The History of the Kiryas Yoel Cemetery


kiryas-yoel-cemeteryBack on Sunday morning, 26 Av, 5739 (August 19, 1979), the worldwide Satmar Kehillah, as well as all of world Jewry, was deeply pained to learn that the unblemished holy soul of Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, zt”l (1886-1979), greatly revered Satmar Rebbe and author of Divrei Yoel, had returned to heaven.

The sad tidings of the Rebbe’s passing spread quickly. Radio news broadcasts announced it every 10 minutes.  Preparations were quickly made to accommodate an anticipated large crowd.  Decisions had to be made as to where to inter the Rebbe, where to conduct the funeral, who will eulogize, and who will succeed.  As the Rebbe had no surviving living offspring, left no will, nor any indication clearly identifying his successor, every decision bore the heavy weight of one of the world’s largest kehillos.

The Rebbe’s (then) 65-year-old nephew, Rav Moshe Teitelbaum, Sigeter Rav and son of the Satmar Rebbe’s older brother, Rav Chaim Zvi Teitelbaum, zt”l (1880-1926), Sigeter Rav and author of Atzei Chaim, was the closest male relative and clearly the most likely heir to lead the huge following that the Satmar Rebbe had attained. The Sigeter Rav, however, was in Miami at the time of the Rebbe’s passing and was on his way to New York City to participate in the funeral, and was unavailable for immediate consultation.

A plot of land in Monroe was then designated to serve as the cemetery for the Kiryas Yoel community.  The land was quickly cleared of trees and the main shul in Kiryas Yoel was selected as the site of the funeral.  In anticipation, thousands of chassidim began to converge at the shul. People came from all over the greater New York City Metropolitan Area, the Catskills, Lakewood, Montreal, Toronto, and from as far away as Miami and Los Angeles.

The roads leading to Kiryas Yoel were teeming with traffic until State Troopers completely closed the roads. People simply parked their cars as far away as Route 17, the adjacent highway, and walked several miles. Ultimately, more than 125,000 people had gathered. The Sigeter Rav had chartered a plane and arrived in Kiryas Yoel by helicopter.

 Tears flowed copiously. Each individual in the huge crowd cried profusely, for himself and all of Jewry’s great loss.  After the eulogies, masses of people accompanied the aron to the newly designated cemetery. The crowd filled the cleared field and the loud wailing was overwhelming as the beloved Rebbe was slowly lowered into his final resting place.

As Rav Ezriel Glick, a faithful gabbai, tearfully recited Kaddish many awaited some word as to succession of leadership.  As the Rebbe was buried alone in the new and empty cemetery, a minyan was maintained at his gravesite, 24 hours a day, until a second newly-deceased person was interred there. A week later the entire scene was almost completely reenacted with the unveiling of the tombstone.

Several months after the Rebbe’s passing, the Sigeter Rav was asked to assume the mantle of the Satmar Kehillah. The Sigeter Rav was anointed as president of the Badatz, Yerushalayim, as was his uncle before him.   Reluctantly, he accepted but deferred the Ravnic coronation until the first yahrzeit. At that time, many important Chassidishe Rebbes, Ravs, and personalities were present, including the entire Badatz of Yerushalayim

For the first year, he was known as the Sigeter-Satmar Rebbe but as the Chassidim accepted the reality that their holy leader was no longer with them, the Sigeter Rav became Satmar Rebbe.

 The cemetery in Kiryas Yoel adjoins the Satmar Yeshiva in Monroe. The yeshiva represents the crown of the Rebbe’s legacy and has been led since by Rav Aaron Teitelbaum, son of the Sigeter Rav and (then) appointed Kiryas Yoel Rav.  Almost 1,000 students presently learn, eat, and sleep there.


Kiryas Yoel Cemetery Enlarged

On Wednesday, Erev Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the administrations of the Satmar Kehillah in Kiryas Yoel and the Chevra Kadisha, ceremoniously annexed additional property to the cemetery. The Ravs and dayanim of Satmar residing in the Greater New York City Metropolitan Area led the event. The Ohalim (burial chambers) where the Divrei Yoel, and Rav Moshe Teitelbaum, zt”l (1914-2006), late Satmar Rebbe and author of Berach Moshe, repose is in the Kiryas Yoel Cemetery. The Ohel is also the resting place of Rebbetzin Alta Feiga Teitelbaum, a”h  (1912-2001), widow of the Divrei Yoel.

