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.

As someone who has left the Hasidic community and continues to be fascinated by how much nuance this insular community hides, I’m especially interested in literature that comes from insiders – and often, of course, they will have the bias of those who left. I read this book at about the time of its initial release, but didn’t analyze it too closely. Now, after some time and having heard many people base their knowledge of the Hasidic community on this book, I thought it’s time for a second, more critical look.

When I reread Deen’s book, I can still see the bright spots; especially in the scene describing his engagement. It’s warm, it’s funny, it’s real. Deen isn’t hiding any ghosts there – as far as I know – so he is able to portray an engagement that is original, humorous, human. There are several such isolated scenes that capture Hasidic life, and they speak to his potential. Deen isn’t an author of great insights but he is able to frame a sentence so that reading it is a pleasure; and small details effortlessly bring the scene to life.

But the book isn’t what it could have been, because in addition to being a memoir about leaving Hasidism, it is also a dance around Deen’s demons. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian author of “Americana”, once described one memoir as “a well-written act of image-making”. Adichie sees through the memoirist whose slick honesty is there to disarm, whose self-criticism is calculated to deflect.

Deen also composes his story as an act of image making. He is aware that society can idolize the stories of the coming of age, leaving insular communities genre, but that the adoration turns sour when children are left behind. Since Deen’s relationship with his five children deteriorates over the last part of the book, he writes to avoid being judged harshly by readers.

Deen’s wife Gitty is never humanized. If we can’t feel her presence, we can’t imagine that there is more to this than one man’s feelings. Gitty rarely speaks, and when she does, the lines she’s given are so all over the place, it creates a dismembered character. On one hand we are told that there is nothing but clipped conversations between the couple — Gitty doesn’t even respond to a gift, and only offers a begrudging thank you after being asked for feedback — while on the other she is accused of taking over and being so overbearing, that Deen feels cast aside in her matriarchal tyranny. We assume that this is what Hasidic women are like; empty and dead inside, devoid of personalities, brainwashed. While I don’t know this woman, I’ve yet to meet a Hasidic woman who is like that. I found myself wondering what we are not told of Gitty. Either Deen really did not see her, or he thought it dangerous to tell the reader too much about her.

There are several other instances in which we are primed to see him a victim of impossible circumstances. He describes a Hasidic world of bleak poverty and no food to feed the many mouths. “Most of my friends from yeshiva were living the same way…. Either still studying in the kollel, or teaching at the chedar, and struggling, making do with whatever they could – yeshiva vouchers, food stamps, Section 8. They went from one poor moneymaking idea to the next…”

The subject of Hasidic economics is too complicated to go into here, but Deen does not even try; he turns to the stereotype of Hasidic men who are unemployed and uneducated, and gently goads the reader into outrage at the Hasidic system of “welfare mooching.” The reader gasps “who could stay in such a world?”

We get only a superficial glimpse into Deen’s life during the crucial years after he lost faith and before he got divorced. In 2003, when he had already been writing for some time under the pseudonym Hasidic Rebel, I started my own journey with a blog. My impressions from reading the few regular bloggers (including Deen) and from my interactions with them (some now close friends) were that these men lived double lives that became more untenable as they adventured more in the secular world  – bars, pot, travel, lovers, etc. But Deen writes as if he never as much heard of a party. He describes himself as a lone man spending night after night in Manhattan, venturing into bars alone, always alone. A man driven by longing. We are not reminded of Gitty whose world was unraveling while raising five children. How might this have played into the bitterness in the divorce?

In all, Deen’s story could raise an important question: is he culpable for his fall; the alienation from his family, the anguish that led to a breakdown? Should we all point fingers and say “I told you so” when the book ends with so much sadness? I wouldn’t say so. As often, responsibility can be split like fair minded pirates doling out loot. I think the important question the book could have raised is of the conflict between self and family. But Deen carefully casts himself as the pitiful victim of a society, paints over any moral ambiguity, and bangs the gavel, the verdict is out, he did all he could, the system wrought all his pain.

The book isn’t useless as a work on Hasidic life, but its depiction is flawed because it is contrived. As I saw it, it was written not to illuminate, but to absolve.

