Jewish New York City: Keep It Kosher!

Brooklyn, New York has many different communities that make up a rich tapestry of cultures and backgrounds. One very individual part of Brooklyn is the Hasidic Jewish community, keeping themselves busy with their religion and home-making they pose to be a very closed part of NYC. With that said, I felt the need to observe the goings-on within their Kosher way of life. 

That day I needed some serious sleep but like the crazy fool that I am, I boarded the PATH back into the city on such a beautiful morning. Only having the faintest idea as to where I needed to be heading, I trusted my intuition, now that's a dangerous thing for sure! Taking the L Subway train to Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg I was lead to be amazed at what I was about to witness. After walking what felt like the length and breadth of Williamsburg. I had to ask a passerby about the 'Jewish' area, he directed me in the correct direction, I kept on walking. One particular street sign became clear to my vision. Lee Avenue, my intended destination had been found finally. Why choose a street so particular as Lee Avenue? I had researched before about Jewish New York, this avenue in-question had looked very interesting on Google Earth. Something inside my heart told me I had to trust Brooklyn that summers day! Yes B!

Why on earth would I want to stray out the tourist-trap of Manhattan? I live to push the boundaries and within reason like to see places that aren't advertised in the tourist guides. Hasidic Jewish culture interests me because these people are so devoted to their religion and only trust people within their tight knit community. I feel like I was drawn to this part of Brooklyn, NYC for a reason! I loved the restricted feeling of this neighbourhood for these people put a lot of effort into not mixing with other communities in Brooklyn, let alone the rest of NYC! The insular feel of Lee Avenue and the quiet side streets felt so cut off from the rest of the borough. I have Jewish ancestry on my paternal side, so that's definitely where my fascination with all things Jewish enters this equation. I don't think my ancestors were a part of the Hasidic way of life but they were Jewish nevertheless. I was ready to see something new, something that wasn't predictable like Times Square was.

Lee Avenue oozed a feeling of cohesion and togetherness, the shops with their Hebrew signs and the many religious men passing by dressed in their black and white attire, donning their 'payot' which literally translate to 'ringlets'. I had made it to Lee Avenue finally, I was immersed within the centre of the Hasidic Jewish enclave of Williamsburg, well one part of Williamsburg because I don't think its all Jewish in Brooklyn?For what I was about to see would be more realistic than a television show I had previously seen about this part of Brooklyn? I know I saw exactly what I set out to, Williamsburg's Jewish sect impressed me much! Without a smartphone that had built in GPS or data I was able to make it to my destination, casting my mind back to that day I know that everything happened for the right reasons. The Jewish side of Brooklyn felt safe, Brooklyn has had a renaissance to beckon a new chapter. Lee was real!

There was no McDonald's for me to have some lunch at for everything was strictly Kosher so I just made the best of my current surroundings. I didn't want chain restaurants because I'm used to family operated places in my Ironbound neighbourhood in New Jersey. I took a breather I discovered 'Frankel's Kosher Supermarket' that had everything a good Hasidic Jewish person could find on their food shopping list. One thing that I saw in 'Frankel's' was that the women took care of the domestic side of things. Were the Jewish people a little work shy? No, I say this because the businesses along Lee Avenue were simple but to me they looked very Jewish from an outsiders point of view. The many Kosher bakeries, clothes shops, Kosher food stores and Kosher Butchers had a very big Jewish presence, more to the Hasidic way of things. Keeping it kosher would have been so easy compared with other part of the city, the variety of Kosher items impressed me much! So, household items were even Kosher!

The Hasidic Jewish way of life focuses on families bringing multiple children into their community. Being a check-in agent dealing with large Hasidic Jewish families can be quite testing because there's always at least five children minimum in each family! One thing was sure that the birth rate within the Jewish community in Williamsburg must be sky-rocketing as every woman that I passed by on Lee Avenue had a buggy with a newborn baby, occasionally some of these women had baby and a toddler with them. Aside from the growing population the Hasidic Jewish mothers looked very sophisticated with their black cardigans and skirts. Covering their hair to satisfy the Kosher law with either a 'Tichel' which is a 'Headscarf' or either wearing a 'Sheitel' which is a 'Wig'. No conventional high street brands for these ladies as modesty is key, but the Hasidic Jewish way of life obviously doesn't impair the women's fashion sense B!

Some Jewish surnames can be easily recognisable, four surnames were plastered across shop signs. Surnames like Rosenfield, Schwartz, Schreiber and Stein were seen proudly advertising the Kosher businesses along Lee Avenue. I loved the hardware store called 'Tiv Tov' something like the Jewish answer to the all odd bits and bobs, there's definitely one of those shops on Ferry Street selling the same stuff. As I made my way down Lee Avenue that little bit further I couldn't help notice that English wasn't the first language to be heard, the local Hasidic Jewish people definitely love their Yiddish! To the ear Yiddish sounds quite interesting to listen to! I know that schlepping all the way to Jewish Brooklyn was worth every wrong turn to eventually find the captivating Lee Avenue. The day was fruitful, getting back onto the NYC Subway system had me walking more without that map on hand! Regardless, the day discovering another NYC neighbourhood impressed me much! Oy vey NY! 

100% Kosher! 

Joseph Harrison


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