United States, the Lubavitcher Rebbe established the Pidyon Shevuim [Rescue] Fund which was instrumental in rescuing hundreds of European yeshivah students during the war years. Among those rescued was a group of students who arrived in Montreal in the fall of 1941 after a long arduous journey through Siberia, Japan and China. These young refugees formed the nucleus of the Canadian branch of the United Lubavitcher Yeshivoth. Both the New York and Montreal Schools have dormitory facilities for non-resident students."

A configuration of Lubavitch education that grew beyond formal education emerged quickly. Jewish children were urged to hold special Shabbat study groups by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn. He opened a publishing house to print works on halakhah and hassidism, as well as magazines and literature in English. Emphasis always fell on expanding the educational configuration of Lubavitch: "Graduates of his yeshivah assumed positions as rabbis of communities, as principals and teachers in Jewish schools, and other key positions in Jewish life in New York and many cities. Within three years, the Rebbe was able to announce to his hassidim that "the American ice has finally been broken."

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn saw himself as a "conqueror" of apathy amongst Jews, and not as a "refugee" fleeing persecution. There is a further dimension to the Lubavitch experience. As a number of hassidic groups are prone to do, they see themselves as the sole authentic practitioners of Orthodox Judaism. However, Lubavitch Hassidism makes a point of carrying this opinion far and wide, beyond the confines of its own community. In the case of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson, Lubavitch publications unabashedly claim that "he was the first to bring Jewish Pride to this land", and that "his arrival in New York in 1940, had brought the first hope that perhaps this country could somehow replace Eastern Europe as a great Torah-center."

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

With the death of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn in 1950, and the formal accession a year later of his son-in-law, and distant cousin (hence the same family name), Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902–1994), a new phase of the Lubavitch experience commenced. The new Lubavitcher Rebbe sought to bring the message of Lubavitch to Jews no matter where they were found. Grasping the new mould of the world in the technological era as the "Global Village", he utilized all the new forces of communication and travel to expand the educational configuration of Lubavitch internationally.

At the center stood "770" (770 Eastern Parkway--a street in Brooklyn), "World Headquarters" of Lubavitch, and by implication, world Judaism. Needless to say, it did not engender a spirit of sympathy and cooperation from other Orthodox groups. Yeshiva heads and other hassidic leaders were inclined to disregard the Lubavitch claim to supremacy.

In its biography of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Wikipedia outlines his main stops and his secular studies in Europe after his marriage to Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn's daughter Chaya Mushka Schneersohn (1901–1988): "After his wedding to Chaya Mushka in 1928, Schneerson and his wife moved to Berlin...Schneerson studied mathematics, physics, and philosophy at the University of Berlin. In 1933, after the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, the Schneersons left Berlin and moved to Paris...While in Paris he took a two-year course in engineering at a vocational college...On June 11, 1940, three days before Paris fell to the Nazis, the Schneersons fled to Vichy, and later to Nice, where they stayed until their final escape from Europe in 1941."

"In 1941, Schneerson escaped from Europe via Lisbon, Portugal...He and his wife Chaya Mushka arrived in New York on June 23, 1941. Shortly after his arrival, his father-in-law appointed him director and chairman of the three Chabad central organizations, Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, Machneh Israel and Kehot Publication Society, placing him at the helm of the movement's Jewish educational, social services, and publishing networks."

In a Lubavitch publication, "The Rebbe: Changing the Tide of Jewish Education" (1982), Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson's escape from Europe and his successes in America are described. In 1940 he found himself trapped in France, where he clandestinely organized observance of Judaism. When his father-in law arrived in America, visas were arranged, and in the spring of 1941 he arrived in New York with his wife:

"Soon after his arrival, Rabbi Menachem Mendel (then in his fortieth year) was already entrusted by his father in-law with his share in the Rebbe's declared aim of 'turning America into a place of Torah'. The Central Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim, with its various branches out of town [i.e. outside of Brooklyn, NY] had been placed under the supervision of the Rebbe's elder son-in-law Rabbi Shemarya Gurary [1897–1989], under whose able care they remain[ed]. The Rebbe now placed under the care of his second son-in-law the new organizations he was creating in America.

