Friday, November 20, 2009

North American Shtetl

The word shtetl, invokes images of the pre-Holocaust Eastern European Jewish community. It might come as a surprise, therefore, that there actually are shtetlach in North America! Here are two:

New Square, New York - When Rabbi Jacob Joseph Twersky, z”l, the third Skverer Rebbe (the leader of the Skverer Chasiddim, originally from the town of Skver, Ukraine), arrived in America in 1948, he and his followers settled in Brooklyn, NY, but dreamed of a home away from the urban atmosphere. In 1954, the community purchased land in Rockland County, and so began the community of New Square (a bureaucratic typo resulted in the anglicized name).

But this was the 1950s, when discriminatory measures still existed and neighborhoods were often segregated by ethnicity. The idea of a large ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood upset many in Ramapo Township, and there were a host of legal battles. Zoning laws, roads, sewage...time and again the community was accused of not maintaining proper standards.

On November 21, 1961, after a battle to incorporate itself and be free of the Town Board’s control, New Square elected its first mayor, thus becoming the first independent Chasidic town in the United States.

The current Skverer Rebbe is Rabbi David Twersky. New Square now has 7,830 (as of 2005) residents.

Tosh, Quebec - The same desire to avoid secular temptations, led Rabbi Meshulim Feish (Ferencz) Lowy, the Tosher Rebbe (orginally from Tosh, Hungary) to move his Chasidim from the city of Montreal, where they had arrived in 1951. In 1963, with federal assistance, the Tosher community moved to an isolated neighborhood in Boisbriand, Quebec. While technically not a village of its own, Tosh manages to maintain its independence, with its own shopping, doctors, and schools. The community, which began with 18 families, today has over 250 families.

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