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

For more posts by Esther, see EstherK.com, MyUrbanKvetch.com and JDatersAnonymous.com.

53 Comments

  • Similar situation is happening in my parents hometown in New Jersey, and this is a very Jewish town. Plenty of the Jewish neighbors are ticked off. I can empathize with the neighbors to a certain degree, since they generally moved out of the city to find their nice little quiet place in the burbs and then all of a sudden in the middle of a housing development up pops a shul, accompanying with it the crowding, cars, etc…..

  • *sigh*. frikkin’ chabad. this happens with chabad shluchim everywhere, not just in the hoity-toity hamptons. and, as in this the above case, the neighbors actually have no problem with the religious practice of the chabadniks; they do have a problem when idiot congregants park cars on their lawns.

    “We didn’t see this as some large religion issue,” (insert non-Jewish neighbor name here) said. “Nobody wanted to stop him from praying. It was bringing excessive cars and people into the neighborhood.”

  • perhaps if these shluchim are so bent on having people daven in their private residences, they should convert their own front yards into parking lots. by disrespecting the property and peace-of-mind of their neighbors, they create a public nuisance, they align their non-Jewish neighbors against them, and they perpetuate a stereotype of Jews as being ignorant, inconsiderate, self-centered, bulldozing bung-holes. if i myself lived in orlando (or the hamptons, or NJ), i would grab the offending shaliach by his lapels and shake him until his tzitzis fell off. but then, i would probably do that to any chabad shaliach regardless of the provocation…

  • Funny, I was just invited to a gathering at a Chabadnik’s house as he tries to do outreach in the community.

    There isn’t enough information here to know who is right, but I have to think that this story really has nothing to do with antisemitism – in other words, they could be Martians and this would still piss the neighbors off.

  • I’ve gotten a similar reception in the upscale frum community I moved into (after all, I’m a chabadnik with seven kids, a beard, and don’t use the city-wide eruv — also, I’m not a doctor/lawyer/cpa — and I like guns). The MO’s there had trouble with us from the beginning. I was even counselled “why don’t you trim your beard and *try* to fit in.”

    Sheesh!!

    Admittedly, Chabad shluchim are notorious for trying to upgrade religious observance in out of the way places. Even going so far as to have community seders, Purim carnivals, and – perish the though – a Sukkah!

    Admittedly, they should try to keep in mind their neighbors might not like someone parking on their lawns, and they should attempt to curb overenthusiasm that destroys property (I’m remembering the litter of booze bottles by Simchas Torah). But, the xenophobia of most people should not overcome their common courtesy to someone else’s lifestyle.

  • The neighborhoods of america will never be
    the same…..

    Say adios to the old life; Jews running from
    the ghettoes to keep from bumping into some
    long bearded Chasidic anachronism.

    Don’t you all know that many of those
    Resident Rabbis have already paved thier
    front yards etc… but that rarely is enough to
    hold everybody that wants to show up.

    A lot of people in this world would love to have
    such problems.

  • I think the green Rebbe was a little too far. I’m no Lubav, but the LR was a great man, and its just wrong to do that to an image of him.

  • D wrote: its just wrong to do that to an image of him

    Rev Schneerson was indeed a great Rabbi and an amazing leader. The image wasn’t meant to be disrespectful, just poking fun at peaople who think Chabadniks are Martians. They’re not by the way.

  • Perhaps it might be helpful if the shluchim anticipated their potential growth more accurately, and chose their homes to accommodate that. Our Chabad has done an excellent job of building a loyal and growing community here (Northern Virginia), but they also have built a synagogue and school on the land they bought. You can’t beat intelligent planning.

  • I think it is another sign that America is doomed. The irrational militarism of those in power trickles down to the masses.

  • I thought the Rebbe in green was brilliant.

    I think we should have a weekly “Green Jewish Great” corner. We should do the Baba Sali next.

  • One way many Shluchim are dealing with the problem of overcrowding is simply buying a second house and making that the Beit Keneset, often after establishing themselves in the neighborhood.

  • “You can’t beat intelligent planning.”