One of my favorite books that describe contemporary Hasidic life — and probably one of the least known — is Teacha; Storeis from a Yeshiva. The book only gives us a sliver of a glimpse into the community, through the eyes of Gerry Albarelli, a non-Jew who was hired to be a teacher in the Satmar boy’s school. Albarelli writes with candor and an eye for detail about the chaotic, rough, all-male bubble of education inside the Hasidic community. It is clear from his writing that he is neither intimidated nor awestruck by the wild and unusual yeshiva he finds. What we get instead is subtle warms, an occasional shoulder shrug, and a good sense of humor. Albarelli is able to show us how wild and untamed these boys are, a “factory” running into the evening, while it is also clear that he gets through to the children, grows on them as they grow on him. What I like about his stories is that he does not belabor any of these feelings. He just says it as he experienced it, and lets the readers feel the range of experiences through his.

It is told in short essays, but all of the essays together follow him through one school years, from when he was hired as he becomes more comfortable in the yeshiva, until he leaves at the end of the year. His first efforts to earn the boys respect:

“They (the Hasidic boys) were outside the classroom, six or seven boys, waiting, hopping in place, talking excitedly behind their hands. When they saw me coming, they ran inside, “Teacha! The teacha!” The tables and benches were shoved out of their usual arrangement and boys were running around them. Books and papers were all over the floor.

When the boys saw me walk in, they stopped what they were doing – chasing each other, walking on the tables, screaming, laughing, only long enough to let me know they were not going to stop.

Then I was the boy up near the ceiling.

He was on top of the wardrobe that contained their jackets and bookbags.

“Get down!” I said.

Everyone looked up.

“Teacha,” he said, smiling now that everyone was watching. “Look! I’m a janitor fixing the pipes.”

Later, Albarelli adapts and learns to navigate this challenging teaching post, but we know that this is not a situation where he ever completely wins the staff or student’s trust. He is only more successful and teaches more than the other English teachers, but that doesn’t say much, as many of the teachers are terrified of their own students and are just there to get out. Albarelli educates by putting on performances with the boys, or as the boys call it “makhen plays”, something everyone loved.

“The play began with one boy whistling and sweeping the floor of his store in the morning. It was easy to see the broom would have been taller than he was; it was probably even in the way he held the imaginary broom. Whistling, sweeping, and then he had a customer. All the other boys were watching; they were all sitting on the floor, on their tables, quietly listening.

There he was, with his peyahs, and white shirt tucked into his pants, whistling, and the other boys, looking exactly the same, were watching…

All of a sudden another boy entered the store, grabbed a chicken and ran out. When the store owner realized what had happened he was in a panic. He called the police. He was on a first-name basis with the policeman who answered the phone; he even told him to get right over there. The policeman arrived, took a description of the thief, went out, searched for and found him. Then he arrested him and put him in jail, which was the closet at the back of the room.”

We also get a little feel for how the children feel about this outsider, this teacher, who they call a goy, or a “half Jew, half goy” doomed for gehenna. There is an obvious chasm between the Yiddish speaking students and their “English” teacher. 

“Every day they teach me a few new words but they seem to have no faith in my capacity to absorb and remember because every time I throw a Yiddish word into a story, they look up, astonished. “This is a story about an old woman who sweeps with the besom, with the broom.” “Teacha,” a boy says, “you can Yiddish?”

A central character in the boys’ lives is Rabbi Katz, the man who carries the stick and the carrot and shoves around the boys and teachers with the same rough manners. He has a trademark “scariness” that is supposed to put everything in to order, yet his pushing and shoving means he’s not really taken seriously. We all know the bad guy in schools; from whom all the students run. And sometimes thhis bad guy is even the good guy.

“Sorry for my English,” Rabbi Katz says as though he weren’t sorry at all. “I’m born in Israel.”

Then, all of a sudden he switches gears.

“Eleven years I am a teacher. Not only a teacher!” Shouts Rabbi Katz. “I’m director from the boys’ choir. I’m running the kitchen. I run a summer camp. You ask any boy – any boy – who having the best camp! I work mit details!”

Rabbi Katz is explaining himself to us. He goes on and on. There’s a lot to say. He’s explaining himself to the teachers more or less the way he explains himself to the boys.”

Albarelli ends this way-too-short little book with the closing of the school year, when the boys are suddenly informed that they will no longer have English and they can leave early. As Albarelli leaves, there are no obvious expressions of affection to mark their parting, but it is clear that he does not leave the boys easily.

