A tour of Hasidic Williamsburg 35 years ago ($6.50!)

In 1982 the New York Times ran a piece about a tour of the Hasidic Williamsburg by David M. Edelstein and Dr. George Kranzler, the author of books and research on the topic. Their depiction of Hasidic life is at once very familiar and also so dated. Couples still marry young and baby carriages are still the pride of the family, but people no longer travel en masse to the diamond district for work, and Satmar would probably not be as cooperative again. In this tour, the Times describes Satmar’s hospitality:

“The Satmars, however, have opened the doors of two institutions to visitors for the Sunday tours. These are the main Satmar synagogue on Rodney Street and the mikvah, or ritual bath, in a modern brick building alongside the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.Visitors will enter the synagogue through the women’s entrance, climb a flight of stairs and watch the scene below – men at prayer or study -through a slatted wooden divider that ordinarily enables women to see the service, but keeps them out of view.

The mikvah is a spotlessly clean bathhouse with a dozen private rooms where women cleanse themselves with soap and water before immersion into one of four pink- and blue-tiled ritual baths, which are filled with rainwater. The mikvah, customarily used in the evening, is an essential part of Orthodox life, because couples are not permitted to resume sexual relations after a woman’s menstrual period unless she immerses herself in the ritual bath. “

It is surprising how much about the Hasidic life has not changed over these many years in New York City, even as everything is now much bigger and updated to contemporary fashions. What has changed most since this tour might not be immediately evident to the unknowing tourist: ie, the advent of the easily accessible internet. The profound effect of technology can be felt everywhere in today’s Williamsburg- from storefronts to wall posters warning community members against this great modern threat.

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