I’m a big believer in sitting on experiences before littering the world with your opinions, but I rarely manage to heed to my own beliefs. Hence, when I watched the new Netflix show Unorthodox, and my opinions and nerdiness and irrepressible hot-headedness got the better of me, and the computer was within dangerous arm’s reach, a thing happened and I was somehow on twitter, doing this thing they call “firing off”. I’m firing off my first impressions; they are not generous. What can I say? I didn’t have a chance to girdle myself in generosity! I am compiling and editing and sorting them here. But I hope to write a much more nuanced analysis soon. And also, of course, if you are lucky and my podcast happens, I’m sure you’ll enjoy putting a voice to my “fury”.


Unorthodox the TV show, oy! It’s like I expected, but kinda worse.

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I said this yesterday:
Israeli Hasidic life was made into film (Shtisel) by insider creators including an ex-hasid, plus a huge crew of members from the community.

American Hasidim are rendered for the screen in Unorthodox, created by a *German* crew and *Israeli* cast.

Based on what I saw of their production (they hired one guy from our world for *everything*), I didn’t go with a lot of confidence.

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No offense to Eli Rosen (their “rebbe”: translator, consultant, expert, Yiddish tutor etc) But no single person can do it all and correctly

It is so *off*. On every level. They could have shopped in the community and hired from the community and acted like they cared by researching things thoroughly. Instead we have this Purim act. Sometimes I laughed, it was so bad.

By the way a shopkeeper in Williamsburg told me quite proudly that he supplied the men’s clothing for Fiddler on the Roof. That’s how it should be done!

I’m live-tweeting to make it go down easier. In one scene, the Hasidic character grabs a smartphone and screams into it: “Telephone, where is Esty!” I’m sitting at the computer and screaming “Computer-phone, why is it everything wrong…!”

I can’t understand their Yiddish. It’s so bad. Except for Eli Rosen (the rebbe) and Jeff Wilbush (Moshe). The others speak some garblish girblish.

(Jeff is a fun character; I am a fan! Like our own Ben Affleck.)

I have a plan. I’ll go up to random Hasidim (or maybe family/friends) accost them with audio soundbites from the show, and see what they understand. I might have to fail them in Yiddish proficiency.

Williamsburg’s erev is at best controversial. Very few people consider it valid. But also it’s not visible so that whole scene is drawn out of someone’s imagination and two New York Times article clippings.

It’s Sunday! Why is the white tablecloth still out? Why are they even still in the dining room and heaven forfend they are playing around with the Royal Dulton China on an ordinary Sunday! And kids, go to school! Why are the married kids there??!

Folding the white weekend tablecloth after Shabbes is supposed to be an omen for marital accord, no? This might reveal the source of all our troubles and why these people are always giving each other the silent treatment. Solved!

Our heroine just runs off to Berlin, leaves her husband. So the entire family of adults, inlaws and grandparents, all sit around a long dining room table with some rebbe at the head, and they discuss her escape.

The meeting is in the in-law’s dining room, so the rebbe makes house calls??

They all sit there like stiff figurines, the women in weekend finest; pearls… and the silence, omg, it is nonstop and endless!! The Rebbe declares that two men must go after her, and meeting adjourned. What in the hell was that scene?

Soon, it’s meeting three with this Rebbe and all sit around the table stiff as boards, upright and of course… silent pauses… silent pauses… intense faces… an explosive declaration by a man to a lady in ten strands of pearls… more silence…

Does this rebbe not have any followers besides this family? He has so much time for the *Meetings* in the dining room, I’m starting to worry about him.

Mmmm cherry balls?

Why doesn’t Esty have any friends at all? Why does she almost never talk, like schmooze, interact? Why is everyone always sternly and stiffly staring and quivering?

who dis?

what dis?

she gets explicit sex instructions in her home while bubby just sits around and reads the latest Maalos? No way. The sex-ed ssecrecy is as important as the hand gesturing/humping/hand-puppet-intercourse.

The floral wallpaper in the Williamsburg apartment; the floral curtains. someone will have to answer for it.

Why are their houses so ugly? Why do they have the ugliest mismatched furniture? Can anyone have a nice dress and can the house be a little less brown?

Hasidim like nice things. I often criticize their materialism. Nice clothes:

They could have gone to town a la the costumes of Mrs. Maisel:

Here is a nice Hasidic sedar table:

Nice furniture:

More nice furniture:

A proper dining room set:

Why are the shtreimels so shiny and also why are they sinking on to the men’s heads?

In the mikvah, Esty rings a bell like she summoning a butler, you know, the silver kind, literal bell. Like um… this…?

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The mikvah is a huge place (and a bride doesn’t go alone). Very noisy with running water. Good luck getting an attendant with that bell. You might never get dressed again.

*actual* bell

Esty at the wedding to grandma: “babby…” aw, it comes thru sweet. Nice to see a moment that feels real

An organza fabric for a partition. Pretty much pornographic.

Wedding: the bride’s veil is removed before the ceremony ends, the couple is supposed to be alone immediately after (no window) what about his white coat? Ceremony over, take it off. Where is the wigmaker and hullaballoo??

