This post first appeared in January 2014. Since then Frimet Goldberg wrote an excellent description of New Squares shameful handling of sex abuse. Shulem Deen’s brilliant memoir, “All Who Go Do Not Return” also describes the cult of the Skvere Rebbe.
The Skvere Rebbe, Rabbi David (Dovid) Twersky, will be coming to Chicago on February 20, 2014 to spend a week dispensing his pearls of wisdom and graciously accepting donations. The Rebbe needs this money for himself and his Hasidim because:
The rebbe eats his meals on silver platters with golden utensils, owns a number of latest model Cadillacs for himself and his family, and lights his Hanukkah candles on a massive six-foot-tall sterling silver menorah that community members told me cost tens of thousands of dollars. Most of his followers… rely on food stamps and Section-8 housing vouchers for basic subsistence.
Here are some of the things the Jews of Chicago can learn from him.
HASHGACHAH PROTIS (Detailed Intentional Supervision) and CHESED (Kindness)
Chicagoans believe that Catherine O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern and started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 which killed over 300 people and left over 100,000 people homeless. In New Square, the legally incorporated village dominated by the Rebbe, there are no such accidents. The Rebbe’s butler (“hois bochur”), 18-year-old Shaul Spitzer attempted to burn down the house of the dissident Rottenberg family, while the family was asleep inside. As a result of the attack, Aron Rottenberg suffered third-degree burns on over 50% of his body.
Spitzer, was caught on videotape setting the fire and was charged with attempted murder, attempted arson and assault. The Rebbe denied culpability in spite of convincing accounts to the contrary by Ruth Rottenberg. The Rebbe stuck with his butler, organizing public prayers for him before sentencing. Everyone in Square Town appreciated the fact that Spitzer pleaded guilty rather than being a moser (snitch) about who ordered the attack. Following sentencing to seven years in jail the Rebbe visited him. In this way the Rebbe shows he cares much more for his fellow Jew, Shaul Spitzer, than Chicago ever cared for Mrs. O’Leary.
ACHDUS (Jewish Unity)
While the Chicago Jewish community is divided into factions and competing institutions the Rebbe has successfully enforced a rule that everyone must pray in the main synagogue. If you are sick you are not allowed to organize a private prayer group at home. “Rottenberg and other dissident residents became targets when they bucked the stringent rabbinical rules and prayed outside the village’s synagogue on the Sabbath. They prayed with the patients at the Friedwald House rehabilitation center on New Hempstead Road [outside New Square city limits].” Well, since the arson attack on Rottenberg other dissidents have rethought their evil, divisive ways and attendance at the main-shul is up. Perhaps, under the beneficial influence of the Skvere Rebbe, Chicago will move to greater achdus.
Standards for LEVAYAHS (Funerals)
When the wrong sort of Jew needs to be buried by New Square they make sure that the wrong kind of people do not participate in the funeral. When a former New Square woman, Deb Tambor died, they made sure some 40 of her friends could not participate. They kept the funeral secret and let the friends spend fourteen hours waiting in the cold without telling them that the funeral was not departing from New Square, and violating the rules pertaining to quick burial. Perhaps Chicago could also stop letting the less religious attend funerals.
HAVEI DAN L’KAF ZCHUS (Give the Benefit Of The Doubt) to Child Molesters
In Chicago, child molesters have lost their standing and livelihood. In Skver, Rabbi Herschel Taubenfeld pleaded guilty to child molesting and was retained as a teacher in their yeshiva.
His brother, Rabbi Moshe Menachem Taubenfeld, also a teacher in New Square’s schools, was arrested last week on felony charges of child sex abuse committed some six years earlier. According to the alleged victim, Leiby, the Rebbe was told about it at the time and chose to do nothing. If Chicago adopts the Rebbe’s approach, your religious school teachers will be more secure in their jobs.
YESH M’AYIN (Creating Something from Nothing)
llinois residents think they know a thing or two about chutzpah, politics and corruption. After all, sending your governors and legislators to jail in not a freak event; it is a periodic ritual. Governor Rod Blagojevich raised the bar for this sort of thing when he decided to sell the seat in U. S. Senate to be vacated when Senator Obama assumed the presidency. Like he said, “”I’ve got this thing, and it’s f*** golden. I’m just not giving it up for f*** nothing.”
Skver is better than Chicago. Blagojevich had something and intended to extract a price. Skver created something out of nothing. This may seems like heresy since Jewish tradition considers yesh m’ayin (creating something out of nothing) a unique power of G-d. But the Skver the community pulled off that feat. According to the New York Jewish Week:
The son of the founder of the chasidic village of New Square was among four men convicted this week of stealing more than $11 million from federal education, housing and social service benefits programs in a decade-long scam… Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah Landis said their scheme included the creation of a phony yeshiva in Brooklyn, called Toldos Yakov Yosef, that was used to obtain federal grants designed for needy students. During the two month trial, Landis had argued that the names of thousands of residents of New Square and Brooklyn were used to obtain Pell grants to enroll students in fake yeshiva and advanced rabbinic studies programs. In some cases students, Russian immigrants, were unaware their names were being used.
PIDYON SHVUYIM (Redeeming Captives)
In Chicago, when crooks get convicted they are usually abandoned. In Skver, the Rebbe does his best to rescue them. He even managed to get their sentences commuted by President Clinton on his last day in office (1/20/01). A few months earlier, Hillary Clinton’s senate campaign took her to New Square where she was lobbied on behalf of the convicted felons. Most ultra orthodox Jews voted for the Republican candidate. New Square voted for Hillary 1,400 to 12! On December 22, 2000, the Rebbe was invited to the White House, where he again made a pitch for clemency. Lo and behold, Clinton obliged on his last day in office.
Jews in Chicago debated the modesty of the Zumba exercise craze when some locals defended the Chicago version, Frumba, and attacked out-of-town speaker, Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein, who criticized Zumba. New Square does not even consider such things and instead concentrates on fundamentals, like forbidding women from driving, and requiring men and women to walk on different sides of the street.
The Rebbe and Chicago
I don’t understand why Chicago loves a losing baseball team like the Cubs. I certainly don’t understand why a group of wealthy and influential Chicago Jews is hosting the Rebbe. Perhaps this is a secret plan to recruit the Rebbe to fill in for your many corrupt politicians who have been sidelined by law enforcement. The one thing the Rebbe cannot do is teach Chicago about honesty, decency, modesty and holiness. The Rebbe is not even qualified to sermonize about the Ten Commandments. Under his leadership New Square is a hellhole of child molesting, murderous violence, and blatant theft.
I would just advise those of you hosting the Rebbe to hide your silverware and children, segregate your women, and lock up your flammables. If you care about the reputation of the Jewish community I would also advise you to be sure the secular media does not get wind of his visit. If they do start Googling him, his sordid record will pop up faster than you can flick a Bic. I urge the saner heads in Chicago to steer clear of the Rebbe and do your best to keep him out of town in the future. I urge those of you inclined to activism to take a bolder stance and publicly protest his appearances.