TL;DR: click the Flickr and YouTube links.

A couple months ago I read an article in the New York Times about Kiryas Joel. KJ, as they call it, is a settlement of ultra-orthodox Jews known as Satmar Hasidim, 50 miles north of New York City. I suggested to some hiking friends that we could visit the town by taking a train from NYC and walking to the town. Last Sunday, we went.

At the village border we saw a new-looking sign advising visitors to cover themselves and "maintain gender separation." We did the best we could given that we had walked five miles in 88 degree heat--the one female in our group had brought a long-sleeved shirt just in case, and she put it on before passing the sign.

We walked along a couple of main roads in the town. I took pictures of a few things, like an air-conditioned bus stop.

After a few minutes, a black Suburban rolls up in front of us. Two guys get out. One of them never speaks, but has a shirt that says Public Safety. The other is wearing traditional orthodox clothes: black pants, white shirt, black vest, and a yarmulke. We later learn his name is Moses. He immediately demands identification from all of us. I ask him why, and he says that he got a call for suspicious activity. I tell him we are just visiting on foot, and that we haven't taken any pictures of people. I tell my friends that I don't think they have to provide ID unless they want to. Moses says if we don't provide ID he will arrest us. I see this as ridiculous, and start walking again.

A few moments later, someone grabs me from behind. I turn around, and Moses is holding my arm. I yell "assault, assault" just in case it's not clear to the few bystanders that it's not consensual. Moses eventually lets me go, and again I continue on my way, and my friends come along.

We walk a short while more to the local cafe where we had planned to have lunch. Before we had time to order food, a New York State Police officer appears and tells us to come outside. We do, and I start recording video. If you don't have the patience to watch, the NYSP demands ID, handcuffs two of us who don't provide it, saying we are under arrest for obstructing government administration, and tell me that if I want to complain about Moses' grabbing me that I need to do it at the village mayor's office.

A few days later, our story made the local 6 o'clock news. We also found out there is a federal lawsuit against Kiryas Joel that specifically names Moses Witriol, the public safety director who confronted us, for misusing his authority against the local people.

Comments: 3554 • Responses: 11  • Date: 

selenographer636 karma

I used to live close to Monsey, NY which is another one of these hasidic enclaves. Whenever I would drive through the less traveled roads (to go on short cuts or whatever) they would literally all start walking in the middle of the road to block my route and try and intimidate me by shaking their fists and staring me down.

Although I have met a few very nice hasidic jews, most of the ones that I've come across are just the foulest people.

[deleted]536 karma

I don't think it matters what religion, race or colour of the people that do this. if you have a community who deliberately cut themselves off from everyone else, they will grow to hate outsiders.

afreemind69321 karma

My entire family is from Indiana, and I'm actually living there right now. The Amish I encounter at local farmer's markets or during a drive in the countryside are incredibly friendly and welcoming people. My Dad's best friends father came from an Amish family and whenever we go and visit I am amazed at how happy and intelligent they are.

jzwinck185 karma

Many locals were friendly to us as we ate lunch after the arrest. Somehow their public safety office doesn't seem to reflect the majority's views.

[deleted]460 karma


jzwinck15 karma

This is the street view of Yossie's Cafe, where we were handcuffed.

C_M_Burns6 karma

What a dump. The whole place looks like some backwoods area from the South.

jzwinck4 karma

There was actually a surprising amount of plastic trash on the streets.

raldi298 karma

I'm sorry, sir, if you're going to visit reddit, I'm going to have to ask to see some ID.

jzwinck183 karma

You ain't no deputy 'round here no more!

raldi258 karma

I have some questions not for you, but for any lawyers who may be reading:

  • Was it legal to decline to show ID to Moses?
  • Was it legal to decline to show ID to the state policeman?
  • Was it legal for Moses to grab you?

jzwinck90 karma

Don't lawyers have some sort of weird thing that prevents them from answering the questions online that they are the most capable of answering?

xaphanos158 karma

Don't go to New Square, then. Those folks are violent.

jzwinck29 karma

Kiryas Joel can get pretty heated too, such as a year ago when they bulldozed someone's driveway.

jrshull131 karma

Two things to remember next time you pay them a visit.

1) The NY Supreme Court decided that it is 100% legal for women to walk around with their breasts completely exposed. This supersedes any local law or "community standard".

2) Your rights to photography:

jzwinck29 karma

I've known about (2) for years, and it's a good resource. So while it's not new to me, thank you for linking it--anyone who regularly takes pictures outside their home should read it.

[deleted]124 karma

Sounds like a good place to troll for a civil liberties lawsuit.

jzwinck75 karma

Is merely showing up there trolling? Why do I pay taxes for them to receive aid if I am not allowed to show my face there?

We actually did not go there with any trolling in mind. I've visited many poor communities before, seen how people live, and never had any such incident. This includes Zimbabwe and Cambodia.

yllwbrd75 karma

What was your impression of the State Police officers? Were they uneducated about their jurisdiction, or knew and advised to turn a blind eye to the "constable" of KJ?

jzwinck163 karma

They absolutely were on a first-name basis with Moses. It was clear that they knew of each other previously. There's a point in the video where you can hear Moses practically instructing the NYSP that if we don't show ID, they'll arrest us.

The head NYSP guy slipped once or twice and called Moses a police officer (he's a peace officer, which is different). Also, when I told him I only had an expired license from Michigan, he asked, "What's your name in Michigan?" which I thought was pretty funny.

Overall, I don't see why the state police didn't just evaluate the situation for what it was (harassment by Moses), and let us go about our business. They felt that they needed to take the call seriously, somehow, even though it was a farce.

MisplacedLonghorn70 karma

I would have told my boy Moses here to "let my people go!"

jzwinck28 karma

The woman in our group did remind him to "maintain gender separation" (as required by the sign at the village entrance) when he got close to her, which was a pretty good laugh. This was near the end of the encounter, when he was crowding her to discourage her from taking pictures.

hawk8226 karma

They spelled appropriate wrong on their sign. That should be been a clue that something was awry with these people.

I find it interesting that the sign is also in Spanish. Do they expect lots of Spanish speaking people to visit their town? Do they have Spanish speaking people working in their town?

jzwinck32 karma

We did see a Hispanic looking woman come out of a house who we thought might work there. Their school for men has a sign saying "No Womens" and includes Spanish and Russian.