    Andrew, your shaliach sounds like a diamond in the rough compared to some of the clueless, sheltered, and outrageously insensitive nincompoops Chabad sends out there to represent Religious Judaism to the rest of the world. Shluchim like yours may exist, but I have yet to meet one of them.

    Oh and P.S. — so freaking what if the Rebbe sh”lita is green? this is Jewlicious, not Lubavitch World Headquarters, for christ’s sake (no pun intended). every icon, Jewish or non-Jewish, deserves to get roasted from time to time — and even if he isn’t camped out in a secret underground bunker with Elvis and JFK and really is dead, i’m sure his neshama can handle it.

  • Tisk Tisk Tisk… first we occupy Palestine, now the Hamptons? Why can’t we get it right… let’s occupy Bervery Hills!
    (If you can’t tell that I’m joking, take a deep breath and buy yourself a sense of humour 😉 )

  • I think the green’s too subtle. I barely see it. Don’t think Yoda or Kermit: think “light-saber green.”

    And as for “how irreverent” this really is, did I mention at all during the article that Chabadniks are NOT Martians?

  • I’ve gotten a similar reception in the upscale frum community I moved into (after all, I’m a chabadnik with seven kids, a beard, and don’t use the city-wide eruv…

    That you don’t use the eruv, my friend, is one problem I with which I would have to agree is an issue. You see, I love my Chabad friends – I’ve learned with Chabad rabbis, cared for their (multitudes of) kids, trusted my own kids to be taught by them (although the “all midrashim are true” line caused me to kick some ass), and have prayed with them on Shabbos and High Holy Days too. However, and this is the big however: I cannot support your deeply regrettable refusal to recognize one of the most important rabbinic creations that reflects the truly Jewish tradition of molding the halacha to fit the needs of the people, the eruv. An eruv is the embodiment of the dynamic balance between written Torah, Oral Tradition, and rabinic law. It demonstrates the ability of the halacha to respond to the will of the people to decide to make Shabbat accessible for families while preserving the core restrictions that help to define and protect it. Assuming that the local halachic authorities have declared the eruv kosher, my opinion is that everyone should use it without exception to support the communities decision to create it. And yes, that goes for the mikveh too, my friend.

  • NSN, BTW, I understand the inclination to think everything cute is something I’ve done. But unless told otherwise you should assume on Jewlicious that any image manipulation/brilliance is from the mind of ck.

  • I love it, the idea that some bearded Jews are running around their snooty, waspy, pasty get away, brings a smile to my face. We don’t have all the details, but I would gamble that bearded men in black hats, and the smell of kugel wafting in the air, has them livid

  • Nathan, are you the Conservative convert? Am I confusing you with someone else? That was nicely written.

  • I was looking at the pic before I realized what was different about it and thinking something was different. Then D’ pointed out what I failed to see. The details of the Rebbe’s features actually seem better defined with this coloring.

  • Nathan,

    the difficulty with the laws of eruv is just that- aside for maybe family purity laws, the laws of eruv are some of the most complicated in the Jewish legal system. Add to that the idiosyncratic Chabad hashkafa (legal/philosophical ideology), and it’s not hard to imagine why a Chabad shliach, who has no problem encouraging people to drive over for davening on Shabbos and holidays, may not accept the local rabbinate’s decision on the long string stretched around and over the neighborhood.

    I’m just wondering how the family could afford to move into this posh community. Maybe the International Chabad organization foots the bill…

    Hmmm, the opportunity to live on the ocean for free, in a gigantic house (for kids, davening, and a future school, naturally), and all I have to do is grow a beard, convince my wife to pop out 5-15 kids, and wear a black hat and suit 24/7/365? And host weekly feasts, complete with kegs?

    Wow, people who believe Elvis is still alive don’t even get into Graceland for free. “Yechee Adonenu…”

  • Charles,

    You should let the Man speak. I was trying to
    figure out what he was trying to say. I have
    heard issues “like” what he was talking about
    many, many times. However, that is “like.” Not
    as in “I assume I know what he is talking
    about.”
    Especially the Mikvah issue. It seems very
    unreasonable to oversimplify such an issue. I
    wan’t to use my ears more then my mouth in
    this case. The Man deserves that much
    doesn’t he? Nathan obviously isn’t coming
    across with an “anti” attitude.

