Posh Prison Parties Just the Latest Act for Satmar Power Broker

By Nathaniel Popper

Published June 17, 2009, issue of June 26, 2009.
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Long before he managed to organize a lavish bar mitzvah inside a New York City jail, Rabbi Leib Glanz developed a reputation for making things happen within New York’s ultra-Orthodox Satmar community.

“He’s involved in any and every situation,” said Moshe Indig, a Satmar community leader. “You name it, he’s involved in it.”

Those favors caught up with Glanz when the New York Post published a series of articles about the extras that Glanz had given to Jewish inmates in New York City prisons. The most explosive allegation is that Glanz helped a Satmar inmate hold lavish parties inside the Manhattan Detention Center for his son’s bar mitzvah and his daughter’s engagement.

In the wake of the allegations and with a city investigation under way, Glanz resigned his post as a prison chaplain — but he will not have to give up his numerous positions inside the Satmar community, helping religious agencies win money and good will from elected officials. The case shines a spotlight on the internal workings of the Satmar community and the backroom deals that have turned Glanz into such a revered figure in large segments of his community.

“Your average Hasidic person or business just doesn’t have great tools to deal with the outside world effectively,” said Michael Fragin, a Jewish political consultant in New York. “Here’s a guy who can be a very effective advocate.”

Glanz’s background has been somewhat of a mystery since stories emerged about his work as a prison chaplain. An article in The New York Times quoted many city officials who were aware of Glanz’s influence in the prison system, but the article noted that none of the officials “could say from where such power might emanate.” The intrigue was ramped up when news emerged that Glanz had regular meetings with New York’s deputy mayor, Kevin Sheekey.

In fact, Glanz carried a dizzying array of titles in his Satmar community — the largest ultra-Orthodox community in the world — at the same time that he held the city job of prison chaplain. He has been a manager of one of the biggest Satmar real estate projects, while holding leadership roles in two of the largest Satmar social service organizations and leading fundraisers for city officials.

Gershom Schlesinger, another Satmar leader who is close to Glanz, said, “Everyone knows Rabbi Glanz is the most important person in the community.”

While some dispute that description, in the 1980s Glanz was a big deal, leading the central school system for the Satmar community. Glanz left his position as administrator of Brooklyn’s United Talmudical Academy in 2000, under circumstances that remain murky to many observers and that almost no one wanted to discuss.

“It was inside politics,” Indig said.

Glanz did not respond to e-mails requesting comment.

Glanz’s influence is best understood in terms of the divided politics of the movement. Since the death in 2006 of the Satmar Grand Rebbe, Moses Teitelbaum, the Satmar community has been divided between two of Teitelbaum’s sons who claim to be the new chief rabbi.

Glanz initially was affiliated with the younger of these two sons, Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum, who has his power base in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg. After leaving the United Talmudical Academy, Glanz switched his support to the other son, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, whose supporters are based in the upstate New York town of Kiryas Joel.

Some say that Glanz’s affiliation with Aaron Teitelbaum led to trouble for him in his prison chaplain’s job.

“Supposedly, I hear rumors that some of the Zallies were talking against him,” said Isaac Weinberger, an Aaron supporter, using a nickname for Zalman Teitelbaum. “They couldn’t take that he became so powerful on our side, and they wanted to get rid of him.”

Supporters of Zalman vehemently deny this, and reports indicate that the agency that runs the prison chaplaincy was riven by political infighting.

In recent years, though, Glanz has become an increasingly important aide to Aaron Teitelbaum. Schlesinger, a leader in the Aaron faction, said that Glanz has become a Brooklyn emissary for Aaron, who lives upstate.

“He is kind of the ambassador for the rabbi in Williamsburg,” said Schlesinger, who is on the board of a social service organization that is affiliated with Aaron.

Glanz has been central in building up a new infrastructure for Aaron’s community in Brooklyn. At the same time, he has been seen as a political fixer. A number of political insiders said that it was Glanz who arranged last fall for Aaron’s followers to support Daniel Squadron, a young upstart candidate for State Senate who ran against, and eventually beat, a veteran incumbent backed by Zalman’s supporters.

“That was a very shrewd political move on Glanz’s part,” Fragin said. “In the political community, Glanz is a go-to guy. He’s a guy that you want to know — who you gotta know — who will always be helpful.”

But even before his problems as a chaplain, Glanz’s mixture of roles was not working seamlessly. Last year, a new social service organization headed by Glanz and aligned with Aaron won a $205,000 grant from the New York City Council. In the end, the grant was withdrawn because Glanz’s organization had not been set up properly.

Glanz’s position in the midst of these power politics was evident in the scrambling by others to respond to his problems. Most non-Satmar Jewish officials declined to comment on Glanz for fear of offending Satmar leaders. At the same time, the leading ultra-Orthodox umbrella organization, Agudath Israel of America, drafted a letter in support of Glanz.

The draft of the letter, which had not been sent out as of press time, said that Glanz may have crossed lines but that the signatories to the letter “have no doubt that any such improprieties were nothing more than lapses of judgment; and that they emanated from a good place, a heart overflowing with empathy and concern.”

The bar mitzvah that Glanz helped to organize in the Manhattan prison known as the Tombs was for Tuvia Stern, a fellow Satmar adherent who is in jail on charges of bank fraud and fleeing the country.

Glanz was questioned by the New York City Department of Investigation, and his resignation came a day after a longtime Corrections Department chief, Peter Curcio, who was responsible for security in the jails, resigned.

Catered kosher food and silverware were brought into the prison gymnasium, according to press reports, and a popular Hasidic singer performed for the guests. Among Satmar leaders, the bar mitzvah is seen as the highest achievement in a life of helping others.

“It’s the best of the best that any public servant could have done,” Schlesinger said. “The rabbi believes that part of the rehabilitation of an inmate should be a very close family connection — which we all stand for. We are a close-knit community.”

Contact Nathaniel Popper at popper@forward.com

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