Somehow a bunch of wedding formalities (drinking of wine, quick peck after the ceremony, final bridal dance) have been turned into creepfests where the main guy acts like a horny dog on the prowl. I see drool.

I’m very curious about this ladder and entire business of shelves here. Wedding-night-consummation utilities perhaps???

Now all the wedding guest are singing the Simchas Torah synagogue song or something.

Spot the difference: do you see any wedding guest singing ey ley ley ley? Or ladders? See, if wedding guests would sing, how would they have the awkward conversation with the bride/groom when it’s their turn to dance?

Mister, you’re standing *behind* your audience. No tips for you. Git shabbes, git shabbes I say

FYI I am out of work and not coping with the quarantine. I’m not feeling nice to anyone.

Bubbe! Your scarf drooped and became an organza partition!

I feel retraumatized by this. Shaving the head is supposed to be a quick get-it-over-with and not done in front of a mirror and definitely not with girls having a voyueristic watch and definitely not with Shira Hass’s heartbreaking face.

My theory is that to deal with all the Yiddish these Israeli actors had to learn, they just cut the dialog to like 5% of what normal human conversation looks like. Mostly it’s just intense faces staring and slowly tears emerge from the eyes. Then boom, bang on the table

The worst part is how heavy handed it is. All the bludgeoning us with commentary on God, the holocaust, faith, the rules. It’s not how people are! Stoppit!

The critics love the profundity and moving stunning harrowing exquisite accurate escape thing. They eat the symbolism up, even though it’s really just stereotypes framed as intense and balanced whatever.

Let me try my hand @ critic-worthy stuff: Esty goes to a little bonfire on a campground, walking in slow motion, a beautiful homage to her grandmother’s candle lighting. Tears fill her eyes, five second pass, ten seconds. A tear escapes, more fire. Stunning!

I can do more. Esty comes full circle by buying a goat, stroking its beard, memories flooding of the Jews in the time of the temple… Her bond with the goat symbolizes forgiveness like on Yom Kippur; renewal. Harrowing!

Esty goes to the Wuhan market to see how the slaughtering of the animals, and her face fills with agony, her eyes scream silently as she remembers the slaughtered at the holocaust, at her mother’s chicken soup and also at the coronavirus. Exquisite!

One more? Esty takes out her bubbe’s flute and in the middle of Conservatory practice and starts playing A latke’ele hup, a latkele hup, dances too. This scares her husband – he stops chasing her! A miracle. A moving rendering of the universal Jewish struggle of Hanukkah. Elegant!

Okay, we can only have so many deep insights in one life. I must stop. But I really have so many great ideas now! Mountain, sinai, sitting on a mount and making out… so good!

I love how all the non-Hasidic characters are so helpy and take her in no problem.

And the Hasidic character (Moshe especially) is an abusive landlord, has a gun, gambles, goes to brothels, is violent with women, etc etc etc.

What a contrast. This is balance?

If I drank something really potent every time some Berliner does some magical selfless deed for Esty, I’d be so drunk right now that you’d understand my spamming of tweets better. I think we are now at like the sixty forth person who just treats her to food, housing, scholarship

Someone even loans her their lipstick, those amazing Berliners. Everyone is soooo nice! If only it was life, then maybe show creators of things like this would support us with gigs? Real life is quite different, eh?

Also, she wore heaps of makeup at her wedding. Which Berliner of questionable hygiene did she bum that off??

We are covering everything. Our heroine Esty is:

Eating ham.
Going to the beach
Going to a club
Wearing jeans
Taking off the wig
Meeting gay people

And I’m only on episode three. It’s inspiring shit.

Good news! She is now having amazing sex with a super handsome German dude. She left a few days ago, no one raped/molested/harassed her and she is having amazing makeout with sexyboi. Good to know. I might decide to leave.

What is this? The curlers? Lol.

Every single netflixer in the world is now going to look at a Hasidic man and think “so… you spend your nights putting your hair in rollers, ehhh? Now I know your secret, ha ha ha!” NO

Moshe! If you go to a club with a Yankee cap take off your long suit jacket! Dude, I’m only trying to be on your side here, but with all the shit you are up to how are you still wearing the fucking rekel? Man!

Gevald, Moshe is now abducting Esty in the back of the fleet of 60s vans that Hasidim use for their daily abductions.

Moshe is trying to talk Esty out of leaving it seems. (he had to abduct her for this) In one review, they said he “tries to brainwash her”. Surprised there was no bleach cuz brainwashing is definitely a one session thing with an abduction and a gun in the pic.

Speaking of… when reviewers fall over themselves declaring it accurate, where do they take that info from, just they decide so?

Does the aunt wear a wig with a snood or a wig!?? One minute this, one minute that. Stop confusing me!

By the way, I know I’m annoyingly nitpicky, but all the women wear the urupgebinden headgear, extremely pious, yet none of the men wear the tights/knee-socks. Doesn’t figure.

Did you know that when Hasidic women talk they frequently say “The Talmud says…” Like, they go to a doctor’s appointment and tell the OBGYN: “the Talmud says…” and then make a point about the stirrups… Did you know this?

Ie: middleaged Hasidic lady goes to Chinatown.
Street seller: “Mrs, Mrs.. bag?”
Hasidic: “The Talmud says, if not me, then who? If not now then when? If not coach imitation than what?”
Seller: ???

