Monsey Memories: The Belzer Rebbe’s Visit in 1981

Monsey Memories: The Belzer Rebbe’s Visit in 1981

Yitzy Fried  

This week’s Monsey Memories takes us back to the spring of 1981, when the Belzer Rebbe visited the Monsey community—an event that was covered in the local papers as we read in The Journal News in March of 1981.

Guarded by state troopers and mounted police, a grand rabbi waded through a sea of jubilant Hasidic supporters in Rockland Monday and then returned to Brooklyn. Grand Rabbi Yisucher Dov Rokeach, leader of the Belz sect of Hasidic Jews, spent several hours in Rockland’s Hasidic communities, meeting with heads of other congregations and greeting hundreds of his own followers.

Preceded by honking horns and police sirens, Rokeach was engulfed by supporters at a Belz synagogue in Monsey, where ecstatic Hasidim, some tracking his progress with two-way radios, clapped hands, chanted songs and pressed against his rented limousine in a driveway.

At one point, his followers scampered across lawns and drove cars through backyards, hoping to catch a closer glimpse of the 33-year-old grand rabbi from Israel. “It’s hard to explain the experience of a Hasidic Jew being with his rabbi,” said Rabbi Halberstam, a Belz spokesman traveling with Rokeach.

Later, Rokeach met with leaders of the county’s two other major Hasidic sects, Vishnitz in Monsey, and Skvera, in the village of New Square. The various sects stem from Hasidic dynasties begun in the 1700’s, each taking their names from towns in Eastern Europe and developing sometimes varied interpretations of orthodox Jewish law.

Rokeach, 33, wrapped in a mink-lined brown coat, said nothing as his followers clapped their hands in welcome and clambered upon car hoods for a better look.  On Monday, the Hasidim swelled in large crowds, pushing and shoving as the entourage neared 14 Roman Blvd., a Monsey ranch home converted to a Belz synagogue.

As many as 100 Rockland families support the Belz leader, observers said, and Rokeach was surrounded by a crush of men and young boys in the synagogue basement. There, he offered blessings and gave the children shirayem, cookies made of wheat and flour.

Shortly after 4:30 p.m., Rokeach left New Square for the Hasidic community of Klausenberg in Union City, N.J., before returning to Brooklyn.


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