During the first year, he placed under Rabbi Menachem Mendel's supervision Machne Israel (the "umbrella" organization of Lubavitch concerned with general Jewish social and spiritual welfare), Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch (the central educational department of Lubavitch) and Kehot Publication Society (to publish educational and religious works). The following year he created a special arm of Kehot: Otzar HaChassidim, for publishing works on hassidic philosophy by all the leaders of Chabad.

During this time the Rebbe told Rabbi Menachem Mendel to farbreng with the hassidim on the last Shabbos of each month (Shabbos Mevorchim)--a tradition he...maintained ever since. In those early farbrengens, he would often explain the Halakhic language of the Mishnah (basis of the Talmud) in terms of hassidic philosophy."

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson's achievements were significant as he spearheaded a "deliberate systematic, and sustained effort" to transmit the Chabad brand of Hassidism to as many Jews as possible. He insisted upon strengthening the Lubavitch kehillah (community) of Crown Heights in Brooklyn, New York, as a bastion of Jewish life in spite of the socioeconomic decline of the neighborhood.

Working from that epicentre he extended the Lubavitch configuration of institutions, headed by himself and his brother-in-law, by sending out emissaries, called shluchim [emissaries]. They established schools and "Chabad Houses", based on the "Y.M.H.A." models, for Jewish students throughout the United States, and the world. The "Chabad Houses" became a unique feature of the Lubavitch experience in America. They became the "local headquarters" of the Lubavitch emissaries, remaining in direct communication (via telephone, radio and even cable and satellite TV) with Lubavitch "World Headquarters" in Crown Heights. Thus, no matter where the emissaries found themselves, they were in reality part of an extended configuration centered in their Crown Heights kehillah (community), headed by the Rebbe.

The greatest part of this endeavor has been "kiruv rechokim"--bringing back to Orthodox Judaism those who were reared in non-Orthodox environments. The Jewish sociologist William Helmreich (1945–2020) has written in "The World of the Yeshiva" that "notwithstanding the steps taken by the yeshivas, most of the 'reaching out' by Orthodox Jews in the United States is done by the Lubavitcher Hassidim...They have also attracted countless individuals to Orthodoxy through their work in every part of the country."

It was Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson's policy to constantly expand this undertaking by sending more and more shluchim to more and more Jewish communities. However, Helmreich's assertion that: "The collective efforts of the Lithuanian yeshivas pale by comparison although, considering their priorities, that is to be expected", should not be interpreted as a "weakness" compared to the "strength" of Lubavitch. Indeed, the entire question of "returnees" to Orthodoxy in the post-"Holocaust" era is a complicated one. Not only Lubavitch, but day schools, youth groups and yeshivas of other Orthodox groups have achieved amazing success in this domain.

The educational orientation of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson's undertakings loom foremost in assessing his achievements as leader of Lubavitch. In America his concern for education reached a climax of sorts in l978 when a joint resolution of Congress, approved by President Carter, declared April 18, 1978, as "Education Day, U.S.A.". The day itself was Rabbi Schneerson's birthday, hence its choice.

As described in Wikipedia: "Education and Sharing Day is a day established by the United States Congress in honor of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. It calls for increased focus on education, and recognizes the lifelong efforts of the Rebbe for education. Since 1978, Education & Sharing Day, USA, has been proclaimed by the president each year on the Rebbe's birthday on the Jewish calendar, 11 Nissan, which is four days before Passover and thus generally can fall between March 21 and April 21 on the Gregorian calendar."

In 1978, the U.S. Congress asked President Jimmy Carter to designate the Rebbe's birthday as the national Education and Sharing Day to recognize and pay tribute to his efforts for a better education for all American citizens.

The Rebbe was an advocate for children and spoke about the need for each child to be given an education that would offer them the opportunities to succeed. He spoke about the need for education to focus not only on academic achievements but also on character building. The Rebbe's emissaries established a network of several thousand Jewish schools and educational centers in the United States and across the globe.

The Rebbe often argued that the most important part of a child's education is instilling in him or her '[awareness of] a Supreme Being and a Law higher than man's' or 'fear or love of a force greater than man'.