“Walking away, I was thinking about the boys. It was as if they lived on a rope stretched between a lake of fire, Gehenna, and the fires of ecstasy. The boys never saw themselves as individuals but as boys who were wild and in need of a smack. It was as if in the ruin of a classroom – all classrooms were ruined all the time as if ever day were the last day of the year – it was as if the ruin of a classroom was wild  ecstasy – chairs broken, overturned, paper, strips of paper balled up, paper all over the floor, candy, plastic bags with the remains of potato chips and pretzels, orange peels, overflowing trash, books spilling out of the class; all the wildness and destruction of the room – also ecstatsy.

I was walking away from the yeshiva, the rabbis and the boys, but leaving, it was as if I was still there. Even half a block away, I could hear the joyous screaming behind me.”

The book is a compilation of several fictional stories about a few individuals in the ultra-orthodox community. The stories are unoriginal; about a couple meeting through a shidduch, a meddlesome mother in law, a young yeshiva boy who has an affair with a black girl and a middle-aged woman who runs off from the community. The stories are cut up in chapters that skip between the different stories, so all stories span the length of the book. But most of the book actually reads like a long long long introduction to the climax: the salacious wedding night scene between Chani Kaufman and her groom. The author clearly loves to write about the going-ons between couples. I regret to say however, that except for the final chapters, the couples’ going-ons are rather uneventful.

The people in the book seem mostly stifled, uninspired, obsessed with Hashem and repressed by the religious society. It is very frustrating and grating to read a book that is full of giant inaccuracies. Not inaccuracies of ritual, but inaccuracies of the cultural essence, the characters and the spirit of the people. So my problem with this fairly negative book is not that it is negative, but that the negativities are often inaccurate.

For example:

The ultra-orthodox women have many children. While to the outsider, each child may seem to come as quickly as a single breath, well, that is not how it actually happens. The biological law of the nine month pregnancy applies to religious women too! (Surprise!) So young Chani Kauffman whose mother had many children “had watched her mother’s stomach inflate and deflate like a bullfrog’s throat” we get probably the worst, inhumane and ridiculous description of the life of a woman who has many children, condensed into one terrible metaphor. A nine month process is described as superficially as the duration of a breath. Are women really getting pregnant and unpregnant as grotesquely as a bullfrogs throat’s dilation? The author expands: “Chani’s mother had become a machine whose parts were grinding and worn… an exhausted mountain of dilapidated flesh, endlessly suckling, soothing, patting or feeding… Her father sowed his seed time and time again in his wife’s worn out womb”. Is this realistically how big families happen, or is this rather overflowing with the condescension of store-bought feminism? I think the latter. Women everywhere work themselves to sheer exhaustion for whatever they value; and the ultra-orthodox women do too. The assumption that this makes them machine like objects without any agency or pleasure is classic narrow-mindedness. All that this description reflects is someone’s snap judgment of large families. It lacks any empathy or insight. In fact, when Chani’s mother is actually seen in action throughout the book she is engaged and warm and not at all ‘a machine of dilapidated flesh.’

There are many more such problems, for instance in the way the children experience being stifled (they wonder about bacon; right, because another culture’s diet is REALLY what a curious person would think about) or in the radical, unrealistic way the rebbetzin runs off from the community.

Well. The inaccuracies were actually only the least of my problems with this book. The writing is, to quote its own words “not talking like a mentch!” I have no idea who the hell the Man Booker prize people are, or what their prize is, but I cannot begin to understand how a book like this one can receive an award. The writing tries very hard to be cute, so hard; it distracts from what’s happening in the stories. And the stories are told in chopped up pieces, hopping from one character’s tale to another, giving you a long drawn out piece about Chaim’s interest in Chani’s looks, or in Mrs. Levy’s scheme to stop the shidduch, so you lose your tale just when you were maybe (maybe!) starting to get faintly interested in one saga or another. In trying to describe what these characters are like, nothing comes to my mind but their physical characteristics (either great youthful beauty or terrible unsightliness) and their endless kvetching. The characters are so flat, that when you read it you almost see caricatures get pasted in from a crafty handbook of stereotypes. There is very little dialog, all of it stale. (example: “Chany Kaufman, your behavior today was inappropriate at the very least.’ ‘Yes, Mrs. Beranrd,” Chani whispered. “What’s that?” snapped the Deputy Head. “I’m very sorry, Mrs. Bernard.” Etc.)

