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The Rebbe’s Bakery

Meir Wolfson

“Every single chumrah that can possibly exist in industrial matzoh production, I have instituted in my bakery,” Rav Yoel Teitelbaum of Satmar once declared. In Williamsburg today, that same bakery is still in operation, and Reb Yoelish’s spirit is evident in the precision and care invested in the 215,000 pounds of matzos it produces. In a rare conversation, the community secretary shares the storied history of the bakery, painting a vibrant portrait of its illustrious founder.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

To anyone who has attended a wedding in New York during the past few years, the street names in Williamsburg are familiar enough: Bedford, Rodney, Lee, Hewes (or Heves, as it’s pronounced here, with a Hungarian lilt). But passing through those streets at night while scooting in and out of the neighborhood for a wedding, you hardly get a feel for the local color. During the day, everything looks different. On a crisp, wintry morning, people amble about on foot, a reflection of the simpler way of life. At 10:30, tardy children contend with the freezing temperatures as their mothers rush them off to school, encountering some work-bound men on their way.

Surprisingly, what seemed to be an innocent interview about a matzoh bakery can only commence after several days of clandestine, almost cloak-and-dagger maneuvering. Even now, while driving to an elusive address, it’s not clear where we are headed. “Go to 150 Rodney street,” were the instructions, “and you’ll meet with Reb Yida Lazer Jacobowitz.”

The intense distaste for media exposure that was one of the trademarks of Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, the first Satmar Rav, has never left this community. In fact, while the minivans and SUVs that line the streets are definitely not relics of his era, not much else has changed since the Rebbe’s days — and that is matter of choice that locals are proud of. Still, media-shyness aside, community members are friendly and full of Yiddishe chein (charm). As we stop to ask for directions to the matzoh bakery at 150 Rodney, several people rush over to offer assistance. One fellow proceeds to list the addresses of every matzoh bakery in Williamsburg to try to guide us to our destination. Confused, we ask for 150 Rodney nonetheless, and are guided towards an aging structure dwarfed by the neighboring building, an imposing structure that houses the Satmar Beis Medrash — one of the largest in the world — where the founder of the chassidus, the Divrei Yoel, ztz”l, and his successor, the Beirach Moshe, ztz”l, davened, and now under the leadership of Rav Zalman Leib Teitelbaum of Satmar, shlita. The decidedly more modest building before us, I belatedly learn, is the world headquarters of Satmar.

The young girl at the front desk shows surprise at the sight of the “outsiders,” but when she hears that we’re there to meet with Reb Yida Lazer Jacobowitz, she picks up her phone and murmurs into it. Reb Yida Lazer rushes out to greet us, quickly pulling us past all other office workers before we cause a stir. Once inside his office, Reb Yida Lazer relaxes and greets us. He’s not curt, just cautious about the commotion a journalist and photographer can cause.

Welcome to the world of Satmar, where everyone is welcome — but please don’t take pictures.

 

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