New York (Mar. 4)
— Rabbi Yisochur Dov Rokeach, the Belzer rebbe, arrived here from Israel yesterday under heavy security guard because of reported threats to his life. But a violent street confrontation between his followers and members of the rival Satmar Hasidic sect did not materialize during the reception held for the rebbe last night in a public school auditorium in the heavily Orthodox Boro Park section of Brooklyn.
Rokeach, 33, the only surviving descendant of the founder of the movement in Belz, Russia, 200 years ago, will spend two weeks here visiting schools, synagogues and social agencies run by his followers. In a statement read to reporters by an aide, he said his visit, the first in eight years, was occasioned by the 30th anniversary of Belz institutions in the U.S.
“My prayers are to the Almighty that this convention will result in the uniting of all groups of Torah Orthodox Judaism,” he said.
The threats against Rokeach, allegedly from members of the Satmar movement, were responsible for the most extensive security precautions taken for any foreign visitor in recent years. The rebbe and his entourage were met at Kennedy Airport by bullet-proof limousines assigned by Mayor Edward Koch to whisk them to Boro Park with a police motorcycle escort.
As early as yesterday morning, police barriers were already in place in streets near the private home where the rebbe is staying and the city’s blue-and-white police cars were conspicuous all over the neighborhood.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE BELZER, SATMAR
Last night, more than 300 police surrounded the public school where the rebbe appeared. Earlier, the building had been searched by the bomb squad. The reason was the extreme bitterness between the Belzer and Satmar Hasidim who differ not only on points of theology but in their attitude toward Israel.
The Belzer support the Israeli government and receive subventions from it for their institutions in Israel. They are Zionists but insist that Israel must become a “religious state.” The Satmar also have a community in Israel but refuse to recognize the government or accept support from it. They are anti-Zionist and contend that there can be no legitimate Jewish state until the advent of the Messiah.
Last Sunday night, some 600 Satmar followers surrounded a Belzer synagogue in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn for three hours, pelting it with rocks, bottles and curses until police forced them to disperse and extricated some 75 Belzer worshippers inside. There were no injuries or arrests.
Anonymous telephone calls to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and other news media over the weekend claimed that the Belzer rebbe might be “hit” by criminal elements allegedly engaged by the Satmar. Hebrew and Yiddish graffitti heaping scorn on the Belzer rebbe appeared on walls and pavements in Williamsburg. Leaflets denouncing the rebbe were distributed in the diamond trade district in midtown Manhattan where many Hasidim are employed.
The City Administration took the threats seriously. Security arrangements were planned last week at the behest of the Belzer community leaders who met with Koch and Police Commissioner Robert McGuire at Gracie Mansion. Koch reportedly issued a stern warning to Satmar leaders to control their followers. The Mayor’s office later denied this.
But Rabbi Leiblisch Lewkovitz, president of the International Satmar community, issued a statement saying that “Despite our philosophical differences we believe it is everyone’s right to visit our city in a peaceful manner.”