Group dynamics within Satmar have generated an intense competition between two sons of the Beirach Moshe: Rav Aaron, 61-year-old second child of the Beirach Moshe, and Rav Zalman Leib, 57-year-old fourth child of the Beirach Moshe, have both been anointed as successor Satmar Rebbe by each’s respective huge following. The positioning has resulted in demands of arbitration at beis din as well as secular court actions regarding control and disposition of the Kehillah’s facilities and assets.

The kehillah’s facilities in Williamsburg, for the most part, remain under the control of Rav Zalman Leib and those in Kiryas Yoel are under the authority of Rav Aaron. Both sides have since built additional facilities to serve their respective followings.

Control of the Kiryas Yoel Cemetery has been, and continues to be, fought for fiercely. Several secular court rulings, sometimes contradictory, have preserved control of the Kiryas Yoel Cemetery with the followers of Rav Aaron. Once the issue of jurisdiction of the cemetery seemed settled, the followers of Rav Aaron announced the expansion of the cemetery.  

In 1987, the administrators of the cemetery together with the leadership of Kiryas Yoel realized that the grave plots would soon be filled and that the demand for additional graves within the cemetery would continue to grow.

Hundreds of Chassidishe Rebbes and Rabbonim s have all indicated their preference to bury within the proximity of the Divrei Yoel. In addition, many Satmar Chassidim, both those residing in Kiryas Yoel, as well as those residing elsewhere, have also given their indication of burial preference to be in the Kiryas Yoel Cemetery.


Expansion Need Foreseen

At that time the surrounding areas of the cemetery were acquired. In time the leadership would decide on the expansion of the cemetery. Once the question of cemetery control seemed settled, the cemetery leadership resolved to proceed with formal annexation and expansion. Rav Aaron laboriously reviewed all halachic and minhag aspects of the cemetery with Rav Getzel Berkowitz, Senior Kiryas Yoel Dayan. When Rav Aaron most recently visited Israel, he consulted with its leading poskim as to which properties should be appended into the cemetery and the formal procedure of annexation.

Rav Aaron and all with whom he consulted agreed that the property on the cemetery’s western border should be annexed. The date was set and a halachic compendium titled Chinuch Beis HaChaim was published containing the protocol to be followed. The protocol is that of the Arizal and of the Baal Shem Tov, zt”l. Rav Aaron, as Rav of the city, in accordance with Minhag Yisroel, left Kiryas Yoel to be absent on the day of annexation. The Kiryas Yoel Dayan led the ceremony.


Cemetery Annexation Ceremony

Hundreds of Chevra Kadisha members, Rabbonim, and Chassidim gathered at the cemetery on that Wednesday at 11:00 a.m. They all stood at the southeastern corner of the property to be annexed and recited Tehillim 102 aloud, pronouncing the V’Yehi Noam as they proceeded northward until they reached the northeastern corner, where they recited Tehillim 103 aloud.  They again said the V’Yehi Noam, then proceeded westward towards the northwestern corner, where they recited Tehillim 104 aloud.  Walking southward, they repeated the V’Yehi Noam until they reached the southwestern corner reciting Tehillim 96. Again reciting V’Yehi Noam, the group proceeded to their beginning point.  

 At each stop, charity was given and additional prayers were recited. The encirclement, together with respective prayers and charity giving, was repeated seven times. In conclusion, 26 Psalms were read, followed by the paragraphs of Tehillim 119 beginning with the letters of Kiryas Yoel. Then, in unison, everyone said the 13 stanzas of the Ani Ma’amin aloud, followed by Yigdal, Kel Maleh, and Kaddish. The formal annexation ceremony was thus completed.

Late that afternoon, Rav Aaron returned to Kiryas Yoel, where he addressed those that participated in the ceremony, highlighting the holiness of a cemetery and its dedication. This was followed by the Yom Kippur Katan tefillos, Minchah, Maariv and a L’Chayim Tisch.

{Rabbi G. Tannenbaum-Machberes/ Newscenter}