Hah! I noticed Eli Rosen didn’t say god’s name (he said Hashem at the wedding) and Jeff Wilbush did! Heh, I am again seeing the true rebel and I am rooting for him!

I wish my son would stop making comments no one cares. Also, Esty just belted out the Hebrew wedding-ritual song (mi bon siach) for an audition in a German conservatory. I’m ready for this night to end.

It’s 2am. Ungodly. Sometimes I already get up about now. What about my clubbing life!!

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In summation, it’s secular culture propaganda. It tells itself that the secular way is full of self actualization and kindness versus the religious cold repression and baby-making.

In summation, I grew up with propaganda (the religious kind) and it never ever sits right with me

K. The bonus “making of” video is even worse, much worse, because it’s just pure people bullshitting themselves and others and making deep comments and claiming that they took it seriously. One look at this film and nope.

“we went on a tour of Williamsburg by an ex-Satmar woman… She walked us through a lot of Williamsburg and the traditions within the exterior buildings…”

Yup, they came on my tour in January ’19.

They mention my tour like it was some kind of serious research venture. A two-three hour tour to tell a story about a very very sensitive subject? No way Jose. Also, they were completely distracted by the excitement of the gig and much less there than my typical groups. Sorry, tis truth.

Although thanks for the shoutout; if not for the coronavirus it would have probably made me a very busy tour guide.

But by the way, they couldn’t be bothered to mention me by name. Why should they, they don’t give a shit, unlike all those amazing Germans who exist in their self-congratulatory fantasies.

Maybe one day I will explain why I am loud in my criticism instead of playing nice and heaping slimy praise and tagging the big people so they tag me back and all that. Maybe I don’t need to and you get it.

Please leave a comment. Did you like the show, love the show, hate it? Did you see things that were out of place? What really irked you the most?

Shtisel, the 2 season Israeli TV show on Netflix, is a hit. It was first released in Israel in 2013, and even then everyone in our circles of New York orthodox or ex-orthodox Jews was buzzing with the show. Now that it’s streaming on Netflix with English subtitles, the show has become a global phenomenon, and I am running across it in my own media sources (The New York Times, The New Yorker) and folks on my tour regularly report that they are into the show. There’s serious talk of a third season, although that rumor seems not-quite-fact-yet. The most unusual part is the convergence of audiences: people who never before heard of Hasidic Jews love the show as much as Hasidim in the most insular, New York communities, like Kiryas Joel. It’s appeal is universal.

It’s a masterpiece because it is accurate.

I have been looking for authentic, insightful representations of Hasidic life in secular media for a long, long, looooong time. I was maybe twenty years old when I first spoke to a reporter with the hopes that I could make them understand. It was Michael Powell from the Washington Post. He came to my house in the Hasidic village Kiryas Joel, met my Hasidic husband, my baby, my cooking of Hungarian pulichintas, and recorded us while I tried to explain what life was really like. And yet, when the article he was working on was published, I felt humiliated and flattened into a caricature. A friend who had also spoken to him emailed me frantically to say how embarrassed she was. We recognized nothing in the depiction of ourselves.

In the many years since that first experience, a lot has changed — namely, my leaving and spending the next decade trying frantically to get on my feet and nothing being like it was planned — but this has not: I’m always frustrated by how flattened ultra-orthodox Jews, and Hasidim in particular, are in popular media. This frustration is surely what drives me on this pseudo-masochistic project of returning to the heart of Hasidic Williamsburg near daily for my walking tours.

But much of what’s told to secular audiences on Hasidic life remains extremely skewed, misleading, tilted to the negative, from the eyes of someone with a lot of biases. It isn’t necessarily literally incorrect. I’m not troubled by technical errors in accounts of daily rituals or generalizations about different subgroups. I’m bothered by how inauthentic and unrealistic and cold and dead these stories feel.

There are books like Joseph Berger’s The Pious Ones which lay out for us all the details. The book is just a collection of laws and customs; so formally laid out, it totally misses the forest for the trees. Any reader would come away with a lot of details and very little clarity. There are also books like Deborah Feldman’s Unorthodox, a bestseller that will soon be a TV show, that gives us a story designed to impress the twenty first century reader — they don’t give us the story in every attempt as it was. Many of the memoirs are very revisionist and reductive and that makes them feel incredibly insincere to me. I can more easily feel the American reader in Deborah Feldman’s book than I can feel the everyday Hasidic person.

Shtisel is different. It comes from the premise that there is a richness of life and drama worth exploring from within. It uses the best video storytelling techniques from prestige TV and employs them for stories that are almost kosher. What’s so mindblowing is that the stories are gripping even while the creators didn’t ever even do an on-screen kiss, nevermind talk about the real sexual dramas. They believed in the drama even without going over those lines. The creators shrewdly knew the tremendous creative potential within Hasidic life, where the stakes are always so very high, the tension so raw. In a world where you have one partner and marriages are arranged and there is so much of human desire that is kept tightly under control, the storytelling reward can go so much farther.

