July 21, 2022 Street poster: “Satmar’s economy is thriving”
Here is the irony: Hasidic men receive almost no secular education. And yet — a recent poster displayed all over the neighborhood read: “Satmar’s economy is thriving.”
Is it thriving? Or are people living in abject poverty, with extremely high NYC housing costs and large families?
That’s the debate. I once wrote an essay for Tablet Magazine, arguing that Hasidim find ways to earn a living despite not getting a secular education, and I was absolutely crucified on Facebook. There is no doubt in my mind that some of the attacks were justified anger at me for not supporting the cause to reform Hasidic boys’ education — which, mind you, with its strenuous and harsh demands, can be very harmful to the kids, especially those who are more ADHD-prone.
But I still maintain that the Hasidic economy is much more complex, and much more successful, than what you would assume based on the media stories about Hasidic education. The expo advertised all over the neighborhood is a good illustration.
This particular advertisement is for a first-time business expo specifically for the Satmar Hasidic community. There have been Orthodox business expos for years. These are events at conventions where businesses have booths and show off what they do to potential customers. This time, though, the Satmar Zalmen Leib faction put together an expo specifically for Satmar businesses (and I hear it was well attended by both factions.) According to word-of-mouth reports I heard, the event drew an impressive four, five, or six thousand men. There were only men. The Satmar Hasidic economy is very much, decidedly, a male realm. Women might work as secretaries, but the businesses are essentially run by men.
What I found really interesting was the posters advertising the event that plainly declared that “Satmar’s economy is thriving.” This is such a new tone to me. Most of the narratives about economics I’m accustomed to are about how hard it is to live a religious life, the financial burden, and the need to spend less. I think this is a change. It is also a very different tone from what you read in the secular media, which usually emphasizes the dire economic consequences Hasidim suffer as a result of their lack of secular education. Maybe Hasidim will begin to emphasize their successes in reaction to the push to change education.
If you want to understand how Hasidim earn a living without going to college, you have a good opportunity here. You can see, based on the kinds of booths hosted at the fair, that many men start companies that largely serve the community, although often they are not specialized to serve the community. In the video at the bottom of this page, we see some footage of the event. Some of the business owners who speak to the video provide:
- Tile installation
- Staff recruiting
- Real estate brokerage
- Demolition/dumpster rental business
- Commercial washer dryers
- Sound systems
- Web apps/custom software design
- Choir (Zemiros Choir)
- Event organization
- Real estate and corporate insurance
- Jewish travel
- Piping and heating
Many business owners clearly took great pride in serving more than the Hasidic community and mentioned the geographic scope of their business.
Here’s another video of the event: