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May 27, 2021 11:23 am
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Experiencing a Satmar Celebration

avatar by Ronn Torossian

Opinion

A Torah scroll. Photo: RabbiSacks.org.

My close friend, Herman Shiya Friedman, invited me to attend the wedding celebration of his son on Tuesday night in Williamsburg, hosted by the ultra-Orthodox Satmar community.

Indeed, just like a movie scene, the men wore payot, and men and women were seated and danced separately. I felt warm and welcomed, and I loved seeing Jews at a simcha. In a time where so many speak of Jewish unity, it was nice to be at an event with Satmar Jews, Modern Orthodox Jews, a handful of Chabad shlichim, secular people — a mix of the Jewish community.

Some observations from an evening in the heart of the Satmar community:

The ultra-Orthodox side of Williamsburg is like visiting another country. Many of the men I met there carry flip-phones to avoid the evils of the Internet, and many had a program where faces can’t be seen when searching the web. To enroll kids into local Satmar schools, principals check that parents have this program on their phone. In a world where so many of us worry about our children, it’s certainly one way to control the information which we and our children receive.

Israel is very much on their minds and in their hearts. The community spoke warmly of Israel, of the need for the Israeli Army to protect the people. The younger generation visits Israel without asking rabbinical permission, and the larger community feels very connected to Israel. Many are not Zionists, and have religious objections to certain aspects of the modern State of Israel; but nothing is perfect.

Interestingly, fear of antisemitic attacks wasn’t a concern. The Satmar community said they don’t feel afraid of being targeted for being Jewish — and the wedding, with hundreds of attendees, was held outside without any security.

There was a lot of talk about the upcoming New York City mayoral election. This is a community which is very involved in politics — and many of the people I spoke to preferred Eric Adams to Andrew Yang.

Having spent considerable time with this community, I know they are charitable and do outstanding work for the sick, and Jews in need. There are so many great values about the Satmar world that the larger Jewish community could learn from.

Ronn Torossian is an entrepreneur and philanthropist.

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