The show pays incredibly close attention to detail. Not in a superficial way. The correct clothing and expression is meant to please the critical know-it-all-audiences, or to show off, or to check some box. The details, like how Rachumi brings home a yellow star for a school performance about the holocaust or how Akiva gets into renting heaters in memory of his mother, make the narrative twists and turns and all the dramas believable. Plot twists that would feel outrageous and absurd otherwise make sense when the pieces leading up to them are assembled so carefully and thoughtfully.

Here’s an example of how Shtisel does it differently. Let’s take Bubbe Malke, who gets a television. Oy yoy yoy!

This is of course a Haredi no-no. Here are Hasidim on an airplane covering the movie-screen:

In fact, some people criticized Shtisel for the bubbe’s television and called the show inaccurate for scenes like these. But see; if you know Hareidi world intimately, you know that exceptions to every rule. There is mischief and there are complex behaviors that will stretch and skew what should or shouldn’t be. It’s not black and white, yes television or no television. It depends on the circumstances, excuses and motivations. We need to understand how she came to have a television and how it fits into the actual experience of being Hasidic, and then we’ll understand if it feels real. I am not a fan of authenticity police who check all storylines against their own experiences. It doesn’t have to have happened to you for it to be true. It has to be believable; to make sense as a motive for that person in their circumstances.

a comparison of depictions/ haredim & tv:


1. Oprah Winfrey and the Never TV story

Oprah Winfrey met a Lubavich Hasidic family and asked them “Have you never watched television?? Never…? Your entire life….?

To Oprah, the family insists that they never watched television. Never.

Now I don’t know other people’s experiences; but on the “authenticity” scale, here’s why I’m a little “eh” about their testimony. First of all, because everyone is keenly aware that they are on camera and will be on television (ironically) and must make a good impression. This is not a setup for confession of sins. People are performing. This is a setup for fudging. After all, mom and dad are there! You expect the kids to say anything except “no”? The other detail that I have to content with is: as a Hasidic child who also didn’t watch television (pretty much never) we knew full well what it was. It was in doctor’s offices, in the hospital, it was once on a charter bus. It’s not like Hareidi people grow up in an opaque sack and go around not seeing anything at all.

So while it is true that Hareidim don’t watch television, I wouldn’t really say this feels like the most honest depiction. A PR savvy meeting with Oprah Winfrey is what it is, from any culture.


2. The Marrying of Chani Kaufman and tv gluttony:

The book The Marrying of Chani Kaufman, which was longlisted for a Man Booker Prize, has a female middle-aged Rebbetzin obsessed with the television. When her too-pious husband wants the telly to go — the story happens in London — she retaliates so:

Over the next couple of weeks, the Rebbetzin retaliated by visiting the station café which had a small television perched on the shelf in one corner. She would drop in during the early afternoon before the children came home from school, nestling in with a steaming cup of tea, as far away from the window as possible. Whatever was on she watched; it was the act itself that mattered. She imbibed a daily menu of news, second rate soaps, the flogging of suspect antiques in various market towns, the dullest of them all, dart competitions.
This small rebellion gave her a sense of vindication…

Her clothes stank of bacon grease and chip fat but she persisted in her transgression, enjoying every minute. Until Mrs. Gottlieb, her busybody neighbor from across the street spotted her through the window and marched in to greet her…

The Rebbetzin remained seated, desperately trying to see past Mrs. Gottlieb’s voluminous sheitel. But Mrs. Gottlieb would not budge.

In this version, the lady Rebbetzin has no life whatsoever, no interests, no relationships or redeeming experiences inside her world. The only thing she desires is the tv. Unless the woman is seriously mentally ill, how does that make sense? Who even does the housework while she goes off for her daily ritual of immersion in the bacon grease? I’m trying to wrap my head around a religious woman rebelling by seating herself in a strange, cold, café where she gets judgmental glances, so she can be before the small tv and watch dart shows. What is she gaining? In which reasonable world would a person express their rebellion by doing something so miserable day in and day out, in a strange place, just out of spite? And why would this be her vindication? It’s absurd on its face and totally unbelievable.

When I read this, I don’t feel the perspective of a religious woman in rebellion. I feel the author’s biases shine through. I feel how outsiders see religious people. To outsiders, censorship and restrictions are always worse than whatever misery sitting in a bacon café all day might impose. This author fails to imagine that there is anything in Rebbetzin’s life outside of television, so when the TV is taken away, it follows that any sacrifice should be warranted to regain this orifice of modernhood. Let’s believe that the Rebbetzin would bring a lawn chair to Time Square and live there through New York winters so that she can be ever so close to the telly and those friggin bullseyes.

The story is so unrealistic because Haredi life is much more complex and faceted than the existence or disappearance of a telly. I don’t believe this television story because everything around it reeks of bacon, I mean, secular viewpoints.


3. Bubbe Shtisel and her guilty pleasure

In Shtisel, yes, the Bubbe gets a TV. You can see that scene here. We see it happen in a way that makes sense. Bubbe moves into the nursing home, and upon seeing that the other woman, Rebbetzin Ehrlich, has such a thing in her room, promptly has the staff install one in hers as well. She is a defiant little lady, but her actions are not absurd. A little bit of convenience because the option for a TV is available, a little bit of social permission, a little bit of permission for her age, and she has convinced herself that this action is benign. To her children and grandchildren, it isn’t. But she is the Bubbe and she is the elder, and they can’t be disrespectful and tell her what to do. She is not forced to pick between world’s. She simply does a little bit of rationalizing and smoothing things out to make this indulgence okay. At one point, she explains to her grandson that these Americans are not bad at all, because they don’t just have two children and a dog, but five children! She then seriously, and to us, hilariously, lists all the children of this Sitcom family as if they were her kin.

