Of all the imbalances between the Hasidim and their neighbors, few are more fundamental than this. One group is fighting for the land on which they expect their children to become grandparents within walking distance from the shul. The other is negotiating the terms of their children’s exit.
Nathan Glauber, the young Satmar Hasidic man who was killed with his pregnant wife and their unborn child when a speeding driver slammed into their taxi in Williamsburg in February, was originally from Rockland County and had only moved to Brooklyn, where his new wife’s family lived, to be married. A few days after his death, a Hasidic acquaintance called and asked if I wanted to go to the shiva at Glauber’s father’s house in Monsey; he thought I’d understand the community better if I saw it under stress. I showed up the next day in Glauber’s father’s living room, wearing a $4 yarmulke I’d bought a few hours before.
It was six days after the accident, and Glauber still had a glazed, spacey look, and he kept up a slow, stop-and-start monologue in Yiddish. After the accident, he explained, the police had sent his son’s cell phone to him. He had not wanted it at first—it was almost too intimate an object; Nathan Glauber had used it to call both his mother and father each day, had asked each how the other was doing—but eventually he had taken it. There were a dozen or so men sitting with Glauber, not close friends, just other Hasidim. They passed around the letter that Nathan Glauber had written his parents on the morning of his wedding day. Someone had already encased it in glass. “In these imminent, joyous, and highly spiritual moments of life, when I’m headed to the chuppa to begin my own family,” Nathan had written, “I feel a sting in my heart that I’m already leaving your warm home.”
The Glauber family had been buried together in Kiryas Joel, the Satmar homestead, and at the funeral there had been a mass of hundreds of Satmar black hats. A religious ambulance squad had carefully scissored the bloody fabric away from the seat of the gypsy cab so that the Glaubers could be buried whole, together with their bodily fluids. Another organization had sent chairs to the family home, and food, and scrolls. That there had been so many mourners did not forestall the grief. Still, all this support provided a story that could be told about why separatism was worth it. It was the same story the men at the shiva were telling one another as they passed around Glauber’s letter—about the ferocious attachments among the Hasidim, their special stability and unbreakability. There was a great deal that this story left out. But in it there was the promise of something permanent: a community.