As many of you are already aware, New York declared a state of emergency yesterday in light of the threat COVID-19 poses. Broadway will shut down, the St. Paddy’s Day parade is cancelled, and most major New York attractions will be closed indefinitely. Additionally, with the European travel ban, many who had scheduled a visit to New York will sadly not be able to see their plans come to fruition. This is a devastating, confusing, difficult time for many around the world.

So I wanted to say first that I am deeply sorry for anyone worldwide who is suffering with coronavirus, who has watched loved ones fall ill, and to those whose day-to-day lives and incomes are being upended by this completely unexpected turn in world health.

Second, on a more personal level, I wanted to keep you up to date with how this will affect any tours you may have booked with me during this state of emergency lock down. My tour policy follows that of the Guides Association of New York, and therefore my small group tours are still running. You can stay updated by following the Guide’s Twitter via the hyperlink above.  I am so terribly sorry to anyone from overseas who will be unable to visit New York and go on their tour. If your travel plans have been disrupted, I will hold a credit on file for your booking. This can be converted into a gift card as well. I will also be offering travel insurance on future bookings so that people who worry about making plans right now can book confidently, knowing they can change those plans if need be. This travel insurance feature should be up and available in the next few days.

Again, my apologies to anyone whose travel plans have been altered, and I extend my best intentions and love to all those affected by this virus. Take care and stay safe.

I’m still trying to make sense of the shooting in Jersey City on December 10, where one of the victims was a woman from Williamsburg who was about my age and was fatally shot while tending her grocery store. The shooting lasted four endless hours, and I cannot imagine the trauma inflicted on the survivors who were in lock down for the entire time. The following pictures are just snapshots of the scene:

The video below shows the little Hasidic children after they were cleared to go home. A very stoic police office tells them in English that they have done well, while an old Hasidic man in a Russian kutchma hat translates in paternalistic soothing tones. You know from watching it how terrified the kids must have been, and how many sleepless nights will follow. 

Hasidic kids are already so shelteredthey are not exposed to a culture of gore, and they don’t see it in movies or video games. They don’t engage in any of the visual entertainment that introduces non-Hasidic children to shocking violence, so they live very innocent youths. I grew up without ever locking doors and without ever seeing any shootouts, weapons, death. It’s a really sweet part of a Hasidic childhood.

I’ve been worried that this innocence might be shattered by a brutal attack from the outside. It has been brewing. In the last year, there has been so much unprovoked violence in this otherwise extremely peaceful neighborhood. All the attacks were by outsiders, always randomly picking a Hasid to taunt. Most of the attacks were caught on nearby security cameras. Here are some, with links to the original article or video accessible by clicking on the date:

November 2018 in south Williamsburg: a Hasidic man was struck as he was walking home from synagogue with his 11-year-old son on a Shabbat night

December 2018 in Williamsburg: a Hasidic man was attacked while walking home from the synagogue. 

January 2019 in Crown Heights:: on Friday night, a Hasid was first hit in the head then in the cheek as he fell to the ground 

May 2019 in Williamsburg: a Hasidic man walked down the street when a boy rode his bike up to him and knocked his hat off. 

May 2019 in Williamsburg: for the second time that week, a Hasidic man was punched in the head. 

May 2019 in Williamsburg: Hasidic kids were chased by a car and the people inside yelled “DO YOU KNOW HITLER? WE LOVE HITLER!” 

May 2019 in Crown Heights: a man chased Hasidic girls.

June 2019 in Borough Park: a man terrorized a Hasidic man who was walking the empty street alone at night

August 2019 in Crown Heights: a Hasid was attacked with a rock

September 2019 in Williamsburg: a Hasidic man stood at a corner when a group approached him and knocked off his shtreimel 

November 2019 in Rockland: a Hasidic man in Rockland was jumped and stabbed six times 

November 2019: a random man slapped a Hasidic man in the face 

November 2019 in Borough Park: a group of people jumped out of a car and chased Hasidim and sucker punched them, then repeated this in several locations

November 2019 in Williamsburg: a 13 year old Hasidic teen was punched in the face. 

This list is by no means comprehensive, but it does show a pattern. I cannot emphasize how striking this pattern is, because of how incredibly safe the Hasidic neighborhoods feel, with children and babies fearlessly out and about. People have mentioned to me that Williamsburg isn’t as loud and raucous as the rest of the city, and I think it’s a part of what creates the feeling that the neighborhood is a 1950s bubble where  kids play outside until it’s dark. And yet, the above has been happening, and happening more and more frequently. A punch. A hat knocked off. A scooter torn out of a hand. A rock thrown.

The attacks against Hasidim have not been getting much media attention, if any. Only The Tablet treated the subject seriously in a very good article published in July of this year (I very much recommend it).

