Q. Who are the Satmar Chasidim?
A. Satmar is the largest of the Chasidic sects of Ultra Orthodox Judaism, which began hundreds of years ago in Eastern Europe. Satmar was the name of the town on the Hungarian – Romanian border which was home to Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, first Grand Rabbi of Satmar, for whom the village is named after. Kiryas Joel literally means “Joel’s Village”.
Upon the death of Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum in 1979, the mantle of leadership went to his nephew, the current Grand Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum. His oldest son, Rabbi Aron Teitelbaum currently serves as the Chief Rabbi of Kiryas Joel, overseeing the largest religious school system in Orange County, with over 5,000 students. The private school system, United Talmudical Academy operates educational programs for students from the ages of pre-school to college. The center of religious activity in Kiryas Joel is the synagogue where men pray and study at least three times daily. Prayer and education are lifetime occupations, as well as the many charitable acts for which the Satmar Community is famous.
There are over 100,000 members of the Satmar community worldwide. The largest centers of Satmar communities are in Williamsburg , Boro Park , Queens , Monsey, Monroe , Toronto , Montreal , Buenos Aires , London , Antwerp and throughout Israel.
Q. What is the government structure of Kiryas Joel?
A. The Village of Kiryas Joel is a Municipal Corporation, one of over one thousand such entities operating in New York State. The village was incorporated under the provisions of state and federal law.
The Village elects a mayor and four trustees to govern municipal affairs. The mayor appoints members of the Planning and Zoning Board, as well as the Commissioner of the Kiryas Joel Housing Authority. The mayor and trustees serve a term of four years and meet monthly to do village business.
The Kiryas Joel School District is governed by a five-member board of education, which is elected independently of the village board. In addition, to voting for school board members, the residents of Kiryas Joel have an annual vote to approve the school district budget. The school district operates a public school for handicapped children, as well as, remedial and transportation programs for all eligible students in the community. All programs and services of the school district are operated in accordance with the NY State Education Law.
Q. How does the real estate market operate in Kiryas Joel?
A. Over 90% of the property in the Village of Kiryas Joel is owned by private owners or developers. There is no restriction on who can buy property or who can reside in the community. Currently, the vast majority of the residents are members of the Satmar Chasidic Community, who choose to reside in KJ to be close to family and friends, who share their culture and language. In addition, most of KJ residents rely on the “religious infrastructure” of schools, synagogues, ritual baths and kosher food facilities that are unique to the community and not available in most other parts of the State.
Q. Why is Kiryas Joel growing?
A. Growth in Kiryas Joel is inevitable, based on a variety of factors stemming from the culture of the community. The children of KJ marry at the age of 18-19 and generally have large families, with 6-8 children. The custom is for the brides to stay close to their families and to settle in their community after the wedding. Each year, 150 new households are created. Through this internal growth, the challenge for the elected officials of KJ is to plan for the housing, employment and infrastructure needs of the community.
Q. What is the role of women in Kiryas Joel?
A. Women are treated with the utmost respect and dignity in Kiryas Joel. Though most women are full time home makers, many women are employed in the community and elsewhere, in positions such as sales, office administration and teaching professions. Due to the many precepts of the faith and customs of the culture, the women of KJ dress and behave in a modest way and do not socialize with men, other than their immediate family. This modesty extends to other issues as well, for example, the women of Kiryas Joel and other Satmar women do not drive automobiles. In addition to raising the children, Kiryas Joel women are often the ones who pay the bills, balance the checkbook and organize the home and family.
Q. Why is the percentage of voter turnout so high in Kiryas Joel?
A. The citizens of Kiryas Joel take their participation in the election process very seriously. As a community, they feel an obligation to show their appreciation for individuals who support the community or stand up for the issues and ideals shared by the residents. At times the community has supported Democrats and at other times Republicans, but have generally spoken with one voice to have the greatest impact. The community views voting as a privilege in this country and realizes the importance of electing officials who share their vision for family and community. The so called “bloc vote” that is manifested on election day in KJ is no different then the endorsement made by the teachers union or other labor organizations throughout the Country.
Q. Why did KJ need its own School District to be created?
A. While the overwhelming majority of Kiryas Joel’s school children attend private religious schools, there was a group of children who required services not available in the community. Children who were mentally retarded, autistic, learning disabled, emotionally disturbed or multiply handicapped were entitled to a public education but did not receive one. That changed in 1990 with the creation of the Kiryas Joel Union Free School District, a public school district designed to serve the special needs population of Kiryas Joel.
The school district gained international attention in 1994 when the U.S Supreme Court reviewed a case which focused on the method by which the district was created. On June 27, 1994 the court ruled 6-3 against the legislation which created the district, but a majority of the court held there was no constitutional prohibition of a school district in KJ. Merely, the means to create the district had to be neutral and non sectarian. With that directive, the NY State Legislature created a series of new legislation that broadened the criteria for more municipalities to create school districts for the educational needs of their communities.
Today, the Kiryas Joel School District operates free of any legal challenge and provides valuable educational and therapeutic services to over 250 children from birth to age 21. For its innovative and successful programs over the past decade, the school district has earned the respect of education professionals, both across the County and around the country.