… For all of our community’s love of “social action,” there may not be a Jewish neighborhood anywhere that has created more grass-roots acts of “social action” than has Williamsburg. According to David Pollock, of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, “almost all” of New York’s hallmark chesed organizations — Hatzoloh, the volunteer ambulance service; Bikur Cholim, caring for the sick, including hospital visitations and home-cooked meals for mostly non-Satmar Jews; Kimpaturin, rest homes for new mothers and their babies; Tomche Shabbos, volunteers anonymously delivering Shabbat meals to the poor — “are modeled on institutions founded by the Satmar in Williamsburg.”
Yes, Satmar’s anti-Zionism is “the elephant” in Satmar’s room. To be fair, they are not Neturei Karta, with whom they are confused, a group that has sought alliances with Arabs who are violently anti-Israel. Rebbe Teitelbaum said, through a spokesman, “whoever associates with [Palestinian terrorists] is a killer.” True, he condemned Religious Zionism and Israel’s secular-based government as “false messianism,” but the Satmar rebbe visited Israel and he always cared deeply for the safety of Jewish lives, in Jerusalem as in Kiryas Joel. The rebbe’s critique was theological, believing that the end of the heavenly decreed exile was being unduly and dangerously hastened before its time.
Whether we agree or not — and we don’t — the fact is that we’ve come to accept as brothers and sisters those among us who care not a whit for the most basic Jewish laws and values. Strange then to despise or dismiss Satmar for anti-Zionism at a time when non-Zionism and post-Zionism have become accepted by so many of us.…
And this is true in Jerusalem, as well, where, for many years the Satmar sponsored soup kitchen was the best and largest in the city. I worked with several American olim who fell on hard times and had no one to turn to. Invariably, they would go to Chabad’s (New City) soup kitchen and then Satmar’s. All made Satmar their home after a few days of trying out both. Satmar helped them with food, with warm clothes, and often with a bed for a night or two. Chabad did none of those things, other than food. On the other hand, all liked the the non-official Kotel Chabad soup kitchen that ran on Shabbos and Yom Tov, becuase the baal habayit was a kind, gentle man who gave from the heart. But official Chaabd was largely set up to serve Chabadniks. In my time in Israel, that is exactly what they did. Even non-Hebrew, non-Yiddish-speaking Chabd olim felt shut out.
There are lots of problems with Satmar – we can all see that. Hessed is not one of them.