Controversy Swirls Among Satmars Over Drowned Businessman — Even as Politicians Pay Respects

Amid growing tensions over the burial of drowned Satmar leader Yitzchok Rosenberg, elected officials are streaming to memorial gatherings for the Brooklyn businessman.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams have both attended the shiva gatherings for Rosenberg, the president of the central religious organization in Brooklyn of the followers of Grand Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum of Kiryas Joel, New York.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio sent a close aide, community liaison Pinny Ringel, to the shiva as his representative.

A real estate developer and owner of a construction supply business, Rosenberg endured a spate of legal problems in the late 1990s, which culminated in his testimony at a federal trial in 2001 that he had laundered money through a Satmar yeshiva for a strip club’s attorney. Yet Rosenberg reemerged in the mid-2000s as an important Satmar leader in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with great influence over the neighborhood’s powerful voting bloc.

Rosenberg drowned May 17 in Miami Beach, Florida after he and four other Hasidic men were caught in a riptide.

Tensions have heightened in the insular Orange County, New York community of Kiryas Joel, in the days since Rosenberg’s death, where local press have reported clashes over the location chosen for Rosenberg’s grave. According to a May 20 report on News12, a local television station, scuffles marred Rosenberg’s funeral, as some Satmar community members disputed the decision to bury him near the grave of Grand Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the founder of the Satmar community in America and the uncle of Aaron Teitelbaum and his brother Zalman, each of whom currently claim to lead the sect.

The reporter who produced the News12 story, Blaise Gomez, said on Twitter that she received threats after her report aired.

The Daily News reported in 2001 that Rosenberg had testified in federal court about laundering money through a Satmar school he helped run. In 1995, when he had been a board member of a Satmar yeshiva in Brooklyn, Rosenberg accepted $100,000 in checks made out to the yeshiva from a lawyer for a strip club. He had then written checks from the yeshiva to his lumber company, and used the lumber company to give $95,000 in cash back to the lawyer. He kept a $5,000 cut.

That cash was eventually given to the mob boss John Gotti as a payoff. Rosenberg told the court he had not been aware of the mafia’s role in the transaction.

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In the years after his testimony, Rosenberg remained an influential member of the Satmar community. Following the 2006 split between the followers of Grand Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum and his Brooklyn-based brother, the Grant Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum, Rosenberg emerged as a leader of the so-called Aronites. He helped construct the Aronite’s new synagogue in Williamsburg, and was a founder of their new yeshiva system, called the Central United Talmudical Academy.

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or on Twitter, @joshnathankazis.

Author

Josh Nathan-Kazis

Josh Nathan-Kazis

Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.

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Controversy Swirls Among Satmars Over Drowned Businessman — Even as Politicians Pay Respects

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