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A Life Apart - Hasidism in America A Hasidic Boy

ESSAYS ON HASIDISM
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  • Additional Essays on Hasidism

  • SETTLEMENT IN AMERICA

    Some surviving Hasidic Jews went to Antwerp, London or Montreal, but most went to Israel and to the United States. Some important rebbes also survived the war and emigrated, with each forming the center of a new settlement in Brooklyn: the Satmarer and the Klausenberger in Williamsburg, the Lubavitcher (whose Rebbe Schneerson actually arrived in New York in 1940) and the Bobover in Crown Heights. About sixty courts, many of them with fewer than fifty families, were transplanted to New York. Today there are twelve principal Hasidic courts, though many of the smaller ones still exist.

    Williamsburg, Brooklyn, was a community of Orthodox, but increasingly westernized, Jews from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Poland. The largest Hasidic groups settling in Williamsburg were of Hungarian origin, the Satmar and the Klausenberg. They rapidly took over part of the neighborhood--in 1951, the last movie house on Lee Avenue was turned into the rebbe's residence and besmedresh of the Klausenbergers, and Hungarian and Yiddish became the languages of the streets.

    The neighborhoods of Crown Heights and Boro Park developed into Hasidic centers at a slower pace then Williamsburg. The largest and most influential court in Crown Heights is the Lubavitch, whose adherents are mostly Polish. The Bobover, from Poland (Galicia), originally settled in Crown Heights as well, but in 1966-67 most of the court and the Rebbe moved to Boro Park, which is also home to the Munkach, the Ger, Belz and the Stoliner. Currently, the Hasidic population in Boro Park is expanding rapidly.

    It is difficult to obtain accurate estimates of the Hasidic population. The Hasidim are reluctant to count themselves: when asked how many followers he had, the Lubavitcher Rebbe replied, "How many Jews are there in the world?"

    Estimates in the mid-1960s put the number of Hasidim in New York City at between forty and fifty thousand, with the Satmar the largest group at 1,300 families, the Belz, Bobov, Klausenberg, and Lubavitch courts consisting of between 100 -- 500 families each, and many other smaller courts making up the rest. [From Jerome Mintz, Legends of the Hasidim (1968)]

    By the mid-1980s, these numbers had mushroomed. Lis Harris in Holy Days (1985) estimates that out of 250,000 Hasidim in the world (one fifth the number that existed in 1900), 200,000 live in the United States, with approximately 100,000 in Brooklyn and most of the rest in other parts of New York City and its suburbs. The number of Hasidim in New York has doubled, from around fifty thousand to over one hundred thousand, in twenty years. Many of the courts also have branches elsewhere in the United States, Israel, Canada, England, South America, Eastern Europe and Russia.

    Couples are encouraged to have many children--seven or eight children is not uncommon amongst Hasidic families--and birth control is not ususally considered permissible (though exceptions are sometimes made for reasons of physical or emotional health). In addition, many non-Hasidic Jews have become adherents, especially among the Lubavitch. Harris writes that the one hundred thousand New York City Hasidim are composed of: 45,000 Satmar, 15,000 Lubavitch (though worldwide Lubavitch is the largest court), and another 45,000 in Boro Park, home of the Gerer, Bobover, and Belzer.


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