On Hasidic Williamsburg

 Posted by on May 11, 2014
May 112014

A shirt I made on photoshop. It says “When in Williamsburg, Dress like a Williamsburger”

As many of you know, I’m a licensed New York City tour guide. I work in the city with groups (usually educational groups or Jewish congregations) that come to Hasidic Williamsburg to learn about its history and culture. While Visit Hasidim is only a part time project and I still have to keep my day job, being a tour guide is by all means the most enjoyable “job” I’ve ever had. My groups are usually highly intelligent visitors from all over, with contagious curiosity and enthusiasm. They don’t see the streets of Williamsburg as a show you come and watch. They see so much more. They see it in the context of world history, Jewish history, as a part of the global Jewish community today, and as an example of the ways in which cultures diverge. They often bring their own unique quest for identity to what they experience. They come to deepen their knowledge of the Jewish people, not to get a good look at caricatures. Their questions are intelligent and reflect knowledge of other elements of Jewish life.

The life and culture of Hasidism is a subject that I give a lot (a lot!) of thought to, and I love talking to others about it. I always try to step away from my biases and share raw material for my visitors to absorb and mull over. I get so much satisfaction when I hear different ideas bounced back to me.

There is also the pleasure of being a bridge between peoples. Often my groups engage in respectful conversations with Hasidim, an experience the students tell me they don’t forget afterwards. They hear ideas and worldviews that they could not hear elsewhere. After one particular conversation with three women, some of the students envied their simple lifestyle, yet others found their ignorance troublesome. On another occasion, the students were so impressed by the intelligence of a young Hasidic man they spoke to, that I heard feedback about it from one participant a year later!

It’s really an incredible learning opportunity.


Frieda Vizel

Frieda Vizel left the Hasidic community, the Modern Orthodox community and the Formerly Orthodox (OTD) community. She now lives in Pomona and is actively looking for a new community to leave. She deals with the perplexities of the communities she left by drawing cartoons about them, a habit that gets her into an excellent amount of trouble.

  2 Responses to “On Hasidic Williamsburg”

  1. Incredibly creative.

    A Williamsburger told me that to him and many others, the precept is more like, “When im Williamsburg, keep silent like a Williamsburger.”

  2. Ha – that’s sadly true and why the Hasidic community is so misunderstood.

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