Plans for Kiryas Skver in Doubt


skverer-rebbeThe following are excerpts of a report in The Forward: Campers and families evacuated a Catskills-area lodge that was cited by the New York State Department of Health for numerous safety violations, just hours ahead of a judge’s deadline. The exodus on the afternoon of August 9 from the Machne Bnos Skver  girls’ camp, at the site of the former Homowack Lodge in Sullivan County, N.Y., ended one chapter in the ongoing struggle between local officials and Skver, which operates the camp.

But the controversy over the site will no doubt continue. Skver has long-term plans to build a new town on the 450-acre resort nestled in a quiet, green valley just south of the state Catskill Park. It’s unclear what effect, if any, the public controversy over the camp’s decrepit condition will have on those plans. What is clear is that the episode has heightened tensions between Skver and their Sullivan County neighbors. In addition to growing scrutiny, the property owners now face potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines related to alleged health and environmental violations.

Beyond a simple land dispute, the standoff at Homowack reflects a larger conflict between year-round Sullivan County residents and the tens of thousands who visit the area each summer. Some residents complain that Skver has received kid-glove treatment from local officials; many chassidim, meanwhile, believe they have been unfairly targeted.

“This summer gave us a setback,” said Jodi Goodman, a Sullivan County legislator who created a working committee nine years ago to improve relations between local residents and summer visitors, who can double or triple the rural county’s population. She said the Homowack situation was an anomaly. “The truth is, we don’t get that many complaints,” she said. “There are hundreds of other  camps and bungalow colonies that do a magnificent job.”

The Skverer community bought the former Homowack resort in 2006. The sprawling property, a former Catskills hotspot that had fallen into disuse, included a golf course, a main lodge and about 20 out-buildings (one of which burned to the ground this summer in a suspected arson).

At first, the chassidim operated Homowack as a kosher resort hotel, but the owners soon revealed bigger plans. Skverpublished and circulated a 12-page brochure in 2007 describing a village called Kiryas Skver that would rise on the bucolic site.

“We are talking about creating a city from scratch,” the booklet says, “building an infrastructure costing tens of millions of dollars, setting up a Talmud Torah, a girls’ school, a yeshiva, kollelim, a beis medrash, a mikvah and other mosdos, as well as a shopping center, health center, etc.”

In August of 2007, an estimated 10,000 chasisidm gathered at the Homowack site for a celebratory dedication of the new town. The planned Kiryas Skver would be a twin community to the current shtetel of New Square, and not merely an economic undertaking but an enterprise of the greatest spiritual significance.

Spiritual significance aside, neighbors were more concerned about what a new town would mean for their property values

“It was not zoned for all this,” said Anita Altman, who owns property adjacent to the Homowack resort and who organized a group of local residents opposed to Kiryas Skver and other proposed developments in the area. “What they want to do contradicts the goal of the master plan of the town, which is to remain a rural community.”

Skver purchased the Homowack property because they are outgrowing the town of New Square, founded in 1961 in Rockland County, N.Y. The village has served as a haven and a fortress against outside influence, and its population has grown to 6,461 in 2008, according to U.S. Census estimates, up 40% since 2000.

New Square was created to preserve “traditional Torah values, devotion to religious studies, a sense of modesty – to disconnect from what the modern world is offering in terms of ideology and popular culture,” said Mayer Schiller, a spokesman for the Skver community. Schiller said the best way he knows to explain to outsiders the extent of New Square’s separation from the modern world is this: “There is a school with 1,000 boys there, and not one of them knows who Michael Jordan is.”

The 12-page brochure circulated in Sullivan County envisioned Kiryas Skver as the culmination of New Square’s growth. But, it noted, “stringent new environmental and other regulations” would have to be met.

The Skverers, however, soon ran into regulatory trouble. This summer, camp operators never obtained the proper permits for the summer camp from the town or the state. A heating oil spill July 9 resulted in charges from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and brought the camp to the attention of other regulators.

The state Department of Health cited the camp on July 14 for “numerous, persistent and serious violations,” including inoperable fire alarms, pervasive mold and water running over electrical boxes, and asked camp operators to evacuate the roughly 300 children and adults. They ignored the request. Then, on July 24, the health department issued a mandatory order of evacuation. Again, the camp operators ignored the state and stayed put. Finally, Sullivan County Judge Burton Ledina ordered the camp closed. One hour before Ledina’s deadline of 5 p.m. August 9, according to the Times Herald-Record newspaper, school buses and a moving van pulled out of the property. Campers were reportedly sent to a nearby resort owned by Bobov for the few weeks remaining in the summer.

The camp may now be empty, but hard feelings remain on both sides. Letters to the editor in the local paper show frustration. “What do we get from the Hasidim? Trouble… only trouble!” wrote Michael Keane in the Times Herald-Record.

Meanwhile, the week before the camp shut down, Altman said she received a late-night phone call from a man claiming to be from the camp who yelled at her, “You made us homeless, it’s all your fault.”

Altman, who is Jewish, said one of her biggest fears with the Homowack standoff is that it would worsen tensions between summer visitors and local residents, who are mostly non-Jewish.

“My big concern has been that we don’t unleash a kind of antisemitism,” she said.

