I am one of fifteen. I’m the fifth. We have no twins.

I grew up with the cycle of the once in two years birth of a sibling creating a pattern in our lives as predictable, exciting, stressful and rythmic as the holidays. Every year in December our house was turned aglow with Chanukah, every year we built a Sukkah for the fall holiday, and every other year we took the cradle out and lined it with the white bunting with purple prayer words and birds stitched into it.

Every other year the eldest in the house got married, and left the house.

There were always reasons for beds to be passed around and rearranged as the older ones moved up to the more desirable window bed while the younger one labored to pull out the high riser.

We all were little parents, the more people you had authority over the more like a somebody you felt. At one point, it was my job as a teenager to get five boys to sleep. Every night, five boys in two sets of bunk beds, fresh pajamas and washed sidecurls. I ordered them around and felt like king.

(My brothers are now married and grown men – the youngest of them will marry this year. Since I left the faith, things are tense and awkward when I visit home but when someone mentions the bedtime stories I concocted for these wide eyed boys we all reminisce with warm nostalgia.)

When I think of large families I think…

… Of cities. How much more people share space, and yet how much less they know each other.

… Of my four year old brother in pajamas getting the two year old baby out of the crib, with the same seriousness as a toddler making himself a cup of coffee.

… Of independence. Kids who know how to take care of themselves.

…of many household chores.

… of the nights my older sister woke me because I disturbed her with my snoring. As she was older, her solution to this problem was straightforward: she was entitled to the better bargain due to seniority, so I was to sacrifice my sleep so she can save on the annoyance. It was resolved when my parents had my tonsils removed.

… liveliness.

I guess you can tell I remember it fondly. I always thought I would have my own brood like that, but things looked less joyous from the perspective of mothering all that much. I will always carry a bit of sadness for the large family of my childhood hopes.

This belongs to the genre of ways in which the Hasidic community has been responding to access to the outside world through the internet. The number of posters alone is immense.

Text of poster:

In this no one doubts! 

That to take out a smartphone in public… one must have a disgusting degree of malignancies and evil. Because he knows how much it tempts the children and it doesn’t even bother him that because of him all yeshivas are totally destroyed.

“...that to take out a smartphone in public... one must have a disgusting degree of malignancies and evil.”

I think these music videos (male centric, of course) will give you more of a sense of Catskills for Hasidim (a form of Orthodox Jewry) than any written description.

PS: I heard that some kids featured in these videos were penalized by their schools for featuring in something as “modern” as a music video. I don’t know all the details, but this kind of pushback against modern mediums is run of the mill.

YouTube Hasidic Music

And a less staged video, produced, I believed, for within the community. One of those internal montages.

Hasidic Camp

Source: Went to summer camp in the Catskills for many years. As a tour guide in Williamsburg, the two months of summer touring in Brooklyn are mostly dead. The bakeries we tour aren’t even open. Nearly everyone leaves town; it’s incredible.

A photo of a March 2017 poster asks people to notify the “Organization of Technology” if they have any information with regards to women (using the language “mothers”) who have smartphones.

​Here’s the announcement with translation:


As during these days the “Vaad Hatechnelogia” (Organization of Technology) is finishing to eradicate the smartphones owned by the mothers of students of our holy schools-

It is important that if someone knows of some such woman, they should call as soon as possible-

And in doing so speed up the opportunity to put an end to it.

PS: Be aware that there is no acceptable excuse for a woman [to have a smartphone] (i.e. for work).

The PS warns that women can never, under any circumstances, own a smartphone. It is unclear when men are given exceptions, but it is obvious that women have been the greater target for the anti-smartphone campaign. We often hear that the reason for targeting women is because women are closer to their children, and therefore the influences they are exposed to is a greater risk to future generations. It might also be because it is a more effective strategy to begin with the women, who could then push their husbands to also give up their phones.

In 1982 the New York Times ran a piece about a tour of the Hasidic Williamsburg by David M. Edelstein and Dr. George Kranzler, the author of books and research on the topic. Their depiction of Hasidic life is at once very familiar and also so dated. Couples still marry young and baby carriages are still the pride of the family, but people no longer travel en masse to the diamond district for work, and Satmar would probably not be as cooperative again. In this tour, the Times describes Satmar’s hospitality:

“The Satmars, however, have opened the doors of two institutions to visitors for the Sunday tours. These are the main Satmar synagogue on Rodney Street and the mikvah, or ritual bath, in a modern brick building alongside the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.Visitors will enter the synagogue through the women’s entrance, climb a flight of stairs and watch the scene below – men at prayer or study -through a slatted wooden divider that ordinarily enables women to see the service, but keeps them out of view.

The mikvah is a spotlessly clean bathhouse with a dozen private rooms where women cleanse themselves with soap and water before immersion into one of four pink- and blue-tiled ritual baths, which are filled with rainwater. The mikvah, customarily used in the evening, is an essential part of Orthodox life, because couples are not permitted to resume sexual relations after a woman’s menstrual period unless she immerses herself in the ritual bath. “

It is surprising how much about the Hasidic life has not changed over these many years in New York City, even as everything is now much bigger and updated to contemporary fashions. What has changed most since this tour might not be immediately evident to the unknowing tourist: ie, the advent of the easily accessible internet. The profound effect of technology can be felt everywhere in today’s Williamsburg- from storefronts to wall posters warning community members against this great modern threat.