Of course the children and grandchildren express a lot of unease about this. And Tzvi Arye goes so far as to plot to distract her and unplug it. But it’s the small actions that make my skin crawl with recognition. When Shulem does not name the TV, but calls it “such a thing”, and we realize how undone he is by his mother’s transgression, that we believe this could happen. That we can feel this happening to us. That we almost understand the discomfort of the family members. It’s all in the little intimacies.

Hello There,
Over the years, I’ve read and collected many different resources on Hasidic Judaism. I’ve put together a selection of some of the most noteworthy ones for you to read, watch, eat, take in, and enjoy. You’ll find books, movies, tv shows, eateries, a whole virtual goodie-bag! I hope you’ll find in this list something interesting worth sinking your teeth into. I hope this will grow your curiosity.
PS: If you enjoy my resources, please tell your friends about my tour or consider supporting my work.

Shtisel / 2019 / Netflix, 2 Seasons

Shtisel is a brilliant, beautiful, gem. It is a lovely TV show and it does everything right in its treatment of its complex subject. It is the best way to learn about Hasidic Judaism. It’s hard to get into, but totally worth it.

Menasha / 2017 / Movie

The well-received movie about a Hasidic widower and his relationship with his son was filmed in Brooklyn, and features a storyline much more sensitive to the particularities of the Hasidic community. The main character is played by a Hasid, Menashe Lustig.

A Life Apart; Hasidism in America / 1997 / documentary

As far as documentaries go, this 1997 film is probably the best available primer on Hasidism in America with spectacular and intimate footage. Watch it especially for the way it tells the history, the stories of the rebbes and how the holocaust shaped American Hasidism. However, it gives only the surface story of modern Hasidic theology and belief.

One of Us / 2017 / Netflix

A documentary about three Hasidic New Yorkers who leave the faith. You can read some of my criticisms of the documentary here.

Fill the Void / 2012 / Movie

Before the niche fan-favorite Shtisel, I used to rant about this film. It’s among my favorite works set in the Hasidic world. A careful director brings the levitate marriage dilemma to life from the eye of someone inside, not the outside. Clearly, the good work on Hasidism is happening in Israel.

Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the Roof is timeless; it captures the intimate reality of generational differences and conflict between modernity and religion with all the pain, idealism, confusion that is as relevant today as it was a hundred years ago. The scene of Tevya rejecting his daughter will always cut to my soul. There is so much of Fiddler on the roof that captures the experience of sheltered Judaism today, so many years after its creation.

Mendy / Movie / 2003

Among former Hasidim we often joked that there are more movies about leaving Hasidism than there are people who leave. The movie Mendy is certainly not a perfect example of the leaving process, but rather a perfect example of how those in the community imagine the journey.

Felix and Meira / Movie / 2014

A recent movie about the common theme of leaving, but from the perspective of a woman with a child. The main male actor is Luzer Twersky, a former Hasid who bring the role to life with all the proper kvetches.

Unorthodox / 2020 / Netflix

Unorthodox will probably be the first recent major production set in Hasidic Williamsburg. The miniseries is based on the memoir by Deborah Feldman. Keep an eye out for when this title hits.


Book by Benjamin Brown, David Assaf, David Biale, Gad Sagiv, Marcin Wodzinski, Samuel Heilman, and Uriel Gellman

The definitive, comprehensive, well-written introduction on Hasidism. This is an academic work and requires some work on the part of the reader. But for those interested in sharp insight, this book provides a modern history complete with analysis, a deep understanding of its subject and an ability to dissect the limits and problems of various ways Hasidic history has previously been understood. The book to be read by any student of Hasidism.

Goes like a couple in love with the Historical Atlas of Hasidism, by one of the above authors.


Gerry Albarelli

This little, unknown gem was written by a former Hasidic English teacher, a community outsider, as he reports on the poignant and funny experiences of teaching secular studies to Hasidic boys who have little respect for what he has to teach. A rare glimpse.

My review of Teacha here.

ALL WHO GO DO NOT RETURN / Memoir / 2015

Shulem Deen

A recent memoir by Shulem Deen, a former Skver Hasid who left behind 5 children when leaving the Hasidic community. He doesn’t always pain a well rounded portrait, and at times the book is a little self serving, but it still remains the best memoir of the genre out to date.

My review here.

UNORTHODOX / Memoir / 2012

Deborah Feldman

A bestselling memoir by a Williamsburg woman who left the sect – soon to be a Netflix miniseries. Feldman’s views of Hasidic life are very influenced by her own rejection of the community, but her book gives us good insight into the process of leaving the community and feeling “different”. Interesting, she wrote a school essay about life in Williamsburg when she was still a member of it.

