I’ve been going through some old files to make room in the closet, and found my old folder from my eighth grade “Sewing Course”. Sewing was usually the only class that didn’t involve sitting at the desk and taking notes. I find it really interesting to contrast this “special” (as such classes would be called in my son’s public school) with my son’s sevenths grade “specials”, which are of course music, gym, French and library.

The introduction states that the goal of the course is to be able to fix clothing to make it fit better and more modest.

Our particular course was to learn the various different approaches to filling a skirt slit so as to ensure it was modest. We had to write down instructions plus mini samples.

The “Skirt Pleat Extension”
The “Kick Pleat”
The “Center Pleat”
The “Pleat Insert Slash”

I probably couldn’t pull off any of this if my life depended on it, but then again, who remembers their high school calculus either.

There are posters everywhere – huge ones that can wrap a fat streetpost twice – inviting all men in the community to a Night of Rescuing our Education. This is an event that promises to bring “activists, rabbis, legal experts” to discuss the “Edict Against Education year 5779”. (This is a reference to the long history of decrees against Jews, from massacres to expulsions to intervention in religious observance, which are often referred to by the year; ie, “The Edicts of 4856“)

“Residents of Williamsburg awake!”
“What is our responsibility during this hour?”
“Do for the sake of the children of the community”
“The Edict of Education 5779”
“We will not allow Jewish children to get a goyish education”
“Fiery speeches by rabbis, activists, legal experts.”

One of the posters (which I’ll post if I get a chance to photograph) shows modern-orthodox looking kids in the backdrop, an ominous warning almost. It also promises in bold letters not only fiery speeches, but flam-feyerdigeh drushes, that is, the extra-hot-beyond-the-scoville-scale spicy speeches. In other words, here is a promise that this won’t be a boring committee meeting, but something inspiring, fiery, emotional – a rally of sorts! I almost want to go!

This extremely strong reaction from the Hasidic community doesn’t surprise me; I’ve long said that this is a raw nerve and antagonizing the community will mobilize the zealots. But what remains to be seen is if this will also inspire a counter-movement within the community and create a conversation about education reforms sorely needed, especially vis a vis updating how discipline and curriculum is done. We already saw the publication of a very, very insightful book by Katle Kanye in Yiddish on the subject. There is so much talent inside the community because of the high retention rate, that there are always things changing from within in some ways. I wonder if some things will quietly change while most every other ploni is too busy attending extra-fiery speeches to notice.

I am so very grateful to Marcin Wodzinski for this Historical Atlas of Hasidism — and for his generosity with the material: he allowed me to use some of it in a printing for my tours. This book is the most helpful reference for anyone interested in the history of Hasidism. And it’s beautifully put together too.

The best bet for learning about the History of Hasidism is to buy this alongside the other major new tome (lots of activity in a sleepy field, ey?) “Hasidism, a New History“. Together, these books can be referenced again and again as our understanding of this unique history deepens. 

With the Atlas, you get a really solid breakdown of the geographic movement of the dynasties, both within specific major dynasties as well as within Hasidism as a whole. I also came away with a better sense of Hasidism regionally rather than divided by dynasty. 

Illustration of origins of sects. See how far north the Lubavitch dynasty began, in contrast to Satmar.

For the Hasidic history buff in your life (ehhem, lol), surely a great gift.

I’ve just listened to the pilot episode of the new podcast by the Association of Jewish Studies. They discuss how the Jewish Appetizing shop came to be – a really interesting story. Who could bother to prepare their own herring and smoked fish in the overcrowded Lower East Side tenements? It made sense to buy it at the pushcart, or the upgraded version, the “Appetizer”, where you got herring (with, presumably, kichel?), sour pickles, smoked lox (salmon) and various candy shop items.

It’s worth a listen! 

AJS Podcast

Also, as with many things Jewish history, the Hasidic part of the story is often neglected and history is told only from the viewpoint of the pre-holocaust Eastern European immigrants. But in Hasidic Williamsburg, a lot of the traditions of the first half of the twentieth century were taken over by the Hasidim, so that Flaum’s Apppetizer on Lee Avenue (where our food tour stops) was established in 1918 and is now, a hundred years later, still run by a fifth generation family member.

Now Flaum’s is not only an Appetizing, they updated their store to include a large salad bar (a twenty first century mishigas in delis everywhere, Hasidic included) and they have an ice cream option. In other words, they are the dairy equivalent of the Fleishig Deli.

They are even better known for their line of containered appetizing foods; pickles, spreads, various delicious dips for the shabbes challah.

I love how much of the nostalgia for “home” in Europe (which is another thread connecting earlier Jewish immigrants to post Holocaust immigrant Hasidim) is captured in the food. You can apparently try different herrings for Breslov (from Ukraine), Volozhin (Russia) and Kotzk (Poland). I wonder how much of the various regional herrings are grounded in history, or are they just assigned names to give a sense of a connection to the past? It’s time to pick up some eyer-kichel from Tiferes Heimishe Bakery and go do some field research…

I’ll be sure to put some notes (with pictures, of course) of that up here.

My, my. All this “field research” is not good for my figah.

This canvas “streetsign” went up all over Williamsburg during the Hanukah season of 2018. It alerts consumers of the TAG Company — Technology Awareness Group, the company that provides kosher technology solutions — to various issues (bugs, if you will) with tech-based Hanukah gifts:

The cameras might have wifi and video that needs to be disabled…

The Gameboy might have wifi…

The iPod might have radio that can’t be removed…

Reminds me of the kosher camera. People always have a hard time figuring out what a kosher camera might be!

These posters tell us so much about the way Hasidim navigate a world of technology. The solution is not, like Amish communities, to reject or prohibit technology, but rather to modify it so as to benefit from some parts of it without embracing the elements that might result in “apostasy”, or a shift in one’s thinking.