In conversation with Nathaniel Deutsch, co-author of ‘A Fortress in Brooklyn’

In conversation with Nathaniel Deutsch, co-author of ‘A Fortress in Brooklyn’

I had the great pleasure to talk in a zoom conversation to Nathaniel Deutsch on the subject of the extraordinary new history of Hasidic Williamsburg, which he co-authored with Michael Casper, A Fortress in Brooklyn: Race, Real Estate, and the Making of Hasidic Williamsburg

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Nathaniel Deutsch is a professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he holds the Baumgarten Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies. He is the author of a number of books related to Hasidic history and culture, including The Maiden of Ludmir: A Jewish Holy Woman and Her World, The Jewish Dark Continent: Life and Death in the Russian Pale of Settlement, and most recently (with Michael Casper), A Fortress in Brooklyn: Race, Real Estate, and the Making of Hasidic Williamsburg.  He is currently developing The Minhag Project: A Crowdsourced Archive of Hasidic Customs.

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Addendum: this is what I wrote of the book on Goodreads:

Incredible! I’m not just liberal with platitudes. This blew my mind.

I’ve been a tour guide in Hasidic Williamsburg for many years and I pretty much always did my own research because the stuff that’s published on this community is usually not good. This book GETS IT. And it does so with:

1. A staggering scope of research spanning from after the Holocaust until today, using sources formally and informally published in the community in Yiddish and Hebrew, Jewish religious texts, city records, records from the black and Hispanic and other city groups, media coverage, message boards, Hasidic forums, lots of interviews, on and on — the authors investigated every avenue.

2. Correct, careful, sensitive framing to contextualize stories into the wider context of gentrification, ethnic minorities, nyc immigration, Jewish history, and so on. The individuals who are assholes in the Williamsburg story come through as individuals who are assholes (and there are a lot of colorful characters), not as representative of whole groups.

3. Beautifully written. I love some of the quotes in the book from black community leaders, Hasidim, hipsters, etc. Often spicy or funny or just very intelligent.

It’s a shame about the afterward though. For such a carefully written, wholly iconoclastic book, the afterward repeats superficial stereotypes. Maybe the authors were in a rush to get some timely commentary in, but I think those are very surface readings.

Big thanks to the authors for the labor that went into telling this exceptional story. It will be a classic in history books. I might do a book reading tour! Use small bits and read them to my tourists at different sites…

If you are not up for reading the whole book, I suggestion you read the introduction.

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