  • I live in a city with a small observant community. Sometime on Shabbath I go to this Modern Orthodox shul where the rabbi is Chabbad. In the kiddush they serve the most disgusting Tofu Cream cheese ever made (the one they should serve in Gitmo). When someone asks the rabbi why they serve this “Cream Cheese” he answered “Because it is hard to get a “Chlov Isroel” here. I was thinking to myself , hardly anybody in that shul is shomer shabbas and the rabbi is stringent about cholov Isroel…They (Chabbad) got everything wrong…

    Hey, Eating regular cream cheese Is OK ! driving on shabbath is wrong!

  • yeah Esther,

    I don’t recall seeing a Pic of the Tsadik that made him look so physically tough; actually very impressive, especially considering his physical age at the time.

    The Rebbe’s skin is very pale. So it isn’t always easy to resolve his white beard from his face. Such whiteness isn’t an easy color to see details anyway. With that green I see so many details of his face that I don’t recall ever gazing at. One reason for this is the Rebbe’s beard has never seemed so well resolved from the rest of his face to me.

  • The Cholov Yisroel is kind of a Chassidic thing. It is very anachronistic. It has to do w/ the infighting there used to be w/. the ‘Misnagdsim’ those who opposed Chassidism. Reb Moshe was a strong proponent of not needing to use C.Y., altho he did say it was preferable ( Ba’al Nefesh).
    That’s about it. What they have going for them, is an ability to make people feel really at home and welcome, and very good community and programming skills (adult & children). They offer a sort of non pressured environment, whereas the typical modern Orth. shule prides itself on high levels of learning and public classes, so those who are not able to follow along, should have a place where they feel comfortable.
    Of course, I am prejudiced in support of Chabad, Whilest not a Chabbadnik, I did spend some time at one of their Yeshivot when I was in a very bad period in terms of extreme loneliness, the uninspiring social life of the late 20’s male type of thing, and they offered me a constant place for Shabbos and to hang my hat during the week, at a time when my living conditions were very brutal.
    So I am sure they did alot for me, they do alot for others. This is what is important, not the ‘politics’ part.
    Please try to focus on what is important.
    Shalom,
    Jobber

  • It’s actually quite amuzing for me to hear u guys talk about this place in the Hamptons. I for one, can say that i have been there and theres nothing like being there. If u think about it all that u are discussing is based on one article written in the NYmagazine.Seeing is believing. If you’d ask me the article is very well written and entertaining, but u know what, its also exaggerated and played around with.Did anybody ever tell you, you shouldnt believe everything you hear and read.

  • you shouldn’t believe everything you hear and read

    Of course we shouldn’t. And of course this is all based on one article! I would love to see and believe firsthand what’s going on. That’s why I’m so glad you’re inviting me out to your house in Southampton for an investigative, on-site report. I’ll bring challahs from the city…thanks for having me!

  • actually it’s not my home but knowing the way Chabad welcomes all Jews. You should definitely go visit.

  • Playing around with any picture or image of a Rav/Tzaddik can cause personal damage to the one who does it. Hence, if u wish to prevent any spiritual or physical damage to yourself. I would suggest-and many others would agree to remove this picture imediately and go plead for forgiveness @gravesite of the Holy Lubavitcher Rebbe. @ 226-20 Francis Lewis Blvd. Cambria Heights, New York 11411 Tel:718.723.4545

  • Please Abe,

    Believe me this is not the work of a
    determined foe of Lubavitch. Nor is this Chillul
    Chabad or anything like that…. I don’t answer
    to any shluchim’s office really, but I don’t find
    offense to this. I suggest you look up to youre
    mashpia about this before you start in
    preaching about something that sounds more
    from youre heart then youre head.

  • abe: I am a great fan of the Rebbe. In fact, the article and my image were making fun of people who take offense to the presence of Lubavitchers in their midst. I know that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was a brilliant man. He would immediately understand the fact that I am supporting his followers, albeit in an ironic way, but still. I believe, with complete faith, that the rebbe knows that it wasn’t an insult against him. So I’m not worried.