To honor these accomplishments, his birth date has since been commemorated as Education & Sharing Day, U.S.A., by Congress and the President. Each year on that day, the President issues a proclamation which calls on American citizens to follow the example set by The Rebbe and focus on education and betterment of society.

The goal of Education and Sharing Day, in the Rebbe's words, is to: 'Put greater emphasis on the promotion of fundamental human rights and obligations of justice and morality, which are the basis of any human society, if it is to be truly human and not turn into a jungle.' It stresses the need for mindfulness in the general education system. The Rebbe called for local governing bodies and schools to join the call and attention given to this day, and to make a point out of it around the country and around the world, to the point, the Rebbe envisioned, it will become a nationally celebrated day, the same way Mother's Day and Father's day are celebrated.

There has been a recent movement to proclaim local Education and Sharing Days in States and Cities across the United States to correspond to the national occurrence. Education Day 2018 had the distinction of being proclaimed at the state level in all 50 States by the respective Governors or State Legislatures, in addition to the usual national proclamation by the President."

The Joint Resolution reads:

"Whereas the Congress recognizes a need for the Nation to set aside on the calendar a day devoted to the importance of education to the lives of its citizens...and Whereas the Lubavitch movement, which conducts educational activities at more than sixty centers in twenty-eight States...has proposed the establishment of an "Education Day, U.S.A."; and Whereas world Jewry marked in 1977 the seventy-fifth birthday of...Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson...and Whereas the seventy-sixth birthday of this celebrated spiritual leader will occur on April 18, 1978, thus concluding the year of Lubavitch Movement activities dedicated to the 'Year of Education' Now therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation designating April 18, 1978, as 'Education Day, U.S.A.'. APPROVED APR 17 1978 Jimmy Carter"

The ability of the Lubavitch organization to persuade others of the educational value of their activities could not have had a better climax. That the birthday of a hassidic rebbe should have been chosen as "Education Day, U.S.A.", even if only for that year, is a great irony of history. Few would have imagined in 1941 that thirty-seven years later a little-known Hasidic refugee would receive such recognition. It was yet another sign of the rise in confidence and influence of hassidic Jewish education and Torah life in America.

Hungarian hassidim come to America after The Holocaust

The Jewish educationist Alvin I. Schiff, in "The Jewish Day School in America" (1966), has stated that the "relatively large influx of Hungarian Jewish immigrants immediately following World War II resulted in the founding of several yeshivot, particularly in New York." In retrospect that would appear to be an understatement. Schiff highlights the rise of the hassidic configuration based on a kehillah (community) structure:

"At the end of the 1940s members of various Hungarian hassidic sects arrived in this country. Each of these sects, deriving largely from the community in which its rebbe (religious leader) lived, formed a kehillah (community) whose focal point of activity was the rebbe's shtibel (house of prayer). In the various shtibels, schools were formed for the children of the rebbes' adherents. The schools grew rapidly. Residing, in the main, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, the hassidim bought old community centers, old public school buildings, business establishments and brownstone houses which they converted into yeshivot."

Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum

The zeal, industriousness, and single-mindedness of the various rebbes is remarkable. They came out of the hellish fires of war and the Holocaust with one aim: Survival. Not a cowering kind of survival, nor an escapist and iconoclastic survival denying the past, but one that strove for grandeur and majesty. For the Hungarian Jews, at the apex of this majesty there stood the person of the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum (1887–1979).

In "Piety and Perseverance: Jews from the Carpathian Mountains" (1981), the historian Rabbi Herman Dicker writes that in 1934, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum established himself in Szatm'ar (Satmar), in Northern Transylvania, then part of Roumania. This area was annexed by Hungary in 1940. On the nineteenth of March, 1944, Hungary was occupied by Nazi Germany, and deportations to Auschwitz began. Rabbi Teitelbaum tried to escape from Hungary, but was caught. He was kept in the ghetto of Cluj, and subsequently deported to Bergen-Belsen.

