Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
A greatly respected renowned Torah scholar seeking to raise funds for an important Torah project arranged to visit a major city with a large Jewish population. A time was set and well publicized for the rabbi to deliver a major speech at the city’s main shul. The event was promoted as a most important fund-raising effort.
In recognition of the prominence of the Torah scholar, on the day and time scheduled, the shul was filled to capacity. The rabbi rose to the podium and spoke, articulating a great depth of scholarly Talmudic acuity. The city’s talmidei chachamim were breathless in absorbing the incisive divrei Torah.
After the lecture, an appeal was made in support of the project presented. The well-to-do members of the community quickly indicated their support with minimal sums. The rest of the kehillah’s membership followed suit with correspondingly small offerings. The total sum of money generated was far less than expected.
A few months later, a revered chassidishe rebbe came to the same city for a Shabbos. The rebbe was widely known for his work in strengthening Torah observance wherever he went. He freehandedly distributed charity to the poor, visited community rabbis and discussed their holy work with them, consoled the bereaved, visited the sick, and came to the yeshivas and warmly encouraged the students. The rebbe made himself available to whoever wished to consult with him, to discuss sensitive private matters; businessmen sought commercial advice, the troubled searched for solutions. The rebbe received each person and devoted his undivided attention in responding.
Shabbos came and the rebbe led the kehillah in tefillos and tisch. The shul was filled, with standing room only. No one left early. The davening was heartfelt. The tisch lasted late into the night. Food was plentiful and the zemiros were beautiful. The poor ate to their fill. After the tisch ended, people went home with their hearts full. On motzaei Shabbos, a beautiful melaveh malkah was held. Each participant treasured the moments that were spent in the presence of the rebbe. Each individual gave the rebbe more than he could ordinarily afford. Each person felt privileged to give as much as he could. When the rebbe left the city, he was armed to continue his holy work.
Wise men observing the two different events in their city and the different results surmised that the great Torah scholar who came to collect money for his important Torah project specifically came to take from the community. The chassidishe rebbe, in contrast, came expressly to give to the city.
Chicago 1832. The first Jews to settle in Chicago came from Prussia, Austria, Bohemia, and Poland as early as 1832, and participated in the city’s incorporation in 1833. They fled oppression and sought economic opportunity. Chicago’s first Jewish congregation, Kehilath Anshe Mayriv (KAM), was founded in 1847 by a group of Jewish immigrants from the same general region of Germany. By 1852, about 20 Polish Jews broke off from KAM, and founded Chicago’s second congregation, Kehilath B’nai Sholom, a more Orthodox congregation than the older KAM. The expansion of the Jewish community was slow but steady. Between 1880 and 1900, a wave of 55,000 Russian and Polish Jews came. Yiddish was the language of choice. Dozens of Hebrew schools were organized and 40 shuls were built. Chicago today ranks as one of the great cities with a large Jewish population.
Chicago 2014. Rabbi Dovid Twersky, Skverer Rebbe, will iy’H arriving in Chicago on Thursday, February 20, for his first Shabbos there. The Rebbe will be hosted at the homes of Moshe Davis, David Friedman, and Avrohom Weinfeld. The Shabbos tefillos and tisch will be held at the Agudas Yisroel of West Rogers Park, 2801 W. Pratt Boulevard. Rabbi Moshe Sheinberg serves as its rav. The Skverer Rebbe will be accompanied by thousands of chassidim from the East Coast as well as from Canada and the West Coast.
The Skverer Rebbe will be mechazek local mosdos and will visit with local Torah leaders. Chicago’s chassidishe rebbes, roshei yeshiva, and rabbis will participate in many events organized for the Rebbe, including the kabbolas panim, tefillos, tisch, and melaveh malkah.
The Rebbe will be staying in Chicago for one week. Throughout the week, the Rebbe will receive eminent visitors including community rabbis, roshei yeshiva, and leaders, as well as individual petitioners. Thousands will seek the Rebbe’s blessing, advice, and guidance on religious, personal, and business concerns. On Thursday, February 27, The Skverer Rebbe will be returning from Chicago to his home in New Square, NY.
