Scary! Not.(Cross-posted from My Urban Kvetch)

That’s right. A lesson so important, it’s worth repeating and using text emphasis: Chabadniks (Lubavitch Jews) are not, I repeat, NOT, Martians.

According to this feature in New York Magazine, a few years ago, a family of Chabad Chasidim moved to Southampton, a beachside bastion of WASPishness.

…you can imagine the consternation when, in the summer of 1999, two doors down from the Catholic church on Hill Street—the widest, most conspicuous thoroughfare in Southampton, dividing the wildly expensive properties of Shinnecock Hills and North Sea from the stratospherically expensive beachfront estates of Meadow and Gin Lanes—a family arrived that clearly hadn’t seen the membership brochure. The man who bought the place had a bird’s nest of a beard and wore dark suits all summer long. He and his wife, who dressed demurely even by Southampton standards, were young but had a bevy of children—two at first, five before long. They invited guests on Saturday mornings—dozens of them—and the visitors parked their SUVs and sports cars on the edge of neighbors’ lawns. They sang songs. They cooked meals that produced strange odors. “The smells coming out of there!” says Ron Grimaldi, who until recently lived across the street. “I don’t know how people live next door.” It gets worse: They renovated—the ground level was gutted to make additional room for guests—and they took out ads in Dan’s Papers promoting the gatherings.

And now they’re being sued over zoning laws. The residents are claiming that the rabbi and his family have huge events with 200 people, have opened a restaurant (“it was a seder!” the rabbi’s wife exclaimed), and are using a PA system:

As long as no health or safety codes are being violated—and the place checks out on that score—[the couple’s lawyer] Bragman contends it will be hard for the village not to grant the exception. “I told the board that this is not the landing of Martians who want to take over the village,” he says.

[This paragraph brought to you by Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds…starring Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning and coming this week to a theater near you…]

Some of the residents don’t seem convinced that they’re not being invaded. For instance, take one such neighbor who spoke up during meetings about the zoning issues:

“For him to say that it’s a small religious institution is erroneous, and it’s a fallacy. If I want to have a small religious gathering in my home, that would be fine. It would be small. These people advertise. Someone comes into a house, buys a house, and says this is a residence, and it’s not a residence?! I can’t build a damn barbecue because they are afraid that my built-in barbecue is too close to a neighbor. I can’t do it! I’m a resident! I pay taxes! I spent a lot of money on my property! And yet these people—I don’t care who they are, what religion it is, whatever it is, it’s a residence—they come in and just will it into an illegal existence!”

[“Erroneous,” and “a fallacy.” I hear it’s also a lie that is blatantly untrue. And also a complete fabrication.]

Of course, such legal action has been accompanied by allegations of anti-Semitism, which were quickly dismissed by one resident:

“I am sure we will be hearing complaints about anti-Semitism,” Southamptonite Nicola Amey wrote the village zoning board last fall, “but I would feel the same way about Holy Rollers.”

And in case you, like me, are a little confused about what Holy Rollers are, here’s a multiple-choice quiz (cheaters or those who are impatient for knowledge can cheat by clicking the links as you go):

1) Holy Rollers are cigarette rolling papers. (From the website: “For that “Glow” that lets people know you are a true Christian believer, use Holy Rollers! Made from the finest rice paper. Easy-Rolling, Pure-Gummed and smooth burning. For an added blessing, write your prayers on the papers before rolling. As the smoke rises toward Heaven, so will your prayers!”)

2) Holy Roller is a song by the band Nazareth.

3) Holy Rollers is a skate tour of Amish country, profiled by Maxim Magazine.

4) Holy Rollers is a general term for pentecostal Christians who regard a person’s speaking in tongues as a sign that a he or she has been touched by God.

And just to repeat: Lubavitchers are NOT Martians.

About the author

Esther Kustanowitz

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