  • I believe you CK,

    I kind of knew that such folk as abe would come here cackling like that. Unless that is just an image from somebody looking for a fight.

    Lubavitch is a big chasidic group that feels something very intense for the Rebbe. There is a huge spectrum of behaviour with Chabad. Notice that the people chiming in with thier problems about the pic are not the shlulchim like the #5. I am not trying to be an apoligist for folk who lost focus, because I don’t think the pic is much of the point; just trying to put things in perspective.

  • hey i just noticed something else from abe’s post —
    the rebbe’s kever has a… PHONE NUMBER!!!
    HE’S ALIVE AFTER ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    anyone dare me to call him?
    i’ll do it, man, you know i will!!!!!!!!

  • I can confirm that, based on IP addresses, its unlikely that abe and chazermaveth are the same – if it makes you feel better.

  • my opinion is that everyone should use it without exception to support the communities decision to create it.”>

    Whoa there Nathan!

    No one said I don’t support the city-wide eruv. All I said is that I don’t use it. There is a minority opinion in Shulchan Orech that disagrees with part of it, and Chabad, in general, is strict about this. This is a personal chumrah, but not one that I kvetch anyone else about.

    Like any group that has traditions, each group is allowed to have their personal chumrahs, and noone should denigrate someone else for having a personal chumrah.

    As far as the opposite, many people would object to the time-frame that we daven shacharis at. We’re just not strict about it.

  • Izzy,

    I am sure everybody appreciates youre
    response.

    Where I, myself, would especially like to hear
    Nathan out is with regard to the Mikvah.
    I would think Mikvah is a much larger issue.
    We are talking precious shared community
    resources, deep ideology and loyalty
    concerns. Maybe even the C’s and those
    other O’s and all that are getting all mixed up…

    I am sure you are aware that the Mikvah is the
    Kadshay Kadoshim shel Tsibur.

    I am not a direct participant in his community.
    However, I am trying to learn from what the
    people are going through there. Sometimes I
    feel the Chabad house is the new kid in town
    that is as much or more of a bully then
    anybody else; not that we don’t get picked
    on… its just I want to learn to apply my head
    over my heart.

  • I attend services at the Chabad of Southampton.
    First, to straighten out some of the ideas above:
    The green man is not Rabbi Konikov, but a congregant. No one parks on any lawn as there are high curbs all along Hill Street, making that impossible. Hill Street is a major throughfare and it is very wide, with much traffic and lots of room for parking. There’s plenty of parking on Shabbat in front of the very large Catholic Church campus three doors down and the Southampton Village business district a block away. This Chabad house is at the very edge where a residential district becomes a business district. Finally, only a handful of people are behind using the zoning laws to oust the synagogue, some living a mile or more away.
    Next, whatever the zoning board decides, the case will go into appeal from one side or another. It is possible this could make it to the Supreme Court in NY and beyond.
    What makes this case especially interesting is that the Village of Southampton, the oldest in NY, was actually founded for religious freedom and tolerance by Presbyterians who left New England for this purpose. Further, the major clergy of Southampton, both Catholic and Protestant have taken out ads in the local press in support of Chabad and having a synagogue here. The clergy have also made appeals to the zoning board and attended meetings for moral support,etc.
    Additionallt, since I am an artist founding the new art movement of UnGraven Image, which uses the Hebrew letters from the Tanack for every stroke in a painting, I am in a unique position to build Judeo-Christian bridges. The theology UnGraven Image is totally Jewish and stems from Torah, Talmud and Kabbalah. You can see more and read more at my web site. Amazingly, the theology is also Christian, something all the denominations hold true. Through art, we can come together and explore our commonality and love for HaShem. So, I am also happy to report that There are now Christians in Dallas, TX praying for Southampton’s Chabad!
    In recent weekly blog on my web site I spoke of the situation giveing more details of the unity of purpose and freedom and tolerance that this case is actually creating within the community.
    Judy Rey
    UnGraven Image Founder & Artist
    “Changing the way we see the world one picture at a time”

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