The Skverer Rebbe’s 2003 Visit To The Five Towns
The Shabbos Vayechi 2003 conducted by the Skverer Rebbe in Five Towns still reverberates. That Shabbos continues to be remembered for its having been irrevocably changed by the Rebbe’s tefillos and tisch and by the huge entourage and the many guests that came to join in. Rabbi Mechel Lechowitz, zt’l (d. 1827), a major rebbe in chassidishe lore, once visited a Lithuanian city, held tefillos and tisch there, and exclaimed, “We exploded a spiritual bomb in Lita and it will glow until Moshiach arrives!” The many that shared in the event came from all types of backgrounds and wore a variety of wardrobes. Friday night’s tisch was ta’am Gan Eden (a peek into heavenly spheres), seeing the Skverer Rebbe flanked by all the important rabbis of the Five Towns and environs. The Shabbos morning tefillos included the b’ris. The week of the Skverer Rebbe’s presence in the Five Towns left an indelible impression, forever changing the neighborhood and every individual that participated.
The community in New Square, Spring Valley, is populated exclusively by chassidiim, almost exclusively Skverer chassidim, who wish to maintain a chassidishe lifestyle insulated from outside secular influences. The village is substantially self-sustained with its own businesses and shopping areas, primary and secondary schools, and schools of higher education, as well as community, religious, and charitable organizations.
The village is essentially one community with a large synagogue serving its entire population. New Square is led by Rabbi Dovid Twersky, Skverer Rebbe, son and successor to the village’s founder. Several dayanim serve in deciding day-to-day matters of Jewish law.
New Square is the Anglicized name of Skvira, a village in the Ukraine, where today’s Skverer Rebbe’s ancestors reigned. The upstate New York New Square community was launched in 1957, when approximately 20 Skverer families moved from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, onto a 130-acre former farm in north Spring Valley, under the leadership of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Twersky, zt’l (1899–1968), late Skverer Rebbe, who arrived in the United States in 1950. Before the end of its first year, almost 40 families resided in New Square. In 1961, New Square became the first village in New York State to be governed by a religious group. Over the years, incremental annexations of bordering properties have increased its size. New Square’s population, according to the 2000 Census, increased 77.5% between 1990 and 2000.
New Square’s success motivated other chassidishe groups to plan and build their own versions of a chassidishe community outside the maelstrom of America’s large cities. Notably Kasho, Nitra, Pupa, Satmar, Tash, and Vishnitz have established insulated chassidishe communities away from big metropolitan areas. In addition, Skver has acquired the former Homowack Lodge resort specifically intended to be the next Skverer community. Vishnitz, expanding beyond its borders in Monsey, is developing Kiamesha Lake in the Catskills as its next settlement.
The Royal Family
Rabbi Dovid Twersky, the current Skverer Rebbe, was born in 1940. In 1958, he married Rebbetzin Chana, born in 1943, eldest daughter of Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, zt’l (1917–2012), Bnei Brak Vishnitzer Rebbe. Their offspring are:
Rabbi Aaron Menachem Mendel Twersky, born in 1962, married in 1980 to Rebbetzin Chava Reizel, daughter of Rabbi Mordechai Hager, Monsey Vishnitzer Rebbe;
Rabbi Yitzchok Itzik Twersky, born in 1963, married in 1981 to Rebbetzin Malka, daughter of Rabbi Yisroel Hager and granddaughter of the late Bnei Brak Vishnitzer Rebbe;
Rebbetzin Hinda Twersky, married in 1982 to Rabbi Avrohom Yehoshua Heshel Twersky, son of Rabbi Chai Yitzchok Twersky, Rachmestrivka Rebbe in Boro Park;
Rebbetzin Tzipora, born in 1965, married in 1983 to Rabbi Eliezer Goldman, son of Rabbi Yaakov Goldman, scion of the Zhviler chassidishe dynasty;
Rebbetzin Tzima Mirrel, born in 1969, married in 1987 to Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Hager, son of Rabbi Yisroel Hager, Vishnitzer Rav in Monsey; son of Rabbi Mordechai Hager, Monsey Vishnitzer Rebbe (the Monsey Vishnitzer Rebbe is both a brother-in-law and an uncle by marriage to the Skverer Rebbe);
Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, born in 1973, married in 1992 to Rebbetzin Chana Yenty, daughter of Rabbi Yehshaye Twersky, Chernobler Rebbe in Boro Park; and
Rabbi Chaim Meir, born in 1981, married in 2000 to Rebbetzin Rochel Dinah, daughter of Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Halberstam, Kiviashder Rebbe; son Rabbi Moshe Halberstam, zt’l (1924–2011), late Kiviashder Rebbe in Williamsburg.