Many Orthodox Jewish outlets have said that the media is ignoring these stories because the crimes were largely perpetrated by people from other minority groups. I can see that the black and Hispanic identity of some perpetrators makes the reporting touchy. If we publicize the story of a handful of black individuals, racists will hang on to it and transform isolated incidents into an indictment of all black or Hispanic peopleespecially since the news is so politicized that any story covered in mainstream publication is potential fodder for right-wing propaganda.

But I believe this phenomenon cannot simply be boiled down to sporadic hate crimes being committed by one random antisemitic minority group. It’s much bigger. While the perpetrators this time happened to be black, this is not happening in isolation, and it’s not exactly like the rest of the population has neutral feelings about Hasidim. There is definite widespread animosity. From where? From everywhere. From everyone. From elite media and entertainment media and Reform Jews and former Hasidim and Reddit basement dwellers writing sickening things (I should stop reading those!), and the New Yorkers who, during the measles outbreak, casually declared that they wouldn’t sit near a diseased Hasid. It’s not just a handful of individuals from fringe groups who talk about Hasidim with such incredible disdain, often dehumanizing and depicting them as a “cult,” as fanatics, whose worst elements are the only relevant elements; it’s everywhere.

I follow stories about the Hasidic community closely enough to note that pretty much all rhetoric about it is careless about the implication of such negative portrayals. People don’t realize that if you say the Hasidim take all the money from the government, are all slumlords, and breed until the planet is beyond capacity (all criticism which should be discussed with correct information and put into context), your words can generate dangerous animosity. I am convinced that the animosity and violence are part of a larger situation where an annoying little subculture is being consistently dehumanized.

It’s convenient to look only at the wild “hooligans” who, on drunk Friday nights, inflict some trauma on an innocent Hasidic man on his way home from the synagogue. But I believe these events are happening because a climate of animosity is giving them permission to do so. And when it does, that Jewish community becomes a “safe” target for people who are frustrated and angry, with all sorts of problems.

And there are many people who are full of brewing discontent and itching for someone to take it out on. In New York, with the rising cost of living, we are seeing an escalation in frustration, desperation, and economic precarity. The poorer population is suffering a real decline in quality of life due to the steep cost of living and stagnant income. When people become economically depressed (and we know those hit hardest are minority groups who have the least familial wealth), they often take it out on other minorities. Hasidim are the perfect target, because it is politically okay to revile them, and because, frankly, you can get away with it. Hasidim are largely very nonviolent and they won’t hit back. In fact, when I watch the videos of the random attacks, I’m struck by the response of the people it happens to: some flee, some seem to ask “what’s gotten into you?” as they back away, some run for help. None punch back.

Instead, Hasidim deal with these threats by turning inward and becoming more trusting of one another and more afraid of outsiders. In Williamsburg, they live with a constant belief that the world wants to do them harm. The children are terrified of gentiles. So the Hasidim organize community patrols, like Shomrimthe Hasidic volunteer patrolto offload the responsibility of keeping people safe, and residents indeed seem to retain a tremendous sense of safety. Their way of dealing with this is to close in tighter, which is an understandable reaction, but sadly only makes the schism grow.

I believeand have believed this for a long time—that, converse to the current reaction, it would be better to turn outward. To educate, to understand. To have empathy. I don’t want to be all cheesy, inspirational poster, Oprah style “love” and shit. I really mean it. I really cannot live in a world where humans are made out to be villains just because they are part of a group, race, religion, or ethnicity. And that’s a two way street.

I come from a worldview where it’s always been us versus them. I left that. I don’t want that, I can’t live with that. I know Hasidim will keep doing it their way, but I wish my adopted culture, with its values of openness and education, would do better.

In November 2017 all major newspapers ran a top story like this one: Some Brooklyn Children Have Blood Levels Higher Than Kids in Flint. Specifically, the Brooklyn children found to have such high blood levels were the Hasidic kids. As WNYC reported: “The highest rate was found in South Williamsburg, in the tight-knit, ultra-orthodox Jewish Satmar community.” The second highest rate came in in Borough Park, another Hasidic enclave.

When I read this news, I was totally surprised. Hasidic women are almost all stay-at-home mothers, and their kids are the center of their worlds. The kids we see in the community are dressed to the nines and seem quite alright. I didn’t understand why there should be such high rates of lead poisoning. I wondered if there was a cultural issue that might contribute to the lead poisoning rates, but this is all the explanation the media offered:

“Several factors contribute: Old housing, built long before the city’s 1960 lead paint ban, now has peeling paint. Poverty rates are high. And many residents speak Yiddish as a first language, which can make it more difficult for city health workers to do outreach. “

This simplistic story doesn’t satisfy me at all. Because with regards to old housing, New York city is replete with old housing and Hasidic kids are hardly the exception. With regards to poverty rates — I have heard a million times from the media that the poverty rate in the Hasidic community is high, but I don’t understand why they take the reported incomes at face value and don’t account any for the variables that make the community poverty rates seem so stark. There is a whole book to write on the complexities of the Hasidic economy, but I touched on some factors here. I hope to one day be able to write more on that, but don’t expect to have the time or energy anytime in the next decade. But for now, without going into the many reasons why I dispute this simplistic assessment, I’ll say that Hasidic kids are not growing up in impoverished situations. They all are well fed, dressed, housed and cared for. Medical care is widely available through medicaid doctors, and kids don’t go without treatment. I don’t see any relationship between high lead levels and Hasidic financial challenges.

