The Battle Of Satmar’s Armories
This year’s 67th annual 21 Kislev celebration of the miraculous Holocaust rescue of Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, zt”l (1886-1979), founding Satmar Rebbe and author of Divrei Yoel, will be celebrated all over the world on Motzaei Shabbos Vayeshev, December 17. On that day in history, Thursday, December 4, 1944, the Satmar Rebbe was aboard a train that crossed the border into Switzerland and to freedom. The deliverance was made possible by Dr. Rudolf Kastner, who bribed the Nazis and thus saved 1,685 Jewish souls.
Throughout the years the 21 Kislev event was always a unifying occasion as Satmar chassidim from around the world sat together and held hands singing and dancing. However, with Satmar currently divided, two separate celebrations are held. Each half of Satmar is led by a son of the Beirach Moshe and represents an independent network of communities, shuls, yeshivas, girls’ schools, meat stores, matzah bakeries, and cemeteries throughout the world.
The followers of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe and oldest son of the Beirach Moshe, will be conducting their central 21 Kislev event at the New York State National Guard Armory. The followers of Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe and third son of the Beirach Moshe, will be marking the event at The Williamsburg Marcy Armory.
National Guard (Troop C) Armory
Last year’s event was held at the Pulaski Port Complex, near the Pulaski Bridge, not far from Williamsburg. The Pulaski Complex proved too small for the huge gathering, forcing the search for a larger facility. The New York State National Guard Troop C Armory represents an additional 2,000 seats to help accommodate the tens of thousands of Satmar chassidim who will join Rabbi Aaron in the special celebration.
The facility, at 1579 Bedford Avenue between Union and President Streets, was built between 1903 until 1907. It was designed by the renowned architects Pilcher and Tachau, who also designed the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx as well as the Jewett House of Vassar College. Interestingly, the National Guard/Troop C Armory building is not yet landmarked. Presently, offices at the facility provide military support services, military food service, military customer service, military legal services and military employment services.
The Troop C Armory in Crown Heights South is the last of the great castellated armories in Brooklyn. It was built for Squadron C, a cavalry unit. The special needs of a horse and equipment unit necessitated some of the important differences between the Troop C armory and many of the others in Brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods. Troop C was established in 1895, saw action in the Spanish American War in 1888, and became part of the 101st Cavalry in 1921.
Lewis Pilcher, one of the armory’s architects, was a Columbia University graduate. He became a professor of art at Vassar College, and later served as an architect for the state of New York. While at Vassar, he designed Jewett House in 1907, a large dormitory building that actually resembles an armory.
The Troop C Armory was one of the first of its kind to emphasize structural and engineering components as much as more decorative and stylistic features. The enormous space used for drilling soldiers towers over the administrative parts of the building. Compared to the nearby 23rd Regiment Armory, on Bedford and Atlantic Avenue, where that building’s tall fortress tower dominates the skyline, this armory’s design and space primarily served for drilling cavalry soldiers and their horses.
The armory, in addition to the usual component of administration and dormitory space, also had room for stabling hundreds of horses, as well as heavy equipment such as cannon and wagons. As the military modernized in the 20th century, horse-drawn equipment was replaced by tanks and trucks. The tanks became familiar sights at parades and training exercises when tanks actually rolled down Bedford Avenue often. There is still a National Guard unit here, and now Hummers have replaced tanks.
In addition to the National Guard, the building has been used for many other functions. The building’s facilities have served as community rooms used by local communities, including Lubavitch. In February 2001, the International Conference of Shluchos held its 23rd International Kinus-Conference Gala Banquet at the Armory, attended by more than 3,000 Lubavitcher women.
Williamsburg Marcy Armory The booking of the Williamsburg Marcy Armory by Rabbi Zalman Leib’s followers is considered a triumph. Many major Satmar events were held at the Marcy Armory, beginning with the 21 Kislev commemoration in 1978, when the celebration included the Divrei Yoel, and again in 1979, the last celebration in which the Divrei Yoel participated before his passing on 26 Av (August 19), 1979. The 1978 celebration included the establishment of Keren Hatzolah, the fund-raising organization that finances yeshivas that do not accept any monies from the Israeli government.