Satmar war camps
Dems take sides in Jewish bro battle
New York Post
by Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein
May 6, 2012
It’s a camp firestorm. Four upstate Jewish summer camps are the latest battleground between warring Hasidic brothers and two prominent Brooklyn pols are helping them slug it out.
On one side is Brooklyn Democratic boss and Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who is going to bat for Zalman Teitelbaum. The rabbi was designated the leader of the Satmar Hasidic sect by his late father, Grand Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum.
On the other is Rep. Nydia Velazquez, a Democrat whose district was just redrawn to include Hasidic Williamsburg. She is backing Teitelbaum’s older brother, Aaron, who wants to control half the camps.
Velazquez, who’s been in Congress since 1993, faces a tough primary challenge from close Lopez ally and City Councilman Erik Dilan. It’s a fight where every vote counts, even if the candidates have to campaign 100 miles north of Brooklyn.
Both sides have made appeals to Ulster County Executive Mark Hein, whose administration must decide who will get the permits to operate the lucrative summer camps. Lopez even paid Hein a visit last month.
“I have jurisdiction here, and I have a right to participate, and I will,” Lopez said, insisting he’s in the fight for the kids, not the votes.
Hein refused repeated requests from The Post for comment.
For years the camps, attended by some 3,800 children from New York City, were controlled by the Zalman faction, known as the Zalis.
But this year, Aaron Teitelbaum’s followers, the Aaronies, filed for a permit with Ulster County to run at least some of the camps.
“This is an attempt to sort of embarrass one side by the other side and not at all to deal with the issues impacting the young kids,” Lopez told The Post.
He blamed Velazquez for starting the fight. “She’s taken a minority position and maybe she might even win. Is that a smart political decision? You add up the numbers,” Lopez said.
At stake are some 8,000 votes. Most of the Satmars in Williamsburg are Zalis, and they vote as a bloc. Lopez has long linked himself with the Zalis, making it nearly impossible for Velazquez to secure their support.
“The Zalman faction controls two-thirds of the vote. She’s after the other third,” noted one political observer.
Velazquez supports splitting the summer camps, which cost about $650 per family, so the Zalis and Aaronies get two each to control.
“The congresswoman contacted the county executive to urge that a fair, equitable solution be reached which satisfies all parties’ interests and ensures all the children may enjoy this facility,” a spokesman for the congresswoman said.
The camp war is the latest power struggle in the biblical battle between the brothers, which dates to 1999, when the Grand Rebbe picked Zalman to head his Williamsburg synagogue. He left his older son, Aaron, in charge of the synagogue in Kiryas Joel, an upstate town of Satmars.
The Grand Rebbe died in 2006, and a Satmar court ruled that Teitelbaum’s will left the empire to Zalman. That meant he was in charge of a sect that now numbers some 100,000 people in New York, mostly in Brooklyn, and real estate worth some $372 million.
But Aaron never accepted the division, and court battles ensued. The state’s high court in 2007 ruled that it was a matter for the Satmars to work out among themselves.