A prominent secular Jewish leader, Rudolf Kastner (1906–1957) working as go-between between the Jewish Agency of [the British Mandate of] Palestine and the Nazis, arranged for 1,368 Jews, Rabbi Teitelbaum included, to be transported to Switzerland. The Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg (1926–2007) has written in "The Destruction of the European Jews" (1961) that there were 1,600, out of 750,000 doomed Hungarian Jews, whom Adolf Eichman (1906–1962) had agreed to release. Why did Eichman allow Jews to escape? Hilberg quotes an interview with Eichman by "Life" magazine (December 5, 1960, p. 146), Eichman's "memoirs", that Kastner "agreed to keep the Jews from resisting deportation--and even keep order in the camps--if I would close my eyes and let a few hundred or a few thousand young Jews emigrate illegally to [the British Mandate of] Palestine. It was a good bargain." For Kastner it was a bitter bargain struck with a latter-day Mephistopheles.

Eichman was eventually captured by the Israelis in Argentina and brought to trial for his crime and hanged in Israel but the damage he had done to the Jewish People during the Holocaust was horrifyingly colossal, as described in the opening sentences of his biography on Wikipedia: "Otto Adolf Eichmann was a German-Austrian official of the Nazi Party, an officer of the Schutzstaffel (SS), and one of the major organisers of the Holocaust. He participated in the January 1942 Wannsee Conference, at which the implementation of the genocidal Final Solution to the Jewish Question was planned. Following this, he was tasked by SS-ObergruppenführerReinhard Heydrich with facilitating and managing the logistics involved in the mass deportation of millions of Jews to Nazi ghettos and Nazi extermination camps across German-occupied Europe."

Ironically, it was the Nazis who objected to the Jewish leadership’s plans to select only children, which would be too noticeable. Only then, reports the historian Raul Hilberg, did the Jews proceed to compile a list of ten categories: "Orthodox Jews, Zionists, prominent Jews (Prominente), orphans, refugees, Revisionists, etc. One category consisted of 'paying persons'. The geographic distribution was a bit lopsided: 388 persons, including Kastner's father-in-law, came from the Transylvanian city of Cluj. 'Eichman knew', reports Kastner, 'that we had a special interest in Cluj' (dass Klausenburg uns besonders nahestand). The transport left, at the height of the deportations, for Bergen-Belsen. In the fall of 1944 some of the rescued Jews arrived in Switzerland." And so it came to be that at the peak of the deportations, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum was taken out of detention in Bergen-Belsen and placed on that train to Switzerland.

It is a long way from Bergen-Belsen to Brooklyn, but in 1946 Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum arrived in America determined to rebuild a kehillah (community) as he had known it to be in Europe. Herman Dicker observes that "had Rabbi Teitelbaum's attitude and struggle been merely one of being against something, in this case, Zionism, a historical reviewer could have found it easy to join those rejecting him and his philosophy. One, however, is forced by the facts to report the other side of the Satmar story, a side based on the very solid accomplishments of Rabbi Teitelbaum and his followers."

The success of Rabbi Teitelbaum and his followers was based on the unity of two themes: survival and reconstruction. Hassidic life was to be rebuilt through Jewish educational efforts. All parts of the configuration, be they parents, societies, or businesses, were to work for the rehabilitation of Hassidic life with the same educational goals. The unity of the themes of survival and the need to further Hassidic education was exemplified at the annual celebrations commemorating Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum's release from Bergen-Belsen. One such celebration, and the nature of the event was described in 1975, four years before the Rebbe's death:

"Now, through the loudspeakers, came the Rebbe's voice --the merest pin-scratch on a slate of silence. Yet that parchment-thin, otherworldly voice was instantly compelling. His disciples, many rocking and swaying as if in prayer, hung on each word as he thanked God for liberating him from the Nazis and for enabling him to be here with his beloved Hassidim. He spoke of the crucial importance of educating their children in Hassidic schools and reminded them that charity, which made such education possible, was one of the noblest of virtues. He then sat back, a benign expression lighting his face, and allowed his aides to take over the fund-raising activities."

The war in Europe, survival in America, and Jewish education blend into a unified and total experience. At the height of a celebration commemorating liberation, the appeal was for more and better Jewish education. The fall of Jewry in Europe becomes a prelude to the rise of Orthodoxy, Torah life and Hasidism in America.

Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum's achievements have amazed some observers. The historian Herman Dicker writes that it is amazing that Rabbi Teitelbaum managed to overcome the bitter experience of the Holocaust and rebuild a large following with "a wide ranging chain of religious, educational, and social institutions".

Dicker states that Rabbi Teitelbaum's views on education did not change upon coming to America. "On the contrary, they became stronger in face of the ever present threat of assimilation." He reports in 1981 that the Satmar private school system is described as the "largest in the world" educating about 7,000 students. Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum was intimately involved in all the decision making processes of education. By the time of his death in 1979, it is estimated that he left 50,000 followers in the New York area, making it one of the largest hassidic groups.

Forty years later by 2023 the figures have quadrupled if not more. Before his death Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum opened another community in Monroe, upstate New York now called Kiryas Yoel. It's generally reported and accepted that there are today over 100,000 (one hundred thousand) Satmar Hasidim worldwide residing mainly in Brooklyn and Kiryas Yoel in upstate New York as well as many in London, Antwerp, Vienna, Montreal, Los Angeles and Israel.

In discussing "The Educational Pattern", in "Williamsburg: A Jewish Community in Transition" (1961), Gershon Kranzler characterizes the period 1949–1954 as evidencing a trend towards more and deeper Torah study, "as the masses of new immigrants from the camps settled in Williamsburg". He writes that though the general goals of established yeshivas such as Torah Vodaas were "identical with theirs" (which is a debatable point), the new "Hungarian Yeshivoth" developed some essential differences of method and content. Namely: 1. A greater stress on the quantity of learning; 2. Greater stress of "practical topics and tractates"; 3. Greater knowledge of "Shulchan Oruch", meaning halakhah or Jewish law; 4. Instruction in Yiddish; 5. Early commencement of formal schooling.

Writing in 1961 but even truer today, Kranzler concluded: "It is important to note that both patterns of Williamsburg's intensive Jewish education have been exported to other Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods of New York, and even beyond it to other cities where the day school movement has mushroomed...The developments there are similar, and are worth watching for their influence on the future of the Jewish communities in America. In this respect Williamsburg may perhaps become the center of a renaissance of a well educated Jewish American community, whose sons, unlike the 'lost generation' of their elders, have returned to the high level of Jewish scholarship that was typical for the immigrant generation, of the Old World, thanks to the work of the day schools."

Williamsburg in fact became the bastion of the Hungarian hassidim, with Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum at their helm. Their impact on the Orthodox world was great by dint of their large numbers and cohesion, as described by Kranzler. At its root lay the Satmar Rebbe's painstaking rehabilitation of thousands of fellow survivors and molding them into a kehilla (community). In "The Torah Personality: A Treasury of Biographical Sketches" (1980) it is recorded that at the time of his passing in 1979, the Satmar Rebbe presided over a tight-knit, highly disciplined community numbering in the [tens of] thousands.

The Satmar communities are all distinguished by a kehilla system that includes complete control of synagogue, kosher food supervision, education, and even social welfare.

Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum's "personal warm concern" for each individual, was a key factor in the low drop-out rate among his kehilla's members. He was convinced that a viable community could only take shape if it was self-supporting on a level comparable to its surroundings. He encouraged his followers to donate generous sums of money. This aided the growth of the community's school system. Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum founded the Yeshiva Yetev Lev and the Bais Rochel School for Girls "both adhering to the syllabus of pre-World War II Satmar". Their yeshiva emphasizes "a rapid pace of study, familiarity with a broad range of topics, and an eye on practical application, through halakhah. The girls' school follows a strictly prescribed Hebrew curriculum."

Sociologist Solomon Poll, in "The Hasidic Community of Williamsburg: A Study in the Sociology of Religion" (1962), analyses the complete gamut of units within the Williamsburg hassidic configuration. He shows how the hassidic family, social stratification, organization, social control, economic behavior, and occupational hierarchy, are all inherently inter-linked.

In the final chapter he concludes: "In the hassidic community religion as a unified system of beliefs and practices exerts a cohesive integrating influence upon the actions and thoughts, both public and private, of its members. It creates a reciprocity between religion and all other community affairs. Religion determines the characteristic form of most activities, so much so that even secular activities have come to acquire a religious meaning...The main object of the group's existence is the perpetuation of Yiddishkeit, traditional religious Judaism, through hassidic behavior."

