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Hasidic Bloomingburg Is Still Growing, Even After F.B.I. Arrests Its Builder

A few months ago, real estate developer Shalom Lamm’s attempt to grow a Hasidic shtetl in Bloomingburg, New York, collided with a brick wall.

Federal agents arrested Lamm and two colleagues, charging them with conspiring to corrupt village elections in Bloomingburg. In a single morning, years of careful planning and delicate maneuverings seemed to have been spoiled.

Yet the fledgling Hasidic community in the village isn’t going quietly.

Just days ago, scores of young Hasidic boys marched down the village’s Main Street to celebrate the opening of a local yeshiva, situated in a converted warehouse on the outskirts of the tiny downtown.

When a Forward reporter visited the warehouse in late November, it was a gutted shell. Today, it’s ready to receive students.

“People feel so enthusiastic,” said Moshe Meisels, a Hasidic resident who has been living in Bloomingburg for just over a year. “Like it’s going to happen. It’s happening.”

The yeshiva opening was presided over by Zalman Teitelbaum, the grand rebbe of the Satmar Hasidic sect. Teitelbaum, whose community is based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has been a champion of the Bloomingburg development. Many of the new Hasidic residents are members of Teitelbaum’s sect, and the new yeshiva will operate under his auspices.

In a video of the yeshiva dedication ceremony, dozens of boys sing to Teitelbaum, who mounts a makeshift dais in the school’s large lunchroom.

Meisels said that Teitelbaum’s visit to Bloomingburg, which lasted nearly a week, was an affirmation and morale-booster for the community. “The people were so happy,” he said. “It was wonderful.”

Meisels says that the upcoming Passover holiday will mark the first time that almost a hundred Hasidim have celebrated a Jewish festival in the village.

The rebbe’s visit came after months of uncertainty inspired by Lamm’s arrest. In federal indictments, prosecutors charged Lamm and two colleagues, Kenneth Nakdimen and Volvy Smilowitz, with trying to rig the village’s 2014 mayoral elections in a cash-for-voters scam. The alleged plot arose after the village’s planning board voted to block their projects.

Lamm and his co-defendants are awaiting trial. Meisels said that on the day of a March hearing, community members prayed for Lamm.

Meanwhile, local opponents of the development are keeping up their efforts. A new lawsuit filed by the town of Mamakating, which encompasses Bloomingburg, seeks to pause construction on Lamm’s main development project, called Chestnut Ridge.

Locals have also objected to a plan to turn to townhouses at Chestnut Ridge into a temporary community center, according to the Times Herald-Record, a local paper that has covered the Bloomingburg controversy closely.

In local elections in March, incumbent village trustee Aaron Rabiner, who is Hasidic, defeated a write-in challenger.

“I think we’ve got years to go,” said Holly Roche, founder of the Rural Community Coalition, a group that has opposed the development. “I have no idea how it’s going to turn out…. All I hope is that the community that is there after all of the big deal implodes, are people that can get along.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at [email protected]

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