Among Satmar Hasidic Jews, women never smoke. It’s really unheard of. But quite common for men, even though it’s officially frowned upon. Smoking is seen as deviant and often a way men try to be “cool”, but it’s not the kind of transgression that can push someone out of the fold. The reason Hasidic men often smoke probably goes back to...

The Jewish comedian Jackie Mason who grew up in NYC during the period of most cultural output from New York Jews (he was born in 1931 and was of the Borscht Belt generation), has recently been visiting Gottlieb’s restaurant in the Hasidic community for a bit of deli-style Jewish food. This is where the deli food is moving to: the Hasidic and ultra-orthodox...

Oh, yeah. I grew up Hasidic in Kiryas Joel and all four of my grandparents were holocaust survivors, all of my friends were grandchildren of holocaust survivors. Our Yiddish paper ‘Der Tseydung’ ran a column in every weekly paper, telling a different person’s war story. I remember reading some pretty horrifying stuff at the kitchen table, while eating soup, as...

Here is an answer from history:[1] Paraphrased and copied (with some abbreviations) from a paper by Glenn Dynner (who was my teacher at SLC): In 1845, Tsar Nicholas of Russia decreed a ban on traditional Jewish clothing, because “Traditional Jewish attire was now deemed clannish and visibly repugnant, while Jewish hairstyles were said to encourage the spread of the scalp infection known...

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...

When a friend of mine was in Williamsburg late one night for a wedding, he explored the neighborhood a little bit, and told me that he stumbled upon the old Young Israel of Brooklyn I wrote about here, one of the important sites in historic Williamsburg, and had a conversation with the purported owner of the property. My friend learned from the owner that...

Yom Tov Ehrlich was probably the most important Yiddish songwriters/artists in the post holocaust American Hasidic community. I grew up with Yom Tov Ehrlich and can sing many of his songs [and I do; and not only to my son!] and I associate many of them with very warm memories of my mother. But there is one song in particular that...

In a previous post, I wrote about the Satmar Rabbi's influence on the Williamsburg community, and that his anti-zionist stance can be seen all over Williamsburg, even among non-Satmar sects, in the absence of pro-Israeli symbols in its streets. Where Israeli flags and Jewish Stars were commonplace in Williamsburg before the non-Hasidic Orthodox population left, the Jewish stars have been vanishing....

In the first installment, I looked at the modest Klausenburg synagogue at 131 Lee Avenue that used to be a motion picture theater. A few blocks away, at 27 Lee Avenue, we have the huge Vien Synagogue that used to be a theater too, but for its story, we need to go back much further in time. In the buildings on its...

A very dramatic story went down on a Friday Night 9:00pm on Lee Avenue in 1865, when the good people of the "burgh" were praying at the Lee Avenue church with the door open, because it was so hot. They suddenly heard a female shriek. They found a woman who called herself Mary with her clothes disheveled and a man...

  Where did the streets of Williamsburg get their names from? Many of the streets are named after the signers of the declaration of independence, especially from Pennsylvania and the Carolinas. Take Rutledge, Taylor, Clymer, Wilson, etc. The signature page below almost looks like a map! Keap Street is named after Thomas McKean. I marked the signature in red. The signature is a scribble that could easily...

Leonard Lopate, the host of WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show, one of my favorite radio shows, grew up in Williamsburg. His family moved from Queens to Brooklyn/Williamsburg in about 1945, when he was five years old. That is, he must have lived in Williamsburg during very transformative yeras. He told me in an email exchange that he used to live on 151 Ross,...

I wrote about the Hanover Mansion that's now the Vien's Girls School a few weeks ago. I was looking for pictures of the interior, and yesterday, I was lucky enough to be allowed in to take a few. The students all seemed to know that the significance of the building is its history as the "Rothschild Mansion". I told them that it...

The Klausenburg Synagogue at 131 Lee Avenue, Beth Baruch, used to be a small movie theater that had just one screen and 550 seats. Because there was only one movie showing at a time and it seems, from accounts of those who went, that it was a small, intimate environment.  It was active from about the late 1920s to 1950. It was first...

This is a really interesting example of how many phases Williamsburg has been through it its rich history. Once upon a time, the Skverer Yeshiva in Williamsburg on Heyward Street was home to America's Wonder Bread factory. They used to make Twinkies, too, as both Wonder and Hostess were owned by a baking conglomerate called Continental Baking.  Twitter user TrafficAdvisory writes "I grew up...

When the Williamsburg Bridge was built in 1903, Jewish immigrants spilled in from the Lower East Side. So much so, it was called "The Jew's Bridge." This migration across the river greatly attributed to the settlement of Williamsburg by orthodox Jews, and set the stage for Hasidim from Hungary and surrounding areas to settle there too when they came to...

A century ago a Christian Mission to the Jews stood in the heart of Williamsburg. A great sign "The House of the Prince of Peace" stood atop the building, and inside was, among other things, a medical clinic called the Sar Shalom Dispensary. It was founded by Leopold Cohn, a Hungarian apostate, who founded a ministry to the Jews called the...