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New Square

NEW SQUARE

NEW SQUARE , an incorporated village in Rockland County, southeastern New York. It has close to 6,000 residents. All its inhabitants are Skvera ḥasidim, followers of the Grand Rabbi (Rebbe) of Skvira, David Twersky (1940– ). The group has its roots in the Ukrainian town of Skvera (*Skvira). New Square is an anglicized version of New Skvira.

The village was built on property purchased by the Zemach David Corporation, representing the then Skvera Rebbe and father of David, Rabbi Jacob Joseph Twersky (1900–1968), in 1954. Twersky was the third Skvera rebbe, whose predecessors were descended from the Chernobyl dynasty. Immediately upon his arrival in America in 1948, the rebbe began to lay plans to establish an all-ḥasidic village, outside the New York City area, in order to better maintain their traditional lifestyle and beliefs. Ḥasidism in the United States had taken a decidedly urban character and this was an attempt to build a ḥasidic community apart from the urban environment and its temptations. After two years which the group spent in Boro Park and seven in the Williamsburg sections of Brooklyn, the first four families moved to New Square in December 1956.

The settlement was confronted with a mixed reaction from the local community and the village's early years were plagued with controversy centering on the Ramapo Township's claims that New Square's sewer and drainage facilities and road patterns were not in keeping with required standards. Defenders of the village, including local government leaders as well as rabbis representing all Jewish denominations, saw in these criticisms a veiled desire to prevent the ultra-Orthodox from settling in large numbers.

A solution was sought by New Square leaders via incorporating the community which would free it from much of the Town Board's control. This move was contested in the courts by Ramapo. After a protracted struggle, ending in New York State Supreme Court, the New Squarers emerged triumphant and the village was incorporated in 1961.

New Square has seen rapid growth during its 50 years of existence, with families usually having ten or more children. The village is constantly expanding and was on the verge of having built on all its available space in the early 2000s. Attempts were made to locate another property where the rebbe's followers would found a satellite community. In addition, the movement has a network of affiliated synagogues and schools in Brooklyn's Jewish centers and in major ḥasidic communities worldwide, including Montreal, London, Antwerp, Jerusalem, and Bene-Berak.

The New Square community has strict standards geared to restricting the influences of the modern world, such as the banning of television, maintenance of rigorous separation of the sexes, and requirements that all children be educated in the village schools. In addition, the community requires that its citizens adhere to the customs of the Skvera tradition and follow the rebbe's rulings. These demands upon those choosing to live in the village are accompanied by a welcoming openness to visitors and guests featuring extensive hospitality. New Square also operates a host of charitable services which service people throughout the metropolitan area.

The rebbe often travels to Jewish communities around the world and many of his followers make pilgrimages to New Square to seek his counsel.

In 1997 four New Squarers were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to six years on charges of having allegedly misused federal Pell Grant monies. On January 20, 2005, on his last day in office, President Clinton significantly reduced these sentences, after he was visited several weeks before by the Skvera rebbe, who interceded on the men's behalf. Defenders of Clinton's decision claimed that the original sentences were not in keeping with other similar cases of individuals who had channeled federal funding into non-profit institutions.

bibliography:

S.C.Y. Gruber and Y.Y. Rosenblum, Bi-Kedushah shel Ma'alah (2002); Z. Holczler, "Di Ershta Chasidishe Shtat" (unpublished ms.).

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