And as for the language barrier – nah. Yes, Yiddish is a first language, but adults understand English full well and get by with various degrees of teeth breaking, but all in all, just fine.

Whenever the city decides that they will use Yiddish to reach the Hasidic community the results are either mildly comical or absurd or strange. But most of all, they give away that the gap between Hasidic Jews and westerners is not language, but culture.

I took this picture yesterday in Bushwick: a poster from the City department of health, hung upside down.

I love when the park translates the rules to Yiddish. It’s just bizarre. This sign before a Williamsburg park tells Hasidim exactly how to comport themselves with their dogs, even though none of the Hasidim have dogs.

Back to the story of the lead poisoning, I tried to ask around and do some of my sleuthing, but no one could explain why Hasidim have such high rates of lead poisoning. I spoke to some health reporters back then and hoped they could explain, but they were content with these superficial narratives of “poverty” and “yiddish”. Which, by the way, one walk down the full length of Lee Avenue and you’d have a hard time accepting this narrative.

So I didn’t find out. And I still don’t know.

I did cut this story out of the paper a few weeks ago, and it tells people about a campaign to raise awareness about lead poisoning that could result of paint, but that didn’t answer anything either.

But — yesterday on my tour we were discussing superstitions, and I mentioned blei gissen, the process of pouring lead to ward off the evil eye . The evil eye is generally considered to be a kind of bad omen or karma that comes from the envy and ill-will of others. The evil eye could often afflict those with striking beauty, money, smarts, etc. No one ever thought I was afflicted with the evil eye, so I don’t have personal experience with the various voodoo treatments like blei gissen, but I regularly see classified ads in the local papers for this service:

These ads are all for experts who proclaim they could help you “remove the evil eye and breathe easily” and “extinguish the evil eye by pouring lead”. Usually, the “expert” is Israeli, a travelling healer of sorts, who makes the rounds through US neighborhoods collecting fees for various opaque cures. My mother has insisted for years now that a birthmark I have on my face could easily be removed for the quick transaction of $400 between me and some Yerushaleymer miracle worker, and I’ve insisted that I’d very much like to hold on to my birth mark and my four hundred measly dollars. But I know my mother will fork over the moola to these itinerant wielders of Bubbe Maysos (sorry, I’m a cynic, it’s the truth) even as she knows full well there’s more than half a chance that it’s some kind of sharp sabra’s ruse. My mother is an intelligent woman and a part of her faith in this witchcraftery is the faith in the placebo effect: the simple belief that if this man will make me think I’m cured, then I will be cured.

In these magical men’s (or sometimes women’s) bags you’ll find various other treatments, like natural ointments or swinging pendants, palm reading and wrinkle reading, or reciting special prayers at specific sites. But the blei gissen seems to be especially popular, because not a week goes by that I don’t see an ad for it in the paper.

Here is a description of the procedure, which I found in a profile in the Jewish publication Five Towns:

To perform blei gissen, Rebbetzin Miller takes an ordinary looking pot, places a small bar of lead in it, and begins heating it on the kitchen stove. She gives out a laminated sheet with a tefilah on it to read while the lead melts. She does this in a typical kitchen with foods baking and children walking through. When the tefilah is finished and the lead has melted. Rebbetzin Miller casts a thick, off-white sheet of cloth like a tallis over the person. The molten lead is poured from the saucepan into a pot of cold water above the person’s head as the Rebbetzin speaks softly. The lead crackles and pops as it hits the cold water. The sheet is removed. The lead has fragmented into long pieces that look like silver twigs. If some of them have bulbous ends, the Rebbetzin explains, “Those are eyes. There is some ayin ha’ra. We have to do it over.”

Sometimes a curved piece can emerge that the Rebbetzin says is a “bird,” which signifies an imminent simcha. She repeats the process one more time to make sure all the ayin ha’ra is gone. Then, for good measure, she takes the names of a couple of the person’s family members and pours lead in their names. She concludes by pressing a few red strings from Kever Rachel on the subject along with a sprig of ruta in a tiny plastic bag.

Hmmm. Hum. I’m part intrigued, part scandalized– the entire procedure seems rather fascinating and I want to see a movie about it.

