This popped up on Lee Avenue this winter, 2018. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the community’s zealots busy themselves with the cause against smartphones. It seemed as if the matter had successfully moved from some extremists making noise through posters and such to the entire community changing its attitude towards smartphones, so the posters stopped appearing with that same urgency. But now a new angle: posters warning against flip-phones that might not be kosher either. 

“An innocent little door to HELL”

The first sign shows a picture of a phone and it warns that it leads to hell. In the small text the people are warned that community activists had proof that individuals had been ruined by “innocent looking flip phones” that are in reality “treif”, pork, chazer

The other shows us a cheeseburger and warns that treif meat might be cheaper, “it costs pennies and could be found in Walmart for bubkes”, but it isn’t kosher. The message, as I understand it, is that one might find a flip-phone at Walmart at a good price, but if it isn’t a “kosher phone”, then it is treif and “be careful, with a few buttons the filter could be removed”. 

Maybe the author is a Hasidic kosher phone retailer with an economic incentive to steer business towards the kosher phones sold only by Hasidim. I’ve often marveled at how well the economic motive and the religious motive together make very expedient partners…

This was or first ever food tour on Chanukah and we had a wonderful time! We learned how to play dreidle and we tasted various of the newest iterations of donuts. The dairy donuts are now all the rage, and we tried some that sell for $8.50 a piece! They’re filled with delicious cream-cheesy fillings and come in a mad collection of varieties. It’s a lot of fun for me to keep up with the food trends in Williamsburg. The creative energy that goes into the food – incredible!

Photos credit: Rossana Casale Garner.

Peanut-butter & Oreo dairy donuts
Chanukah donuts at Tifereth on Lee
Dairy custard filling…
Piping hot challah.
Fluffy challah with a crispy crust.
Classic Hungarian “pulichinta”, sweet cheese blintzes
Fish balls in tomato sauce

This fall there has been an influx of posters from Israeli Haredei activists who are pushing back against the Israeli draft of Orthodox youths. There is no knowing how interested local New York Hasidim are in these issues, but the Israeli activists sure have been churning out posters.

I find this poster particularly illustrative for its shocking use of the holocaust as analogous with the cause against the Israeli draft. The poster reads “The trains already left the station” and promises to stop it with martyrdom. It speaks to how differently the narrative of the holocaust is told among Hasidim than among the rest of Jewry. The book “Hasidism a New History” touched on how differently the Hasidim remembered the holocaust, for example by not observing a remembrance day. In my view, Hasidim think of the holocaust less as a singular event in Jewish history but rather as a most important lesson for a recurring theme of a story of physical and spiritual persecution. This is how the holocaust then comes to be seen as reoccurring in spiritual battles; because the persecution is everywhere and continuous through history. In that view, a dramatic evocation of the holocaust is used to rouse to a call to action.

A very nice Hasidic gentleman who works at one of the delis I take my tours to, told us a story today. He offered the story to me and some of my tourists just as we were wrapping up and heading out, ahead of this pouring rain.

“I have a story for you. You can use it on your tours.” he said.

He likes to tell me what to say on my tours. He isn’t the only one. Hasidim with whom I interact on my tours regularly scold me for not saying this or that. “speak to the charity, speak to the ambulate, the help for the sick, the organizations like Shomrim and Chaveyrim, etc.” It cracks me up; I laugh and say ‘yeah, yeah’ and don’t take it too personally that nothing I will say will ever placate these harsh critics.

Unless I tell the story I was told today, which I will.

Mr. G tells it so:

The other day a non-Jewish gentleman was driving outside of Monroe – maybe route 32 if I heard correctly – when he got a flat tire. It was late at night, he was distraught, and along drives a Hasidic person, pulls over, asks what the matter is. This Hasidic person was from the Hasidic organizations like Chaveyrim who will change your flat for free. (They changed mine several times while I had a car).  The Hasid said “let me fix the flat for you. We do it for free.” The gentile was stunned; “but I’m not even Jewish.” The Hasid didn’t blink. Helping a gentile can result in a kiddush hashem, raising the honor of God, and was a good deed in its own way. So he rolled up his sleeve, got hold of a  fantastic new tire — (Mr. G here told of an incident where he got a new tire from Chaveyrim after mid-night) –and changed it for him. As the two got ready to get back into their cars, the gentile said:

“I want to send a note to your wife to thank her for what you did. Is that okay?”