Poll explains how this came to be in the midst of twentieth century America. In the chapter "The Transplantation of Hassidic Culture" he states: "In 1943, the Jews were evacuated from the various Jewish communities in Hungary into German concentration camps. In the concentration camps they continued to adhere to traditional practices to the extent possible under the circumstances. Many suffered starvation and extreme maltreatment, and many died in the camps. When the war ended, some of the religious leaders went from one concentration camp to another to reorganize the group and to encourage their continued loyalty to the 'tradition of their fathers'. The younger element among the survivors of Nazi atrocities sought to migrate to the United States. Upon their arrival in the United States they settled in Williamsburg, which was already the center of the more religious Hungarian Jews in America."

It would be safe to conclude that without the upheaval of the Second World War and the Holocaust, powerful and dynamic hassidic life would never have appeared and flourished on the scale evident today. Kehillahs like those which arose in Williamsburg were deliberately reconstructed by those such as Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum to ensure the continuity of Judaism through Orthodox communal life. "I hope to establish a broad Klal Yisroel. I dare not sacrifice the average students for the sake of the isolated individual of rare promise", said Rabbi Teitelbaum. The statement epitomizes the educational goal he pursued in order to achieve his aim of creating an independent, yet influential, hassidic kehilla.

Torah-based "Out-of-Town" Communities grow after the Holocaust

Brooklyn has been home to flourishing Jewish communities but there have been other notable successes in outlying areas. "Out-of-town", often meaning places outside of Brooklyn, has been the refuge of a segment of the Second World War's survivors. Often it has been larger Brooklyn based kehillas that created smaller semi-permanent summer communities, such as "bungalow colonies", where up to three months of the year are spent. Or, year-round retreats from city life have been established fostering kehilla life in "splendid isolation".

Thus, for example, the Satmar community established itself in Monroe in upstate New York, as well as nurturing the growth of a sister-community in Montreal, Canada. Another example is Lubavitch, which has deliberately established miniature communities all over America.

There are several wholly autonomous out-of-town communities. The sociologist Marshall Sklare (1921–1992) in his work "America's Jews" (1971) has noted that some hassidim believed that cultural transmission was impossible in the city. "Despite Brooklyn's thick Jewishness they feel that the integrity of their culture can only be preserved by geographic isolation." Sklare recounts that the Skvirer Hasidim viewed Brooklyn as part of an urban world in which social control cannot be effectively exercised. They therefore purchased a plot of land in Rockland County, New York, in 1954, where they succeeded in establishing their own community of New Square, New York

Another hassidic group, the Vizhnitzer hassidim in America, whose influence had extended to Jews in Hungary, Roumania, and Czechoslovakia, eventually established a branch in Monsey, in Rockland County, New York. "The Vishnitzer lifestyle is characterized by an emphasis on love of God, love of Torah and love of Israel. A prolific family, it had many branches throughout the old country, most of them destroyed during the Holocaust", writes Herman Dicker in "Piety and Perseverance" (1981). Rabbi Chaim Meir Hager (1888–1972) had managed to survive the war as leader of Vizhnitz. His son, Rabbi Mordechai Hager (1922–2018)), decided in 1965 to take some of his hassidim to Monsey, away from the "hustle and bustle" of the city.

The Satmar hassidim successfully established the community of Kiryas Yoel ("Town of Yoel") in Monroe, Orange County, New York. Named for their late leader Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum (1887–1979), who helped choose the location: In his book "Piety and Perseverance" Herman Dicker writes that "A grateful [Satmar] community built a magnificent synagogue with a seating capacity of several thousand to accommodate the many faithful who would visit the Satmar Rebbe on the High Holidays and other festive occasions. It reflected their devotion to the Rebbe and their ability to raise huge sums among his followers in all parts of the world. These contributions, amounting to millions of dollars, sustain a vast network of schools and Yeshivot in the United States and Israel."

