May 11, 2014 On Hasidic Williamsburg
A shirt I made in photoshop. It says “When in Williamsburg, Dress like a Williamsburger”
As many of you know, I’m a licensed New York City tour guide. I work in the city with groups (usually educational groups or Jewish congregations) that come to Hasidic Williamsburg to learn about its history and culture. While my tour venture is only a part-time project and I still have to keep my day job, being a tour guide is, by all means, the most enjoyable “job” I’ve ever had. My groups are usually highly intelligent visitors from all over, with contagious curiosity and enthusiasm. They don’t see the streets of Williamsburg as a show you come and watch. They see so much more. They see it in the context of world history, Jewish history, as a part of the global Jewish community today, and as an example of the ways in which cultures diverge. They often bring their own unique quest for identity to what they experience. They come to deepen their knowledge of the Jewish people, not to get a good look at caricatures. Their questions are intelligent and reflect knowledge of other elements of Jewish life.
The life and culture of Hasidism is a subject that I give a lot (a lot!) of thought to, and I love talking to others about it. I always try to step away from my biases and share raw material for my visitors to absorb and mull over. I get so much satisfaction when I hear different ideas bounced back to me.
There is also the pleasure of being a bridge between peoples. Often my groups engage in respectful conversations with Hasidim, an experience the students tell me they don’t forget afterward. They hear ideas and worldviews that they could not hear elsewhere. After one particular conversation with three women, some of the students envied their simple lifestyle, yet others found their ignorance troublesome. On another occasion, the students were so impressed by the intelligence of a young Hasidic man they spoke to, that I heard feedback about it from one participant a year later!
It’s really an incredible learning opportunity.