OCT 4 2002
The big Satmar Wedding
Edited in part by Chris McKenna, The Times Herald-Record reporter
Kiryas Joel – Visitors poured into this Hasidic village today to begin celebrating the wedding of one of the head rabbi's sons – an event that has riveted the attention of the Satmar Hasidim. The Shabbas prior to the wedding is when the traditional "oyfruf" takes place.
Thousands will gather for the wedding Sunday night in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, at the New York State Armory. But what's also notable is the person who wasn't there.
The wedding is drawing so much attention partly because the groom, 18-year-old Joel Teitelbaum, belongs to a revered family. His grandfather, Moses Teitelbaum, is the current Satmar grand rebbe.
The event has taken on great symbolic significance because of a sharp division within the Satmar community, the largest movement of ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews.
And it now turns out the grand rebbe himself has gone to Miam and won't be attendint the wedding. That absence has stirred controversy and amplified the divide in the sect.
Some Satmars are loyal to the groom's father, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, head of the Kiryas Joel congregation. Others follow Aaron's younger brother, Zalman, who leads the congregation in Williamsburg, home of the Satmar community.
For those who support Aaron, his son's wedding is a joyous moment – and an opportunity to rally around their leader. "It's kind of an opportunity for us to show where we stand and that Aaron is our leader," said one supporter, a longtime Kiryas Joel resident who didn't want to give his name.
Young men have spent months fashioning elaborate decorations for the main synagogue in Kiryas Joel. Two huge, wooden models of violins have been mounted on the front of the shul, flanking a banner with a passage from the Tehillim, or Book of Psalms. Inside, a large crown is suspended from the ceiling in the main sanctuary.
Tonight and tomorrow morning, processions will lead the groom from his father's home on Sanz Court to the synagogue, where prayers will be read. Following tradition, the groom will get an "aliya", and women will throw bundles of candy (known as "peklech) from the balconies.
Aaron's side claims that the wedding itself was planned for Brooklyn to make it easier for the 87-year-old father of the rival rabbis to attend. Zalmen's side sees it as an act of instigation and an intrusion into Zalmen's territory. They belive Aaron is trying to show off and demonstrate how many supporters he has in Zalme's Williamsburg.
But both sides also say the grand rebbe just flew to his vacation home in Miami and won't come to the wedding, although they cast different spins on the significance of his trip.
Aaron's supporters say Zalman and a manipulative aide to the grand rebbe spirited the aging leader away so he couldn't attend the wedding. "It's just tragic that they're not letting him be at the wedding," one supporter said.
But Zalman's side says the grand rebbe is snubbing Aaron because Aaron's supporters are suing in state Supreme Court for control of Zalman's congregation in Brooklyn. "The grand rebbe made it very clear to him that if he's not going to go out of court, then he's not going to go" to the wedding, said Joseph Waldman, an outspoken Kiryas Joel dissident and Zalman supporter.
The wedding begins about 7 p.m. Sunday. Crowds of men will gather inside the armory for cake and drinks, then go outside for an hour-long ceremony.
There, Joel Teitelbaum – whose great-great-uncle and namesake was a Holocaust survivor who brought his followers to Brooklyn in 1947 and later founded Kiryas Joel – will marry Rivka Eichenstein, 18, a rabbi's daughter from Rockland County.
The couple will be wed under a chupa (canopy), and then the guests will return inside the armory for a meal. The evening culminates in hours of dancing. For most of the evening, women guests will be at a nearby banquet hall.
The two Satmar factions give very different predictions of how many people will likely attend, but agree the crowd will number in the thousands.
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