Lots of things happen because the author tells you it happened (“they grew closer”) not because the scenes are in the book, in over-decorated language riddled with bad metaphors: “her eyes shone with liquid apology” and she walks down the street “her legs pumping like pistons.” Or my favorite “he flamed the colour of chraine.” The pacing is distracting too because of the way the story jumps abruptly from character to character, but worse because you spend so much time with the drawn out descriptive language, nothing happens, and then suddenly it is six months later. Most of all, the appeal of this book seems to lie in its exciting wedding night scene (which isn’t so exciting after all) and this single episode seems to be the book, with three hundred pages of adjectives fluffed around it. In all, I had a hard time getting through it and I would not recommend it.

Many Jews remember Williamsburg before its Hasidic transformation; when centrist Orthodox and secular Jews were part of the neighborhood landscape. But not many dedicated themselves to recording their memories and preserving the fascinating history of the community as it transformed to a Hasidic community. Philip Fishman is of the few who shared their experiences with the public. His book “A Sukkah is Burning; Remembering Williamsburg’s Hasidic Transformation” is part autobiographical, part ethnography of the Williamsburg of his time; and part political and religious commentary. He maps the social and religious landscape of his youth by telling us at times amusing, at times painful, anecdotes of a childhood in Williamsburg and intimate stories that tell us not only about the author, but also about the mood of the time and the changes the author lived through. I consider his book a  great addition to the bookshelf on Jewish Williamsburg.
Philip was kind enough to agree to be interviewed for my blog. Here is our conversation:

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what your relationship to Williamsburg is. Where do you live/what do you do?
 I live in Newton Massachusetts. I am a retired scientist that worked on the design of satellite communications systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the MITRE Corporation. In the 1970s I was a professor at Washington University. I have a doctorate in applied mathematics. My wife is a professor of Jewish Studies at Brandeis University in Waltham Massachusetts. We have three children and six grandchildren. I was born in Williamsburg in 1943 and lived in an apartment house on Hewes Street across from the shul of the Sigheter Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum. He was the nephew of the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum and became the Satmar Rebbe after his uncle’s death in 1979. I attended the Yeshiva and Mesivta Torah Vodaath and graduated its high school in 1960.

Which years did you live there and at what age?
I lived there from my birth in 1943 until I was married in 1967.

What was your religious affiliation? Is that still the same?
My family was Orthodox. My father was a member of the Sigheter shul across from our house. Though I frequently davened at Sighet, I was active in the youth minyan of the Agudah (Pirchei Agudah) that was on Bedford Avenue around the corner from my house. I was bar mitzvahed at the Sigheter Shul though I was an “American kid.” I am now a member of a Modern Orthodox congregation in Newton Massachusetts that in contrast to these Williamsburg congregations has strong Zionist and feminist leanings.

Can you describe what Williamsburg was like then?
In the 1940s and 1950s Williamsburg was very different than it is now. The largest shuls (such as Hewes Street Shul, Clymer Street Shul, and Young Israel) though all Orthodox, had a Religious Zionist orientation and had Israeli and American flags displayed prominently in their sanctuaries. Many—perhaps most—of the Jews living there then were not observant and had little Jewish education. There were also large numbers of non-Jews including Irish, and (in the 1950s) Puerto Ricans. In my apartment building in the heart of Jewish Williamsburg I had five Jewish playmates—only one of them was Orthodox.

The major Jewish institution then was the Yeshiva and Mesivta Torah Vodaath. This started out in the 1920s as a progressive Hebrew and Zionist oriented school but by the 1970s was becoming Haredi. Around 1970, Torah Vodaath moved to a new campus in Flatbush. A factor in its move may have been that Williamsburg was now dominated by Satmar.

What changes did you experience during your time?
The most dramatic change was its transformation from a very mixed Jewish and gentile neighborhood into a Hassidic neighborhood dominated by Satmar. This transformation was going on when I left Williamsburg in 1967 and is now apparently total. In 1967 the Hewes Street Shul and Young Israel were struggling but still functioning as what we might call today Modern or Centrist Orthodox synagogues. Today the magnificent Hewes Street Shul has been converted into a school for girls owned by the Klausenberg Hasidim. The Young Israel (across from the Tzelemer shul) is also a Hassidic yeshiva. 

