Satmar Brothers Dueling Over Summer Camps — 3,500 Zalmanite Kids Hang in the Balance
The Satmar Brothers Aaron and Zalman are once again at each other’s throats, this time over who would get to use the four summer camps in Ulster County, New York.
David Rosenburg has administered the camps on behalf of Congregation Yetev Lev (CYL) of Satmar for many decades. After the Satmar Succession Feud erupted in 1999, Rosenburg continued to administer the camps on behalf of the Zalmanite Williamsburg leadership until now.
This year, however, the Aaronites once again seized upon the 2006 New York State supreme court ruling that declared the Zalman-Aaron dispute “nonjudiciable”, meaning that the court is not allowed to rule on the dispute since that would entail making a judgement on the question of what constitutes proper religious adherence as stipuated in the CYL congregational bylaws and would thus be a violation of the United States constitutional clause requiring separation of church and state.
The practical upshot of the 2006 ruling has been tens of millions of dollars worth of congregational property in indefinite limbo, with neither side having legal title over it and law enforcement being instructed to simply maintain order and the status quo. When the Zalmanites attempted to apply for a permit to occupy the new synagogue under construction on Ross Street in Williamsburg, the Aaronites successfully blocked it since the Zalmanite applicants were unable to prove that they had a legal right to occupy the land.
Now the Aaronites are applying the same technique on the summer camps of CYL, which require an annually-issued permit from the county health department before they can be occupied for the summer. When the Zalmanites first applied for the permit before Passover this year, the Aaronites immediately counter-applied and apparently received a permit as well. After considerable rancor between the parties over who should get the final permit the executive revoked them both and exhorted the parties to mediate the dispute between themselves.
The Zalmanites are refusing to give an inch; they insist on holding on to all four camps, even as it is likely that the Aaronites would be content for now if thrown a bone of merely one camp. Conversely, the Aaronites would be triumphantly victorious if the camps would lie fallow for the summer as a result of Zalmanite intransigence. They are bent on ensuring that gam li gam loch lo yihyeh — neither I nor you shall have it, if Zalmanites refuse to negotiate in good faith.
Both parties are lining up the big-gun political connections behind their representatives: Vito Lopez (head of democratic party in Kings county) supporting Rabbi David Niederman on the Zalman side and state senator Daniel L. Squadron supporting Aaron Veltz on the Aaronite side. Vito Lopez reportedly personally showed up this week at the Ulster county executive’s office to exert pressure on behalf of his Zalmanite constituency.
Some people familiar with the camp dispute saga believe that the larger bribe will ultimately win the day. Whichever side can palm or pledge more money to their elected officials and/or Ulster county officials will take the spoils. Specifically, the Zalmanite party –deep-pocketed, well-connected, and with the urgency of up to 3,500 kids who may not have where to spend the summer if the permit is not granted them– is likely to prevail even though neither side is legally entitled to a permit without the other sides’s consent. Is is rumored that Ulster county officials privately advised the Aaronites that although they feel compelled to issue the permit to the Zalmanites under political pressure, if the Aaronites challenge it in court, the county won’t defend its action.