Skip to comments.Clash of the Bearded Ones; Hipsters, Hasids, and the Williamsburg street.
Posted on 04/13/2010 1:45:05 AM PDT by Daffynition
On a windy Monday night, Petes Candy Storea bar in Williamsburg with a railcar-shaped performance space in the backis crammed to capacity with the thin and the bearded. Almost no one is drinking. The mood is pregame, expectant and nervous. Were at one of the oddest New York City powwows in recent memory: a panel designed to quell a metastasizing dispute between bicyclists and Hasidic Jews. Except no Hasids are present. For a moment, it looks like the bicyclists will have to debate themselves.
At immediate issue is the Bedford Avenue bike lane. Its the longest in Brooklyn and runs through every imaginable ethnic enclaveincluding the South Williamsburg redoubt of the Satmars, the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish sect. In December, after many complaints from the Satmars about scantily clad female riders, the city sandblasted off a small stretch of the lane; some enterprising bikers painted it back in protest; the city then painted over the unauthorized paint job. Now two activists are up on criminal-mischief charges, the lane is gone, and the two groups are glowering at each other with even less empathy than usual. Worse yet, each group finds itself standing in for a larger one in a larger fight: the Satmars for all Orthodox Jews and the bikers for all young secular Williamsburgers, i.e. hipsters.
Finally, the opponents are at the door. The Hasids are a group of three led by 59-year-old Isaac Abraham, an erstwhile candidate for the City Council and a self-appointed spokesman for the Satmars. The trio is bearded, too, of course, but differently so: These are authority beards. Heritage beards. Abraham finds his seat on the cramped stage and requests a glass of water, cracking, Make sure its not spiked. Hes attuned to the absurdity of the premise: Three Hasids and 120 cyclists walk into a bar.
The pro-bike side is represented by three women: Caroline Samponaro of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group; Lyla Durden, a biker; and Heather Loop, an activist whose big idea after the lane erasure was to stage a topless bike ride through the neighborhood. It got snowed out.
The debate begins, such as it is. Abraham opens with an admission of bias: A bike knocked down his wife once. Who was this guy? he asks half-rhetorically. And who do I sue? Samponaros first sentence somehow packs in a nod to her birthday (Whoo!), Haiti, and Hurricane Katrina. Loop introduces herself as the author of the topless-ride initiative, which God stopped with a blizzard, she adds. Damn him!
Awkward giggles ricochet around the room. Abrahams face turns to stone.
This is not going to be an easy evening.
The Satmar settlement was meant to be a place apart. The Satmars came to the neighborhood from Hungary and Romania after World War II, led by revered rabbi Joel Teitelbaum. The idea was to faithfully reproduce pious shtetl culturein the sooty five-story brownstones, next to the clatter of the elevated train. The experiment succeeded beyond anyones expectation. The enclave is now home to the largest Hasidic sect in the world.
Maybe we can import some Cossacks to give it real flavor?
They're probably lesbians.
It’s interesting but the ideal to assimilate is absent:
The history of Hasidism, which encompasses a variety of sometimes conflicting outlooks, is a fascinating story. The movement survived a century of slow decline—during a period when progressive social ideas were spreading among European Jewry—and then near-total destruction in the Holocaust. After World War II, Hasidism was transplanted by immigrants to America, Israel, Canada, Australia, and Western Europe. 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 European Jewry.
The Hasidic ideal is to live a hallowed life, in which even the most mundane action is sanctified. Hasidim live in tightly-knit communities (known as “courts”) that are spiritually centered around a dynastic leader known as a rebbe, who combines political and religious authority. The many different courts and their rebbes are known by the name of the town where they originated: thus the Bobov came the town of Bobova in Poland (Galicia), the Satmar from Satu Mar in present-day Hungary, the Belz from Poland, and the Lubavitch from Russia. In Brooklyn today, there are over sixty courts represented, but most of these are very small, with some comprising only a handful of families. The great majority of American Hasidim belong to one of a dozen or so principal surviving courts. Hasidism is not a denomination but an all-embracing religious lifestyle and ideology, which is expressed somewhat differently by adherents of the diverse courts (also called “sects”).
The Hasidic way of life is visually and musically arresting, with rich textures, unusual customs, and strong traditions of music and dance. Hasidic tales, intriguing and memorable doorways into a complex world of Hasidic thought, religious themes, and humor, are fruits of a long and continuing oral tradition. Popularized in the non-Hasidic world by writers such as Martin Buber, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Elie Wiesel, they are famous for their particular wisdom and wit.
Yet this world is virtually unknown to most Americans, who are apt to confuse Hasidic men, who wear beards, sidelocks, black hats, and long coats, with the similarly-dressed Amish. This shared style of dress does indeed reflect similar values of piety, extreme traditionalism, and separatism. But where the Amish are farmers in rural communities, the great majority of the approximately two hundred thousand American Hasidim live and work in enclaves in the heart of New York City, amid a number of vital contemporary cultures very different from their own.
Most of the approximately 165,000 Hasidim in the New York City area live in three neighborhoods in Brooklyn: Williamsburg, Crown Heights, and Boro Park. Each of the three neighborhoods is home to Hasidim of different courts, although there is overlap and movement between them. There are approximately forty-five thousand Satmar Hasidim in Williamsburg, over fifty thousand Bobover Hasidim in Boro Park, and at least fifteen thousand Lubavitch in Crown Heights. The population of each of these groups has increased dramatically since the first American Hasidic communities were formed in the late 1940s and 1950s, with especially rapid growth in the last two decades.
I resent very much those who come here and try to recreate their ghetto culture outside of the American experience.
This includes Hispanics who refuse to learn English, and the Irish who send money to the IRA, and all others who refuse to join the great melting pot of American culture.
Go "home" you can't adapt to the American way of life!
The best solution.
The thing is, that’s all who live there.
If you go to Boro Park ALL YOU WILL SEE are Chasidim...that’s it. Just like in Brighton Beach, it’s almost entirely Russian. That’s just the reality of it, and I think it’s rude to want to push pagan values into Chasid territory.
I go to Boro Park sometimes for the delicious deli food, and I tell you, they really are not very friendly, although I bought a suit once from a Chasidic tailor and he was really nice, and I had a discussion about Jesus and Rabbi Schneerson with a Chasid that was very interesting...he was friendly.