Crossing the Williamsburg Bridge / Memoir / 2004

Rabbi Eli Hecht

I found this book useful in understanding what life was like in the ten years after the holocaust, when surviving Hungarian Hasidim began to settle in Williamsburg. While Rabbi Hecht has a particular religious narrative which I find very limiting, the book is one of the few helpful English language resources in researching the story of this period.

A SUKKAH IS BURNING / Memoir / 2012

Philip Fishman

Philip Fishman grew up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and his memoir helps us understand how the Williamsburg neighborhood changed from a diverse Jewish community to a singular Hasidic world.

My interview with the author here.

See many more titles on Hasidism, Satmar, Williamsburg-Brooklyn on my Goodreads bookshelf on the subject.

Here are sme food places to check out in Hasidic Williamsburg. Yum. I’m sharing some good places, but the spot for my favorite rugelech remains secret. To find out you have to either come to my tour or be the New Yorker food critic and come to me to apologize profusely for not even mentioning Hasidic bakeries in the piece A Search for Superior Rugelech, and the Harlem Baker who’s Making the Best in New York.

SANDER’S BAKERY  / 159 Lee Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211 / Divine pareve (neither meat nor dairy) and dairy Hasidic/Hungarian pastries.
LEVY’S DELICIOUS FOOD / 147 Division Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211 / Of meat deli products, this restaurant excels in combining modern setup with authentic homemade Hasidic food. Try the yapchik!
ONEG BAKERY / 188 Lee Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211 / A bit pricey and limited selection, but their pastries and challahs are the kind everyone’s mother makes. Try the rugelach!
CHOCOLATE WISE / 106 Lee Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211 / Handmade chocolate underrated and exquisitely crafted. This gem is mostly undiscovered by outsiders.
JEWISH LIFE IN MUNKATCH before the war. You see both the secular and very pious in one collage of footage of the time. Captures a conflict between secularism and piety that dates back before American Hasidism.
UPSHERIN CEREMONY in a boy’s school. The three year old boy just had his first haircut and got the traditional sidecurls and celebrates the start of a life dedicated to Torah studies.
HOLIDAY – PURIM. The holiday that falls on March is a time everyone wears costumes and men are obligated to drink alcohol until they “don’t know”.
INSIDE THE MEN’S SECTION OF SYNAGOGUE. This is what a men’s synagogue typically looks like. Note – the women’s section is not visible. It is above the gold-plated wall, and if it were visible, we’d see a heavily latticed partition covering that section.
INTERNET MEETING. This is a short clips of the masses of men who attended the 2012 “Internet Asifa” in the Citi Field stadium. It was an effort to unite all orthodox Jews in the fight against the internet.
THE CATSKILLS. A video capturing the energy and rush of the June exodus from Williamsburg to the Catskills, the mountainous north of the smoldering City. We also get to see some of life in the Catskills, but as with most videos, they are of the boys camps only.
EARLY HASIDIC MUSIC: This is YomTov Ehrlich’s Williamsburg, a Yiddish song published in the years after the Williamsburg Hasidic community settled there. It has Russian influences and is a tribute to the Hasidic survival in America’s New York.
MODERN HASIDIC MUSIC. A recent music video (not without internal controversies) clearly demonstrates outside influences. Note there are no women as men are not allowed to hear women sing.
LEAVING: A group of former Hasidim talk to NBC about their journeys, where they came from and what it was like to leave. They talk about Footsteps, an organization that was established to provide support to those who leave.
FROM MY OWN LIBRARY: Family bar mitzvah. My son on my father’s lap; my brother next to them. Both little boys have traditional sidecurls.
FROM MY OWN LIBRARY: My son and I. Many, many years ago.


MY TINY UGLY WORLD: A confession written in 1910 by Rabbi Yitzhak Nahum Twersky of Shpikov (1888-1942), scion of a very prestigious Hasidic lineage of Chernobyl. In this exciting and moving text, he dramatically expresses his troubles, torn soul, and feelings of hatred toward the Hasidic world of his time.

WILLIZEN BLOG: An anonymous Hasidic man’s collection of community photo-essays. He has been photographing individuals for over a decade and discreetly captures life in its most intimate moments. I’ve heard from sources that he photographed many of the neighborhood’s holocaust survivors.

OY VEY CARTOONS: My collection of mixed media (essays and cartoons) in the years after I left the community.

SHPITZEL’S SECRET: An audio segment with the podcast The Longest Shortest Time in which I tell much of my life story, especially in relation to parenting.


KAVESHTIBEL: An online forum in Hasidic Yiddish frequented mostly by men in the community. Many contemporary views can be heard on kaveshtibel, but one might say most of its commentators are more liberal in their views and thinking than their counterparts.

IVELT: Simalarly, a forum in Yiddish – mostly conversations amongst men. Ivelt is more heavily moderated and considered more “in the box” than kaveshtibel.

VENISHMARTEM: Just one of many solutions to the internet and smartphone problem.


THE UNCHANGING STREETS OF HASIDIC SOUTH WILLIAMSBURG: A Slate article on the unchanging landscape in 21st Century Williamsburg.

BROOKLYN PROJECT SHAKES HISPANIC HASIDIC PEACE: A 1990 examination of how housing shortages resulted in lawsuits and conflict between Hasidim and Hispanics.

CLASH OF THE BEARDED ONES: New York Magazine explored the clash between Hasidim and Hipsters as the neighborhood changed in 2010.

NYC STALLED CONSTRUCTION: How the Satmar feuding led to a construction on Bedford Avenue sitting unfinished “on the stalled site list longer than any other thatTRD survey”

THE HEIR UNAPPARENT: New York Times on the feud between the two Satmar brothers, which later led to the sect splitting in two.

GENDER SEGREGATED SWIMMING CUT BACK TO 2 HOURS: New York Times on the clash between Hasidic women’s need for women-only pool hours and North Williamsburg’s appeal to end discrimination.

CYCLISTS REDRAW THE LINE IN WILLIAMSBUR: When Hasidim removed the bike lanes because it brought indecency into its community. The bike lanes were ultimately moved one block over.

WIRE DIVIDES WILLIAMSBURG EASING SHABBAT RULES SPARKS FIGHT: The Daily News on the eruv, the line that allows women to carry and push strollers, that was controversial and mostly banned when first conceived in 2002/2003.

LEARNING AND EARNING: HASIDIC BROOKLYN’S REAL ESTATE MACHERS: The Real Deal piece that examined how Hasidim effect Brooklyn gentrification and real estate development.

ESCAPE FROM THE HOLY SHTETL: A New York Magazine cover story reported how woman lost custody when leaving the community. (she was in my class)

A YESHIVA GRADUATE FIGHTS FOR SECULAR STUDIES: On the recent legal action by ex-Hasidim to force Hasidic yeshivas to give a better secular education.

Among my circles, we often discuss the inaccurate portrayals of Hasidim in media. From books to movies, or especially movies, it seems secular media can’t get it right. The minor details; the garb, the clumsy Yiddish, are often most jarring to natives. I thought it would be interesting to look at media closely and try to point out what I think they got right and what they got wrong.

The parody video “Talk Yiddish to Me” got a number of things so right, I had to rewatch it several times. It manages to work with the kind of humor that those who know the culture would love. My favorite little detail was the plastic for the black hat. It isn’t raining but that young man is wearing the hat cover as if he’s brazing a thunderstorm. Anyone who is used to its regular use can appreciate the absurdity. The last time I saw a hat cover on a video was — never.

There’s also a parody of the Hasidic minivan culture, and how much value men place on the “fully loaded” minivan. Some people like nice BMW sedans, Hasidic men like fully loaded Hondas. The actors are dancing before the car’s backup cam and showing off. And when they get into the van, the men flip their long coats up, like the real deal. Crackup.

Regrettably, as is so often the case, these things are only male. The woman in the video looks like a Hasidic bubba NOT, red glasses and all, and her inedible fish-sticks cooked in bleach does not work with the reality of a Hungarian Hasidic culture known for its excellent cooking of heimish, simple, hearty meat-and-potato foods. Besides, why is bubba cooking in a commercial kitchen?

To me — these things pop out like eyesores.

Although I could find out who the actors were, I’d like to share my impressions before I look it up, to show you what sounds real to me — and what doesn’t. The backup dancers with their long hair in the front and strange sidecurls don’t look authentic at all. The main actor with the shtreimel has a Yiddish accent that is NOT Hasidic, and his way of gliding — it doesn’t feel right. But his beard is good, he tucks his hands into his belt in a fine way and they figured out that the glasses belong ON TOP of the sidecurls! And he’s wearing glasses. Most Hasidic men do.

The young boy without the beard seems like a real Hasidic bochur, albeit Israeli, per his accent. He’s wearing a tall beeber hat.

And my favorite, the man with the tallis, he has me convinced. He throws his tallis over his shoulders, or pats it in front while singing, or shakes back and forth while fiddling with the fringes on it. He has that comfortable way with his tallis that men who wear it regularly have. And that open coat; very Hasidic cool. His accent is great too. I’m not sure about his hat though. It’s something of a cross between a shtufen hit and a crach hit. Perhaps Borough Park?

Watch the video and let me know what you think! Enjoy!


Hollywood has an interesting relationship with Hasidim. To date the movie writers and producers seemed to know little about them and not to care to know more, but what they do know or think they know, they awkwardly plug into the script at every possible opportunity. There’s a very obvious effort to show off what they know, in the same way my dentist would plug in the five Yiddish words he knew at every possible turn. Unlike Israeli movies on Hasidim, where the depictions go beyond the kosher and curlies and rabbis and go into the heart of the culture, Hollywood adores the cliché shpiel and milks it for every opportunity of comedic power.

The other night I watched Fading Gigilo with a group of friends from the Hasidic community and I must admit, it was a good time. We laughed, really laughed. But not always because the script was funny, but because it was so absurd and cliché. The movie is a story about a male – none Jew – who becomes a prostitute after Woody Allen coaxes him to get into the world’s oldest profession. One of the gigilo’s (male prostitute’s) clients is a Hasidic woman, a widow, and the two end up falling (briefly) in love.

It is another movie that uses the extreme imagery of Hasidim for laughs. It is funny, but it isn’t very informative, although outsiders who watch it inadvertently to take their information from it. This week woman wanted to know if it is true that women can speak for themselves the way they did in the movie – because the Hasidic woman in the plot confronts the rabbis and defends herself. Well – the movie is certainly not a good place to look for information about gender in Hasidism. All you can learn about is how Hollywood sees Hasidim. That is, not necessarily incorrectly, but very cliche’d and stereotyped.