The Hasid said of course it was! Who wouldn’t want a bit of buttering the marriage.

“And this address you gave me for the note, is that your home?”

“It’s my home, yes, why?”

“Nothing, just curious – you own it? Rent? Just curious.”

The Hasid said he owned, gave his address, bid farewell, and off he went.

A week later the Hasid got a call from the bank. “Mr. So-and-so; we want to notify you that your mortgage has been paid in full.” Yes, kids. The recipient of the act of kindness had sent a check to pay off the entire mortgage. And who was this stranger? None other than Donald Trump!

Some tourists and I gasped. It was an unexpected twist. Trump?

“Yes” said Mr. G. “True story. It was in the Daily News- check it! Trump – I tell you, he’s not as bad as you think.”

And then Mr. G told us some more stories of Trump’s acts of kindness. The stories so emphasized Trump’s miracle making for ordinary people, I had to stop myself from pointing out the resemblance between the Trump stories and the apocryphal miracle stories of Hasidic Zadikkim. In fact, the Trump elevation to Zadik is almost not totally absurd. On Yiddish language forums Hasidic men regularly describe themselves as Hasidim of Trump. They use the term Hasid colloquially as “fans of”, but the similarities to veneration of secular and religious leader is not as different as you’d think.

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So on the train ride home, I looked for the Daily News story, and two seconds of googling led me to a number of variations of this same tale. None of them seemed to involve Hasidim, but all involve Trump rewarding a Good Samaritan tenfold for their act of kindness. According to Snopes, this saga is an urban legend. According to Trump, on the other hand, it is true. Matzav.com addressed the story in 2016 with the version in which the Good Samaritan in a Jew, and said it is fake. This story has apparently been attributed to so many celebrities, it is listed in Jan Brunvand’s Encyclopedia of Urban Legend’s, under “Celebrity Car Breakdown“. I find it fascinating that this follows the same pattern of how miracle stories of Hasidic Zadikim spread. One store gets attributed to many different persons of note, almost as if it didn’t matter who it happened with, but rather, that it could have happened with the person it is attributed to.

So there. I told the story but I ruined it too. Fact-checking sure gets all the air out of good old fashioned story telling…

The question reminds me of an old cartoon of mine:

But don’t be too hard on yourself if you assume that a Kosher phone is something like this. I’m sure that’s something too.

Related image

But in contemporary Hasidic parlance, Kosher phones are phones that have been restricted in some ways, so as to ensure that they don’t provide access to various apps and sites that are considered problematic. Some kosher phones might be modified smartphones, like the following: This smartphone has Waze, camera, calendar, weather and the “Seal of Trust”. Although it is very restricted, with few apps and no browser, it is still a rather advanced phone.

But the kosher phone I have is one of the most restrictive phones. It is a flip-phone. The original device is the LG VX5500, which was released in 2008. It comes with talk, text, camera and, I believe, a browser. The unmodified phone can be ought on ebay for $20.

 

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Here is the kosher version. It’s listed on Venishmartem, a website for recommending internet solutions for Orthodox Jews, as follows:

Some of the features:

1. It has a symbol of kosher supervision.

2. The symbol sits on the camera eye, so the camera is disabled.

3. Where the messaging features should be, we have various shapes.

If you click on them, you are told they are disabled:

(here is the unedited version of the LG’s messaging feature.

4. Whatever features used to be at the first tab, it’s now named “colors” and various color options are available. If you click blue, you have several options of blue. Then you hit the dead-end again.

In other words, the only features that work are phones, contacts and settings. As simple as a flip-phone can get.

Naturally, the resistance to text and internet spurned a whole industry in phone news and phone information. I remember as a child we used to call “800-tellme”, before that was discontinued and replaced by the web. Within the Hasidic community, a thriving industry of hotlines cropped up, and serve as ways to get instant information without having internet access. I am guessing that this is why we see so many people walk around with their phones on their ears. Most of them aren’t even talking. They are probably just doing the equivalent of the subway full of riders with their eyes glued to their screens. Here it is ears.