We explored Brooklyn this past weekend and interestingly enough one of my Humanities students did a blog post on the Jewish Hasidic community in Brooklyn. Perfect, huh!?
Introduction to Hasidism
Hasidism, which is translates to “pious ones,” was a movement that came from Orthodox Judaism and was founded by Rabbi Israel Ben Eliezer. After it was founded in the mid-eighteenth century by Jewish mystics, it was popular throughout society, especially among the less educated who were fascinated by the emotional and spiritual appeal of the Hasidic message. Hasidism, like many other religions, was an outcry to the prevailing religion. The movement, however, had a slow decline because of many progressive social ideas that were spreading throughout Europe. It also almost reached a near destruction during the Holocaust.
After the Holocaust, Hasidism spread again when immigrants moved to Israel, Canada, Australia, and Western Europe. Hasidism was also brought to America, especially in New York City. According to PBS, “In these most modern of places, especially in New York and other American cities, it is now thriving as an evolving creative minority that preserves the language – Yiddish – and many of the religious traditions of pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe Jewry.”
To a Hasidic, it is ideal to live a holy life in which even the most everyday routine action is sanctified. They are dedicated to live an uncontaminated life by isolating themselves from modern society with the exception of the workplace and the state. They have a strict separation of the sexes when it comes to education and what they are expected of in the future. Birth control is forbidden and the rate of divorce remains low, but it could change in the future depending on economic and social changes in the modern world around them.
Hasidics in Brooklyn
Hasidic Jews live in tightly knit communities that are also called courts and are centered on a rebbe, a religious leader of a Hasidic sect. There are over 60 courts in Brooklyn right now, but most of them are very small. There are certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn where they are more heavily populated which includes Williamsburg, Crown Heights, and Boro Park, which is in the middle of other diverse and working and middle class neighborhoods.
Many restaurants serve kosher foods and many stores have signs in Yiddish and/or Hebrew. Their daily life is bounded by the neighborhood and its institutions. Hasidics have special buses that they can take to go into Manhattan for work and back to Brooklyn.
Also, Hasidic Jews have their own EMT programs called Hatzolah and they wear yellow vests with Hebrew letters on them and yarmulkes. Hasidic men are not allowed to touch any woman they are not related to (i.e. mother, wife, daughter, etc.) which I feel would make simple tasks difficult such as handing over change to a Hasidic man or just saying hi to them without shaking their hand.
Apparently in Williamsburg, there was a “war” going on between hipsters and Hasidic Jews called “The Great Bike Lanes War.” It started in 2009 and ended in 2016. Bedford Avenue is a street in Williamsburg where a lot of Hasidics are located and there happens to be a bike lane in that street where, girls with short shorts and skirts that “show off” their legs tend to ride through. The Hasidics painted over the bike lanes and the hipsters painted them back on, which resulted in two men getting arrested. It’s a kind of weird situation because you can’t really have a group of people to dictate what you should and should not wear, but it also seems like the hipsters did not have much respect for Hasidim either. There is an organization called “Unite the Beards” which brings hipsters and Hasidim together. I thought this was interesting because it is part of Hasidic life to be around modern society a lot and to live amongst other cultures, but they are still able to keep their traditions.
Last year in December I went to Brooklyn to visit my family. While I was there, I saw many Hasidic men and women walking down the street. I remember when I would visit there when I was little and I thought they were so cool because their attire, which is a long black coat, black hat, and white button up shirt, made me feel like I had traveled to the past. There are benches along the side of the road where my family lives so sometimes you would see the Hasidic men gathered together. I didn’t see many women, just two elderly women walking together and speaking what I assume was Yiddish. I really found the diversity found in Brooklyn, New York interesting.
- “A Brief Introduction to Hasidism.” PBS. Accessed on May 3, 2017. http://www.pbs.org/alifeapart/intro.html.
- “Hasidism.” Encyclopedia.com. Accessed on May 4, 2017. http://www.encyclopedia.com/philosophy-and-religion/judaism/judaism/hasidim.
- “Inside the Community: A Holy Life.” PBS. Accessed on May 4, 2017. http://www.pbs.org/alifeapart/intro_2.html.
- McInnes, Gavin. “10 Weird and Wonderful Things about Living among Hasidic Jews.” Taki’s Magazine. Published June 7, 2013. http://takimag.com/article/10_weird_and_wonderful_things_about_living_among_hasidic_jews_gavin_mcinnes/print#axzz4gLE99Idr.
- Wool, Daniel. Judaism. Tarrytown: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2007.