There’s been a lot in the news recently about how Hasidic women dress for swim. This comes amid a controversy in Williamsburg over if the Metropolitan Pool should offer hours especially for women, catering to Hasidic women who will not swim in a coed pool. Yesterday the city announced that it will keep the women’s hours, albeit only four instead of eight, which again fueled intrigue and conversation about unique Hasidic women’s swim tradition.

In its June 26, 2016 report, this is how the New York Times described the clothes of Hasidic women:


“Their swimming outfits would have been considered prudish even by the standards of 1922, when the pool was built. They swam in dresses, some with long sleeves. One paddled in thick black tights. Inside the locker room, wigs sat upside down on window ledges and benches while their owners swam with heads under ruffled swimming caps or knotted silk scarves.”

It may seem from the many comments about Hasidic women’s dress in pools that these women are all simply swimming in their house coats.

​In fact, Hasidic women habe their own swimwear, and it is called a shvimkleid. Yiddish for: swim dress.

This is what most Satmar Hasidic women wear to the pool.

​A shvimkleid is made of the type of material boy’s swimshirts are made of; a non-absorbant, quick to dry fabric. It has underpants sewn into it of the same fabric as the rest of the dress. With its shirt skirt and sleeves, it is not modest by Hasidic standards for wearing outside the home.

Why don’t Hasidic women wear bathing suits?

Because the Satmar Rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum (1887-1979) believed that the bathing suit itself, as a garment that revealed so much of a woman’s body, was a “beged pritzah” a dress of impiety. In his letters he wrote that even if a woman wears a T-shirt over her bathing suit (which some women will do, especially from other Hasidic sects) she is still wearing that garment of impiety, and therefore sinning.

The answer to the bathing suit was the shvimkleid, which is worn by hundreds of girls flocking around in pools as we write this.

Are you planning on passing by Hasidic Williamsburg on this weekend? The following tips might contribute to your fuller understanding of the neighborhood on these days.

1.. This year, the two-day Shvies holiday is technically observed on Sunday and Monday the 12th and 13th of June, but since the holiday is immediately preceded by Saturday, the weekly Shabbos day of rest, all holiday preparations, commerce and shopping will end on Friday the 11th at sunset, effectively creating a three-day holiday marathon of Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

2. Days of rest, whether it’s the weekly Shabbos or the 13 hardcore holiday days, means for Orthodox Jews (which includes Hasidim, of course) no use of cars and an increase of pedestrians.. Men (and in the morning, some women) will walk to and from shull for prayer services, families walking to and from relatives for the meals and take afternoon strolls on the streets, to the park and even onto the Williamsburg Bridge or the waterfront in North Williamsburg..

3. Pedestrian traffic on Saturday until sundown will be lighter than on Sunday and Monday. That is because Shabbos to Orthodox Jews (which, again, includes Hasidim) has the additional restriction of “carrying,” a restriction holidays like Shvies don’t have. “Carrying” in the context of Halacha (rabbinic law) has no relation to the arithmetic technique you hated but eventually mastered in elementary school. Instead, it refers to the prohibition against one carrying in the streets any object other than the clothing one is actually wearing. Prohibitive carrying especially impacts mothers with young children who can’t leave the house carrying the child or pushing a stroller. And so on holidays, unlike Shabbos, the entire family – with the newborn and toddler and caretaker and stroller or double stroller – can conveniently leave the home together to visit families or just stroll the streets. (I shall note that some families do “carry” in Williamsburg on Shabbos, while most done’t. This is the result of a decade-long divide that exists in Williamsburg over an ancient, Halachicly-sanctioned loophole (Eiruv) to the carrying prohibition, a controversy that is beyond the scope of this post.)

4. Late Saturday night until dawn, pedestrian traffic, mostly men, will be unusually busier than would other nights and early mornings. That’s due to an all-night shull service called, Tikkun Leil Shavuot, men attend, or chose to hang out around, on the first night of Shvies.

