Why it’s hard to analyze city data for Williamsburg Hasidim

Why it’s hard to analyze city data for Williamsburg Hasidim

There is a problem when we try to read official data on the Hasidic community, especially in Williamsburg. For instance, if you want to find out how the Hasidic community is doing in terms of Covid fatalities, positive PCR tests, or vaccine uptake, then you won’t have a data set for Hasidim in the way you might have for Asian or Hispanic populations. Since Hasidim generally self-report as white, the only way to analyze official city data is by measuring the data for their geographic location. This could in theory work because Hasidim live in largely isolated bubbles, so neighborhood analysis could be very useful.

The problem is that the city organizes its geographic data by zip code. For example, here is the zip-code based information for vaccine uptake.

From NYC.gov captured 11/5/2021

The problem is that zip code 11211 includes only part of the Hasidic community. And it also covers North Williamsburg, the hipster section.

In 2019, I did a bit of amateur cartography and tried to map the updated boundaries of the Hasidic community. It’s easy to tell where the community ends, because of the balconies, the school buses, and the Hasidic shops.

This was my very raw, very homemade map (which was the basis for a cartoon map).

Here is the community’s own map in the newspaper, which was put out in advance of Passover to inform people where the burning of the bread bonfires will be. Their map is somewhat larger than mine, and includes more bits of the North side, and covers two more blocks on the Bushwick side where it gets long and narrow, but it more or less draws the same lines.

Meanwhile, here is the zip code map from United States Zip Codes, with the Hasidic zip codes highlighted.

If we roughly overlay my Hasidic map of Williamsburg with the postal code map, we see that the yellow area, where the Hasidic enclave is, bleeds into zip codes 11211, 11206, and 11205. However, it does not even take up half of any of these zips. Furthermore, the Hasidim live cheek by jowl with very different cultures, so the data gets really skewed. For instance, based on the trends in the rest of the city, we can assume that vaccine uptake is very high in trendy North Williamsburg and very low among the Hasidim of South Williamsburg. But the data of 11211 is practically useless because it combines the two.

Zip codes 11211, 11206, and 11205 are only partially Hasidic.

A better option is the other Hasidic enclave, Boro Park, which is further south and deeper into Brooklyn.

Borough Park is in part, the region of Zip code 11219. The best way to get a sense of where the Boro Park religious community begins and ends is to look at the eruv, the wire that encircles the religious neighborhood to allow for carrying on shabbes. (Williamsburg’s eruv is controversial and so, there is no official eruv map available.) The eruv map below is the official Boro Park eruv map.

This is an unofficial, and therefore less reliable, eruv map of all eruvs of Brooklyn. It is an interesting map. Boro Park is in purple.

The eruv map for Boro Park extends from 9th Avenue to 21st Avenue, and from the 30th to the 60s Streets. This is much larger than zip code 11219, which goes only from 9th to 16th Avenues, and from 37th to to 70s Street. Below, I colored the parts of zip codes 11219 that are part of the eruv. As you can see, almost the entire zip code is covered, except for the 60s streets. This means that almost the entire zip code is of the religious community. It makes zip 11219 a much more useful metric than the Williamsburg zip codes, or any of the other Brooklyn regions.

The problem with using Boro Park to understand Williamsburg is that Boro Park is a more eclectic enclave, it is more modern, more diverse, and there are cultural differences that impact things like vaccine uptake. It is an imperfect stand-in for understanding Williamsburg. The ideal solution would be for the city to release street-by-street data.

Or perhaps official city data is simply never going to be ideal for this community, because there are so many additional factors involved that city data does not reflect, like age and house-hold size. In 2020, when I was looking for how the Hasidic community was affected by Covid during the worst few weeks, I spoke to Rabbi Isaac Brach, the funeral director of the only funeral home that serves Hasidic Williamsburg. He was able to report to me how many deaths he deals with on an average week, and what he saw during those terrible weeks in March and April. I think this type of creative approach to unpacking the Hasidic situation, by collecting information gathered by community members, remains the best solution.


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