Can you tell us a story to illustrate that?
In the 1950s and 1960s the Sigheter Shul across from my apartment was heavily attended during the week by many Orthodox men who were not Hasidim. They were there because there were multiple morning and evening services at many times during the day. They were welcomed warmly by the Sighet Hassidim. One of the daily regulars was the sociologist and educator Dr. Gershon (George) Kranzler who also lived on Hewes Street and who later wrote a number of books about Williamsburg. My next door neighbor Shmuel (Samuel) Lifshitz was an ardent Zionist and leading member of the Young Israel. In his retirement years he studied Talmud every morning in the Sigheter shul with a Sighet Hasid. I cannot imagine interactions like these today.

Tell us about your relationship with the Sigheter Rebbe’s family. Do you remember the brothers Aaron and Zalmen Leib? 
My childhood impression of the Sigheter Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, was that he was much more gentle, moderate, and mild mannered than his uncle the Satmar Rebbe. This was reflected in his shul where people of all backgrounds were welcome to daven—in strong contrast to the Satmar shul. My mother who was not a Hasid had occasional conversations with his rebbetzin (his second wife) who also impressed her and me as a pleasant personality. I was bar mitzvahed in the Sighet shul and was greeted warmly by the Rebbe who gave me his blessing (“I should grow up to live a life of Torah”) even though he knew I was not Hassidic in dress or inclination. I remember Aaron and Zalman who were a few years younger than me, but I had almost no personal contact with them. I think their parents kept them totally away from the neighborhood children. This was understandable since during the early fifties almost all the other children on the block were not Hasidic and many were not religious or even Jewish. Even as little children they were always dressed in black garb and had the shaved heads and long peyote typical of Satmar. They impressed me as austere and uncomfortable with outsiders. One Pesach on a hot day I was walking down Hewes Street drinking from a soda bottle that was kosher for Passover. I am sure that the kosher certification was not accepted by Satmar. One of these brothers looked at me angrily and called me by a Yiddish epithet. I guess he was thirsty. He was probably 7 years old at the time.

 I remember giving hopscotch lessons to the Rebbe’s eldest daughter Chaya (Chayka?), but when she was around 8 years old she was also taken off the street and I rarely saw her. I believe she died at a relatively young age.

What made you leave Williamsburg?
Most non-Hasidic people left Williamsburg in the 1960s and 1970s. This was for a variety of reasons including: They no longer fitted in as the neighborhood was increasingly dominated by Satmar; the core of the neighborhood was destroyed by the construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

They moved to more affluent neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island. I myself moved to Manhattan when I was married in 1967. My mother moved to Far Rockaway where my older brother lived.

Did you experience the leaving of the non-Hasidic orthodox community from Williamsburg? What would you attribute it to?
The non-Hasidic Orthodox community moved out gradually beginning in the 1950s. A big part of this move occurred in the late 1950s when the Brooklyn Queens Expwy was being built and physically destroyed the heart of the Orthodox community. As people earned more money they moved to Boro Park or Flatbush or more pleasant suburbs in Queens or Long Island. Many of them moved from tenements or apartments to single family homes. Even the Yeshiva Torah Vodaath no longer felt comfortable in Williamsburg and moved to a more pleasant neighborhood in Flatbush. Also, Satmar didn’t particularly welcome non-Satmar people. The large shuls along Bedford Avenue gradually lost most of their membership and eventually could barely maintain a minyan. The writing was clearly on the wall. It was sad to see.

Can you describe what you saw and how you felt when you returned to Williamsburg recently? What changed? What was the same?
I was impressed with the quality of the housing on many streets. The brownstones on my own street (Hewes) appeared to be kept up nicely, and looked better than I remember them 50 years ago. Many young mothers were dressed well and were wheeling expensive baby carriages. I certainly did not get the impression that this was an economically depressed community. Many of the backyards and alleys have now been filled with small apartment houses. There is much less vegetation and trees than there were 50 years ago.

Most of the major institutions that I grew up with have been transformed into Hasidic schools. These include the YMHA, the Young Israel, Hewes Street Shul, and Eastern District High School. Many other major institutional buildings have simply been demolished. These include the Agudah, Klymer Street Shul and Mesivta Torah Vodaath. The Yeshiva Torah Vodaath on Wilson Street (which I attended through eighth grade) is still standing but is now a Hasidic yeshiva. The disappearance of so many institutions that defined Williamsburg when I was young was very disconcerting.