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Here’s how incredibly different Hasidic NYC is from most of the rest of the city: as far as I observed, there is no tipping. The other day I overheard a secular woman ask the waiter at Gottlieb’s Restaurant if he was sure there is no gratuity. The waiter smiled and insisted, in heavily accented English, that there is no gratuity. She asked again “you’re sure?” as if she felt that she was somehow not paying her dues.

Tipping wasn’t always the “mandatory gratuity” in America. It was imported from Europe and became the norm in the early 1900s, according to this history on tipping. But it did not become “mandatory rather than voluntary” without some serious objection. “In 1904, the Anti-Tipping Society of America sprang up in Georgia, and its 100,000 members signed pledges not to tip anyone for a year. In 1909, Washington became the first of six states to pass an anti-tipping law. But the new laws rarely were enforced, and, by 1926 every anti-tipping law had been repealed.”

I’ve often heard people complain that Hasidim do not tip taxi drivers or other service members, but I think this is only a facet of the culture and does not reflect ill will or any efforts to “cheat” servicemen. My own guess would be that this will change with time as the Hasidic service sector continues to be influenced by the American landscape it exists in.

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I saw this the other day. The sign on this bus reads:

“This ‘air condition’ on this bus was sponsored by the ‘Ladies Auxiliary’ of our congregation.”

I had to stop and take a picture, because I’ve never seen a part of a bus donated! And because I needed an air condition too, and I thought maybe this may be my answer.

But on a serious note, I thought the plaque was worth commenting. It is written entirely in Yiddish, unlike most donation signs that are written in at least some Hebrew. Where I’d expect to see the Hebrew word nadev for donate, we have sponsored transliterated in Yiddish. I’d venture to theorize that the reason it is a mix of Yiddish and English and not Hebrew is because it was sponsored by women. This reflects the very gendered language in the Hasidic community, where men read Hebrew fluently but little English, and women only speak Yiddish and English.

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I always ask my groups what the above pastries are, and invariably a few people will call out rugelach. I ask if they know of another name for it, and not once has anyone ever said kipelach.

I asked Kaff’s Bakery what the difference between rugelach and kipelach is, and the cashier said that it’s the same; the terms are interchangeable. In our family we used to call the above kipelach, and the below rugelach. I’d eat both interchangeably though…

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Actually, the origin of both names are worth looking at. According to the Nibble,“Its name [rugelach] comes from the Yiddish “rugel,” or royal, and it goes by other names such as kipfel (in Hungary and the Czech Republic) and horns of plenty (in non-Jewish areas of the U.S., where people “rugelach” may not easily roll off the tongue).”

However, I never heard of the Yiddish word “rugel”. For regal, we used a Hebrew adaption of malchusdig or maybe the Yiddish keniglech or prechtig.

The encyclopedia of Jewish food has a long entry on the kipfel:

“Austrian bakers originally called the little pointed loaves of white bread zipfel (German meaning “corner/tip”), also spelled ciphel. Zipfel is still used, in conjunction with polster (cushion/padding); polsterzipfel refers to a jam-filled Austrian cookie, also known as Vienna kipfel and in Germany as hasenörchen (little rabbit ears). Meanwhile, the Viennese took to mispronouncing the pointed breads as kipfel, and the word soon becoming a synonym for the German hörnchen (crescent). 

“In Yiddish, the word kipfel came to specify crescent cookies, both leavened and unleavened, and not the croissant bread. One form of the cookies, nusskipferlin (nut crescents), still ranks among the favorite Ashkenazic cookies. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Jewish immigrants brought the kipfel to America…

In late twentieth century America, kipfel, particularly with an unleavened cream cheese dough, became better known as rugelach.”

It seems the original kipfele had a pronounced F that is no longer around in the Hasidic pronunciation, which is kipele.

In the 1933 Crisco Recipes for the Jewish Housewife, there’s a kipfel recipe. It calls for a lot of cottage cheese in the dough, something I imagine no one who makes Hasidic kipelach does. The pastry is described as “Hungarian half moon cookies.” Here’s the recipe. The word “filling” is transliterated in Yiddish, already beginning the tradition of adopting English words to Yiddish.

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If anyone makes it, please email me the pictures of the kipfels and let me know how it tastes!