Here are the ten things Hollywood knows about Hasidim, and how it was worked into Fading Gigilo:

#1. Shomrim – Hollywood minds love the idea of independent police, a Hasidic mafia of sorts. In the movie, they have a comedic mafia flavor. Woody Allen gets surrounded and kidnapped into an SUV by a group of Hasidic men, and the Shomrim try so hard to be intimidating, the main guy coyly tell Woody Allen that he may not make it home after this. 

In reality, I have never had any interactions with Shomrim, so I can’t say much about them, except that they are much less prevalent than they seem in the movies.

# 2 Rabbinic families – The woman in fading Gigilo is a widow, a professional lice checker AND her husband was a rabbi. While she doesn’t look like she belonged to a rabbinic family and nothing about her story makes it plausible, the plot predictably made her a rabbi’s wife. Hollywood loves rabbis, so why not. In reality, rebbish families make up only a small and very unique sector of the Hasidic population, but you’d never know it from the movies.

#3 Curlies and Fringes – those everyday clothes that are so ordinary in the Hasidic world, pop off the story, it’s as if the fringes and curlies are filmed in 3-D. Not only are they referenced consistently, but they also look like someone who never touched a roller tried to curl two strands of hair.


#4 Jewish names – The names are always either Israeli or from the bygone shtetl era. Usually the Hasidic character names would be something like Avigal or Shulamit, which is Israeli in every way, or a Feivish and Chatzkl or something similarly inspired by Fiddler on the Roof. It’s not so hard to figure out that Yoely, Yanky, Malky, Chany and Chaim are the common Hasidic baby names these days. Or maybe it is; and maybe the mafia like shomrim have been keeping it secret from the rest of the world all this time.

#5 Challah – The Hasidic female homemaker is predictably, captured making Challah. Even though her cooking and baking repertoire covers a whole shelf worth of recipe books, in the Hollywood mind she must be always making challah. Avigal is seen kneading dough while talking to Woody Allen. It doesn’t matter much that no one hand-kneads their challah dough anymore. No one talks to Woody Allen either, so it’s fair.

And of course, there is a picture of Rabbis hanging on her kitchen wall, which brings us back to #2.


#6 Kosher – Of course, there’d be a sprinkling of Kosher. In one scene, Avigal is eating at the goy’s house, in his dishes, the epitome of not-kosher, BUT the movie makes sure to point out that it is kosher, because she is having fish. Avigal even knows to say that the head of the fish is kosher too and gives him some to taste! Someone in Hollywood was invited to a Rosh Hashana meal, when heads of the fish are eaten.


#7 Wigs – The wigs always look startlingly amiss; as if it was retrieved from a Purim costume box. And we all know what happens with the wig; at some point it comes off, and a full head of gorgeous hair comes pouring out. In reality, most women shave their heads and their wigs aren’t hung on tree branches in the middle of a park.


#8 Jews, Jews, Jews –In the movies, Hasidim are very concerned about only interacting with other Jews. Avigail asks the male escort, a very gentile looking guy, if he is Jewish, and Woody Allen volunteers that he is “Sephardi.” Avigal then wants to know which yeshiva he went to. I laughed until I cried at this question. A Hasidic woman would probably never ask a man without a kipah which yeshiva he went to, and if the man doesn’t wear a kipa, it’d probably be all the same to her if he’s Jewish or not.

#9 Biblical verses – Hollywood has decided, and stood by this decision, that people in the Hasidic community go around quoting religious texts right and left. I think this is a brainchild of the assumption that Hasidim live with their heads in spiritual spheres, walking the streets and dreaming about God, throwing fits of ecstasy during prayer, dreaming about heavens, etc. The everydayness of real Hasidic life must be too unexciting without throwing bible quotes at the shopkeeper and taxi driver. So the actors reference the Mishna, Gemara and Talmud at every possible turn, even though in real life I don’t know of a single person who does that – especially women, who are really not well versed.

#10 Rabbinic courts – in this scene, Woody Allen is not only taken before a court of Hasidic rabbis, he even has a secular Jewish lawyer represent him. The rabbinic court of the scene is like an underground court room, with three rabbis up front, a gavel, a box for the defendant, an audience seating area. The head rabbi is wearing his weekend hat, the shtreimel, which the peak of absurdity. Murray, a secular Jew, defends Woody Allen to the rabbis. The rabbis inquire in loud talmudic voices “But was there fornication?” over and over again. Murray, on the other hand, argued that sex is bad, and that bad is good. The scene is so preposterous and unbelievably ridiculous, I thought I’ll fall out of my chair laughing. Of course it is fun to entertain the thought that there is an organized underground comic society like that, with rabbis who investigate private sex lives, because it’s so entertaining to watch. But in reality life isn’t scripted for entertainment all all of Hollywood’s fun imagining is just that – Hollywood.


In all, the movie is fun to watch with those who know the culture, because we can appreciate the absurdity. But if there’s something to take away from the movie, it’s how cliche’ Hollywood can be when it comes to Hasidim.