Do you still have old friends in Williamsburg?
None that I am aware of.

What compelled you to write the book A Sukkah is Burning about your time in Williamsburg?
Williamsburg’s transformation into an exclusively haredi neighborhood was the first of its kind in the United States, but these changes were soon repeated in many other American and Israeli communities. The Williamsburg story is of profound historical importance and has had a dramatic impact on American Jewish life. The story of its transformation deserves to be written. I also include material of a personal and familial nature, some of it quite humorous, that I hope will be rewarding to the reader. I certainly enjoyed writing it.

Did you get any feedback from the Williamsburg community to your book?
Yes. Many classmates from my graduating class at the Mesivta Torah Vodaath have written and emailed complimentary comments. Generally, they feel that I accurately capture events that I describe—though some have pointed out minor errors. In Chapter 6, I describe the fire in my apartment building that ruined the wedding gown of a young woman who was about to get married. That young woman, now in her seventies and living in Israel, recently informed me that though much of her apartment was destroyed the wedding gown survived intact. In chapter 8, I describe an incident in 1959 where a classmate was briefly suspended from the Torah Vodaath High School for hanging an Israeli flag in a corridor on Yom Ha’atzmut. That classmate recently jocularly complained that I didn’t mention his name in the book. He was PROUD that he hung the flag.  I love getting feedback like this about events of more than 50 years ago.

On a sadder note, a classmate called concerning the material in Chapter 11 about my childhood experience with a pedophile who was a leader of the Agudah movement. This classmate informed me that he personally observed the perpetrator committing many similar acts in Camp Agudah in the Catskills. This kind of tragedy unfortunately is still all too common. There are also those who are critical of me for bringing these facts to light at all.

Though my book has sold in more than 30 states, about half of the sales have come, not surprisingly, from the New York City area. I conjecture that a number of these are from present and former Williamsburg residents.

Did you leave something out that you now wish you’d included?
I regret not putting in more historical material about many of the Jewish institutions. I also would include more about the “haimishe” culture of Williamsburg then. But I am by and large happy with the book as written.

If you were to lead groups of visitors on educational tours of Hasidic Williamsburg; what would you want to teach them about the era in Williamsburg you experienced?
I would bring them to the institutional buildings (some of which have been demolished) that defined the neighborhood sixty years ago and describe the culture, history and importance of each. These include Hewes Street Shul, Clymer Street Shul, the “Polisher Shteibel”, Tzelemer Shul, Torah Vodaath, Sighet, and Klausenberg. I would probably bore them with my “ancient history.”

Are there any buildings that are still around that have significance to you?
The apartment building I lived in (163 Hewes Street) is still standing, as well as the Sighet Shul across the street and the Klausenberg Shul around the corner. The Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, Hewes Street Shul, Young Israel, and YMHA buildings are still standing but have been taken over by Hasidic groups.

Do you plan to return to Williamsburg again to visit?
I have been returning about once a year.

If you were to join me on a tour, what would you want to learn?
I would like to learn about the different Hasidic groups and how they interact with the modern world that surrounds them. In what ways have their attitudes changed over the intervening decades? Are there significant defections among the young men and women? How do they feel now about secular education? How does the average Hasid make a living (diamonds, real estate, teaching, retail,…) ? What work do the women do?  Are there religious and economic tensions, conflicts?

Before we let you go, can you tell us a story to illustrate what memories of Williamsburg you look back fondly to?
When I was a senior in the Torah Vodaath High School, I took a number of advanced math classes taught at the end of the day by the secular studies principle, Rabbi Max (Moshe) Lonner Z”L. We lived near each other and we walked home together from the school that was about a mile from our homes. Rabbi Lonner was a refugee from Nazi Germany and we frequently talked about his experiences as a youngster in Germany. As far as I recall he was the only faculty member in the school that really opened up to me on a personal level. He also had a fine sense of humor. If a student was misbehaving in class he would yell at him good-naturedly “leave the room and close the window behind you,” or “every dog shall have his day and I shall have mine.” Unlike many of the administration at Torah Vodaath today, he took secular education very seriously and prided himself in the academic achievements of his former students. I really miss him.