This summer’s battle may be the death knell for Skver’s grand plans in Sullivan County. The July 9 oil spill resulted in Department of Environmental Conservation charges that together carry maximum fines of more than $100,000. The camp may face more charges, and possible fines, over the alleged violations detailed by the health department. And separately, Skver is on the hook for a tax bill of more than $100,000 for failing to pay hotel occupancy taxes in 2007 and 2008.

Throughout, Skver has remained mostly silent. The attorney representing Skver in its recent Sullivan County court dates, Perry Meltzer, said through his assistant that he does not speak to the media. Calls to New Square Deputy Mayor Yisroel Spitzer seeking comment on the plans for the Homowack site went unreturned. No public listings exist for Machne Bnos Skver, the name of the girls’ camp. The only listed number for the Homowack Lodge has been disconnected.

Schiller said he has not heard anything more about Kiryas Skver since the dedication ceremony, and he does not know what current plans are.

Goodman, the local legislator, said she hasn’t seen any official plans for developing the site.

“Whether they had plans, I think that has been rolled back because they have this dinosaur [the aging Homowack property] to deal with,” Goodman said. “Did they go into this with bad intentions? No, I think they just bit off more than they can chew.”


  1. You wrote, “The Skverer community bought the former Homowack resort in 2006. The sprawling property, a former Catskills hot spot that had fallen into disuse, included a golf course, a main lodge and about 20 out-buildings (one of which burned to the ground this summer in a suspected arson).”

    The Homowack had not “fallen into disuse.” We were there for 2 or 3 Shabbosim in 2006 before Skver bought it. We were also there for the first days of Succos in 2007. True, the number of people going to the Homowack had decreased over the years before Skver bought it, but it was not in disuse.

    I had occasion to be at the old Homowack this July. When I walked through the main entrance, I was shocked. Ceiling tiles were all over the place. When I tried to get to the shul from the lobby, I encountered water on the floor and damage due to neglect everywhere. Finally, I went around to the side and entered what was the shul. There was no running water and the bathrooms were not usable!

    I asked someone there what was going on. He replied, “This was a mistake.”

    It was not the Homowack that fell into disuse. It was its successor, the Spring Glen Hotel (which Skver named it), that fell into disuse.

    Skver is the one who seems to have let the Homowack deteriorate into what I can only describe as a disaster.


  2. Skver is a great place to be “FRIM” and insulated from the outside world. A lot of people dream that they can follow such a path.
    I hope they learn from this fiasco how to interact with the local governments and others in a more civil manner.

  3. Let them build Kiryas Skver in Eretz Yisrael. In my humble opinion, investing millions in golus America at this time in our history is sheer folly. It is no way to demonstrate our Emunah that the final geula is imminent.

    Perhaps this is the message that the Ribbono Shel Olam is sending us with this “Homowack” affair: “Yidden, no more digging ever deeper into your ‘wonderful’ American golus. Your love affair with America has now got to end!”

    The signs pointing to this message seem to be everywhere. As Rabbi Lazer Brody wrote: President Obama is “quickly teaching our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora that there’s no place like home, and home is here in the Holy Land of Emuna, Eretz Yisrael.”

  4. Any institution that chooses that American laws apply only to Non-Jews do not deserve any consideration for future growth opportunities. Skver willingly chose to blow off the very simple and logical regulations in place to protect human life. They do not deserve a second chance.

  5. All that I know is that New Square is a beautiful exemplary town and community. I myself was privileged to visit there a number of times, to be hosted by some of its residents, to have a number of consultations with their rebbe, Rav Dovid Twersky, Sh’lita, and to witness some of their awesome celebrations of Shabbos and the Yom Tov of Sukkos.

    Their “separation from the modern world is,” as Mr. Schiller explained: “to disconnect from what the modern world is offering in terms of ideology and popular culture.”‘ This obviously means to “disconnect” from the ideologies of atheism and secularism, and the popular corrupt cultures of wild rock music, drug addiction, and blatant immorality that “the modern world is offering.” Violent crime, gang wars, drug trafficking, and other low street life — problems that plague modern metropolitan areas and sap the resources of urban law enforcement agencies –Boruch HaShem are absent from New Square.

    Oh, by the way, to emphasize their total respect for and appreciation of our country, all of the streets in New Square are named after the American presidents, with the two main streets being: “Washington Avenue” and “Roosevelt Avenue”!

    Now, with “Square #2” — what went wrong? I do not know! All that I know is the story I read here. However, we can and should well assume that a good part of the “mistake” was the following.

    My parents and I actually stayed at the Homowack lodge in the early 1980’s. It certainly was a really beautiful place.
    The buildings were of modern architecture, not “brand” new, but “newish” looking. (They were first built in 1945, with renovations in 1990. See: Now, in 2009, more than 25 years latter, they are understandably aging. When Skver bought the property, they probably realized that for their new community, these buildings will eventually need to be replaced. So they probably figured that it would not be wise to put a lot of financial resources into them, and thus came the mistakes and blunders of maintenance neglect and sloppy management.

    Whatever wrong things they did though:


    The neighboring residents — totally rightfully — do not want to loose their quiet country life. B’Ezras HaShem, we should say the following to them and their representatives. Take a trip to the current New Square; see that it is a very quiet orderly law abiding community of old fashioned people where life is the way “things used to be.” Now, the residents may have further legitimate concerns about zoning standards, again to preserve their quiet country style life.