It was on August 19, 1979, that the Satmar Rebbe--Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum--passed away. On that same day he was buried at Kiryas Yoel in Monroe, New York State. The "out of town" community that bore his name, became his final resting place. His long life began in the small towns of the Carpathian Mountains of Europe and ended with his burial in the small towns of the Catskill Mountains of America. It was to Monroe that over one hundred thousand Orthodox Jews came to pay their last respects to a person who had symbolized the stubborn renewal of Torah life in the spiritual wastelands of America after the Holocaust.

The Catskills had been jokingly referred to as the "Borsht Belt", where Jews sought out light entertainment and escape from the city. The gathering of over a hundred thousand Orthodox, haredi and hassidic Jews at the Satmar Rebbe's funeral, proved that a new age had arrived in a relatively short period of time.

Nitra and Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandl During and After The Holocaust

A symbolic microcosm of the transplantation of a kehilla together with a yeshiva from Europe to America was the Hungarian community of Nitra now in Slovakia. In "The Unconquerable Spirit: Vignettes of the Jewish religious spirit that the Nazis could not destroy" (1980), we are told that before the war, the town of Nitra in Slovakia had been a bastion of Jewish tradition and learning. "Its Yeshiva had a name throughout the world of Orthodox Jewry, drawing students from the hassidic East as well as from the modern West."

At the head of the yeshivah and kehilla of Nitra had stood Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Ungar (1885–1945). In 1944, he fled to the woods to avoid deportation by the Nazis, and died of starvation in early 1945. "Even before coming to Nitra, Rabbi Ungar had been known as a great teacher and moralist far beyond the borders of Slovakia. Only two years before the outbreak of the war, he had been elected by the Agudath Israel...to its supreme religious body, the Moetzet Gedolei HaTorah." Thus, his death was a great loss for Torah life in all its facets.

However, Rabbi Ungar's son, Rabbi Sholom Moshe Ungar (1916–2003), and son-in-law, Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandl (1903–1957), managed to survive the Holocaust, finding their way to America. They were determined to perpetuate the legacy of Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Ungar: From "The Unconquerable Spirit": "With help from American Jews, including former students of the Yeshiva of Nitra, the two refugee scholars built up a new Nitra Yeshiva at Mount Kisco, amidst the hills of New York's Westchester County. Rabbi Weissmandl planned the new Yeshiva as an institution where, in addition to Talmudic training, the students would acquire skills in farm work and in such trades as printing. Unfortunately, it was not given to Rabbi Weissmandl to see the fulfillment of his dream. His health broken by the years of war and persecution, he died in 1957."

The yeshiva and community of Nitra grew slowly, and remained an embodiment of the renewal of life in America that its founders wanted it to be. Underlying Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandl's efforts at rebuilding the Nitra Yeshiva in Mount Kisco was a deep and dark war-time experience. At the height of the war he had "opened possibilities to rescue hundreds of thousands of Jews", as Sigmund Forst has written in "The Torah Personality", (1980). Rabbi M. B. Weissmandl was the one who:

1. Got into contact with two Slovakian Jews who escaped from Auschwitz and gave the first eyewitness description of the systematic extermination which was until then only a vague rumor and not really believed by anyone;

2. Sent a detailed map of the camp together with the sworn testimony of the two men to the outside world;

3. Probed the Nazi mind with a point blank offer of money. Nobody would have believed that for fifty thousand dollars, Wisliceny, Adolf Eichman's deputy, stopped the deportations for a long period of time;

4. Suggested a bold proposition, the so-called "Europa Plan" which sought to bring to a halt all deportations from all of Europe for the payment of a huge sum of money.

Forst writes that Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandl was convinced that responsibility for the failure of negotiations to save Slovakian and Hungarian Jewry "rested upon the assimilated Jews in the West who contented themselves with public speeches and demonstrations. He recalled that after such a demonstration in New York, Wisliceny told him that Hitler was incensed and determined to intensify the persecution." Forst's description points to a serious failure. However, it should be remembered that American Jewry made an enormous contribution to the war effort against the Axis in terms of manpower and organization even though it committed serious blunders in the realm of home-front responses to Hitler.

Of particular significance to us is Forst's statement that: "We have to put Rabbi Weissmandl against the background of the catastrophic years 1941–1945, as this was the turning point in his life, and regard his remaining years in the U.S.A. as the framework of his reaction to the war experience. The personality of Rabbi Weissmandl as he emerged after the war, appears under a twofold aspect. One is the aspect of his personal tragedy which he shared with many who suffered as he had. The second aspect is the collective tragedy which was emphatically pronounced by his total personality, an aspect which he shared with nobody. He could not forget."