Of The Skverer Dynasty
The first Skverer Rebbe was Rabbi Zvi (Hershele) of Skver, zt’l, a great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov. He was the son of Rabbi Aaron of Titiuv, zt’l (d. 1800); son of Rabbi Zvi of Mezebush-Pinsk, zt’l (d. 1780); son of Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov, zt’l (1698–1760). After taking up residence in Skver (Skvira) in the Ukraine, Rabbi Zvi was chosen to serve as Rebbe. His daughter, Rebbetzin Chana Sima, a’h, married Rabbi Yitzchok Twersky, zt’l (1812–1885), affectionately known as Reb Itzikel, the seventh son of Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobel, zt’l (1770–1837).
Reb Hershele passed away on chol hamoed Sukkos, on the night of Shemini Atzeres. Reb Itzikel, his son-in-law, was given the honor of leading the Atah Horeisa prayer, deeply moving the townspeople emotionally. As a result, he was immediately chosen as successor rebbe. Succession deliberations that had been scheduled to take place between community leaders after Sukkos were obviated and canceled. As a dynasty, however, Skver is considered a branch of Chernobel, and is reckoned as to have commenced with Reb Itzikel, son of Rabbi Mordechai of Chernobel.
The Bolshevik revolution in 1914 left smaller cities and towns unprotected and unsafe, especially for observant Jews. Rabbi Dovid Twersky, zt’l (1848–1919), Skverer Rebbe and son of Reb Itzikel, left Skvira to Kiev for security reasons. He stayed in Kiev until his own passing in 1919.
Rabbi Dovid’s son, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Twersky, zt’l (1900–1968), was revered as an exceptionally pious man. In 1925 he married Rebbetzin Trana, a’h, the daughter of Rabbi Pinchas Twersky, zt’l, Hy’d (1880–1943), Ostilla Rebbe, and granddaughter of Rabbi Yisochor Dov Rokeach, zt’l (1854–1926), Belzer Rebbe. In his early years of marriage, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef lived in Belz and later adopted many Belzer customs. A few years later he established his own chassidishe court in Kalarash, Romania, and later in Yaas. Rabbi Yaakov Yosef was in Bucharest during World War II.
After the war, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef came to the United States, arriving in 1950. Disappointed in living within America’s big city materialism and decadence, he profoundly desired to create a rural community resembling old Skver, far from the hustle and bustle of New York City.
After spending a few years in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where his home and synagogue became a beacon for the many who sought his blessing and wise counsel, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef established a community in what was then rural Rockland County, New York, and named it New Square. In 1957, with a handful of ardent followers, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef moved to New Square. Expanding the village and its institutions became his life’s work. It was the first such shtetl in America, and was later emulated by a number of other groups. After his death in 1968, his son Rabbi Dovid assumed leadership of the community. Under Rabbi Dovid’s influence, the Skverer community has grown and established additional communities and institutions in Boro Park and Williamsburg, Lakewood, Canada, Europe, and Israel. v
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the Rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and Director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. Rabbi Tannenbaum can be contacted at email@example.com.