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For most Brooklyn school children, Labor Day was the last day of summer vacation. But for children of the Satmar Hasidic tradition who don’t celebrate secular holidays, it was the first day of school.
And for the more than 4,000 students of the Central United Talmudical Academy of Williamsburg, the start of the academic year meant a brand-new school building. On Monday, the student body and many Satmar leaders marched down Wythe Avenue to the new school, which is located on Wythe Avenue between Penn and Rutledge streets.
They were joined in the march by Rabbi Aaron Teitlebaum, who is embroiled in a dispute with his brother Zalman over who should inherit the title of Grand Rebbe from their father, Grand Rebbe Moshe Teitlebaum. The dispute has bitterly divided the Satmar community, with schools and social service organizations divided among those who support either brother.
For the past two years, students at the all-boys’ school – whose students range from two-year-olds to ninth-graders – were housed in a temporary location on Flushing and Wythe Avenue while leaders looked for ways to accommodate the school’s rapidly growing enrollment.
Six months ago, administrators closed on a deal to purchase the new space – a six-story, 150,000-square-foot building that has housed various manufacturers since it was constructed in 1910 – for $16 million. Renovations to the vacant building cost $17 million.
The money was raised through private donations, which included a $5 million donation from Rabbi Shaya Volf Lev, a Satmar leader in London and one of the wealthiest members of the Satmar movement.
The new building includes 120 classrooms, a large auditorium, two large lunchrooms, the medium-sized lunchrooms, and two wedding halls. The wedding halls will be free of charge for community members to host the arranged marriages of the Satmar tradition.
Last year, a $5 million school for Satmar girls opened at Sandford Street between Park and Myrtle Avenues.
The curriculum in Satmar boys’ schools revolves around intense study of the Talmud, or the collection of Jewish law. Before the third grade, the focus is solely on religious studies, according to Rabbi Leib Glantz, Executive Vice President of United Jewish CARE, a social service organization affiliated with Rabbi Aaron Teitlebaum.
In third grade, secular studies – including mathematics and the Satmar boys’ first brush with English, their second language to Yiddish – enter the curriculum, though science is not taught, Glantz said.
Glantz said the girls’ curriculum includes more secular studies.
“Traditionally, men are more obligated to spend time on Talmudic studies,” he explained.
“There are a lot of laws, so there’s a lot of learning to do – there’s no easy way out. The more you learn, the better you are. Everyone wants to reach the level of knowing the Torah,” he said.
“[The Torah] is what we live for, it’s our life. This is our tradition from the day God gave the Torah at Mount Sinai. It’s the most important tradition in our life, and everything else is secondary.”
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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