Indeed, Rabbi Weissmandl described his experiences in his book "Min Ha Maitzar" ("From the Depths"), published posthumously by the Nitra Yeshiva. In the Introduction, he wrote: "Thirteen years have passed since the offering of the sacrifice--and from then until now a silence has come down upon the world with no one to cry out against it-and the way of the evil has succeeded in silencing the entire world about the murder committed by their hands-and not only this, but they have succeeded in causing the Jewish people themselves to forget--and not a simple forgetfulness, but a deceitful and deep forgetfulness...that proceeds and grows even stronger with each day-and it would not be a wonder that within this lifetime our sons and grandsons will forget everything that is before us."

Reading the detailed biography of Rabbi Michoel Ber (Dov) Weissmandl on Wikipedia, one can begin to understand his pain and agony about the Holocaust:

"Michael Dov Weissmandl...Along with Gisi Fleischmann he was the leader of the Bratislava Working Group which attempted to save European Jews from deportation to Nazideath camps during the Holocaust and was the first person to urge Allied powers to bomb the railways leading to concentration camp gas chambers. The group's main activity was to help Jews as much as possible, in part through payment of bribes and ransom to German and Slovak officials. In 1942, the Working Group initiated high-level ransom negotiations with the Germans (ref. Fuchs and Kranzler books). The transportation of Slovak Jews was in fact halted for two years after they arranged a $50,000 (in 1952 dollars) ransom deal with the Nazi SS official Dieter Wisliceny.

Largely with the help of diplomats, Weissmandl was able to smuggle letters or telegrams to people he hoped would help save the Jews of Europe, alerting them to the progressive Nazi destruction of European Jewry. He managed to send letters to Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and he entrusted a diplomat to deliver a letter to the Vatican for Pope Pius XII. He originated the proposal via Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld in London to bomb the rails leading to Auschwitz, but this, along with subsequent suggestions from others, was ultimately not implemented.

He and his Working Group helped distribute the Auschwitz Protocols. The recipients didn't do anything meaningful with the report except Moshe Krausz in Budapest who forwarded it to George Mantello in Switzerland via Romanian diplomat Florian Manilou. Mantello publicized its content immediately upon receipt. This triggered large-scale grass roots demonstrations in Switzerland, sermons in Swiss churches about the tragic plight of Jews and a Swiss press campaign of about 400 headlines protesting the atrocities against Jews.Managing to escape from a sealed cattle car headed for Auschwitz in 1944, he later emigrated to America where he established a yeshiva and self-sustaining agricultural community in New York known as the Yeshiva Farm Settlement.

In October 1944, Weissmandl and his family were rounded up and put on a train headed for Auschwitz. Weissmandl escaped from the sealed train by opening a hole with a saw he had secreted in a loaf of bread. He jumped from the moving train and made his way to Bratislava.

There he found shelter in a bunker in a storage room of a private house, along with 17 other Jews who included the Rebbe of StropkovMenachem Mendel Halberstam [1979–1954]. Rezső Kasztner visited the bunker several times, once, to the consternation of the inhabitants, in the company of SS officer Max Grüson. In April 1945, Kasztner visited again, this time in the company of another SS officer who took the party to Switzerland in a truck with an escort of German soldiers."

What an incredible Holocaust saga!

Rabbi Weissmandl's efforts on behalf of the Nitra Yeshiva in America showed that he was determined not to forget, by raising a living memorial that would itself ensure survival. He therefore saw fit to establish a Jewish house of learning that bespoke his love of Torah life.

Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin was born to Holocaust survivor parents in Israel, grew up in South Africa, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and of Teachers CollegeColumbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach Kiruv Rechokim. He was the Director of the Belzer Chasidim's Sinai Heritage Center of Manhattan 19881995, a Trustee of AJOP 19941997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 19952015. He is also a docent and tour guide at The Museum of Jewish Heritage A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Downtown Manhattan, New York.

He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy.

Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at[email protected]