Well, I actually didn’t know any of how this Rebbetzin Miller or the other peddlers would do their work. I just mentioned blei gissen in conversation about unscientific “healing” and a German woman immediately offered to explain blei gissen – how it’s done and how you read the shape of the cooled lead as a way of diving what’s to come. Blei gissen is a very popular New Year’s custom in Germany. It’s written Bleigiessen but pronounced the same as in Yiddish. The full fancy word for the concept of pouring lead for learning special information is called Molybdomancy, a custom that can be found in “Finland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Turkey, and Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

The woman in our tour told us that one year, she hosted a New Years party in New York, and wanted to have a good time with the pouring of lead and the whole tradition. She couldn’t find the lead kits folks typically use (because it’s outlawed, I believe) so she ordered some lead pellets online. To their utter disappointment, the pellets wouldn’t melt. So we can assume the sign for their upcoming year to come was that of a pellet, which I assume is not a good prophecy. That’s just my thinking; I’m not an expert till someone offers to pay me $400 for my reading.

While I get a bitter kick out of the absurdity of such customs (they just don’t make sense to me, and border on exploitation), I also worry that this custom is simply not safe. On Wikipedia, you’ll see plainly in the first paragraph: “Some versions have been found to have potentially harmful effects on human health.” Specifically, the version that uses lead. There have been efforts in other cultures to replace the metal with tin, as described in the Telegraph:

Another charmingly suicidal German New Year’s tradition is molybdomancy – the posh word for divination using molten metal, or as the Germans call it, Bleigießen, pouring lead. Never heard of it? Quite rightly, since the British decided a long time ago that smelting was an activity best carried out in the open air – preferably somewhere very wet, like Wales. But in Germany, kits are sold with small burners and spoons and, in what looks to the untrained eye like a scene from Trainspotting, friends and families gather round to watch what form the molten metal makes as it hits the cold water, referring avidly to a checklist of shapes to see what the new year holds for the person who poured.

Given the toxicity of lead compounds, there have been efforts in recent years to convince the German Gypsy-Rose-Lee-wannabes of the virtues of tin, but largely in vain. 

I don’t know if the Rebbetzin Millers and Rav Teitelbaum’s of the Hasidic world use lead or tin, but odds are high that the earnest smelting and pouring and divining why a gorgeous little Hasidic boy is always sickly is happening with lead. I also do not know if this contributes, in any way, to the high rate of lead in the blood among the Hasidic population. Obviously I’m in no position to make such claims, but also obviously — the weekly arrival of a new lead-pouring guru can’t help.

I think the blei gissen industry should be a part of the investigation and education campaign on Lead Poisoning. But the larger point is that blei-gissen is but one example of a hazard found in the Hasidic community that doesn’t (mostly) exist for their New York City neighbors. If we try to diagnose and address problems afflicting Hasidim – ie the measles – we cannot expect an effective outcome if we don’t understand the holistic cultural situation from which the problems arise. A lot of the measles crisis could have been dealt with more effectively had they investigated beyond plugging words into Google Translate.

A shell of what would have been one of the largest synagogues in the world stands abandoned at 540 Bedford Avenue Williamsburg, in the heart of the Williamsburg. From the site, we can see the luxury Williamsburg waterfront and the Manhattan skyline, and at two blocks from the Marcy Avenue subway, this monstrosity sits on prime real estate. It’s nearly a square block, although the main residence of the Satmar Rebbe Zalmen Teitelbaum cuts out a corner of Ross and Bedford.

The rusting behemoth at 540 Bedford:
the rusting behemoth at 540 bedford
The Rebbe’s home on the corner of Ross. The younger brother, Reb Zalmen, occupies this building:

Construction began in 1998 when the congregation was granted a city permit to build the three storey synagogue. But it came to a halt in 2001 when the dispute between the sons of the late rebbe Moses Teitelbaum, over which of the two should lead the flock, blew up into full scale internal drama and chaos. The stormy succession feud was well-publicized then, and it fizzled out only after the sects split in two.

The Satmar congregation that owns the property. The problem however is that there are now two Satmar congregations and the American courts have been unable to figure out how to decide which of the two brothers should inherit this particular Satmar property.

The feuding sons: Aaron and Zalmen Leib:

In 1998 construction of what was meant to be one of the biggest synagogues in the world began.  But it stopped in 2001 when the succession feud really blew up, and devolved into incidences of slashed tires, estranged families, brawls in the streets, arrests, and many, many disputes in the American courts.  Many of the questions of who should inherit which piece of valuable dynastic real estate were resolved eventually one way or another, for instance, the older brother inherited the father’s home in Kiryas Joel (where I grew up) and the younger brother inherited this one, on Ross corner Bedford. Like a messy divorce, many pieces were split based on which of the brothers had been more closely associated with that neighborhood or institutions. But this 199,251 square foot baby could not be split. I didn’t follow the process of construction from the beginning, but my guess is that the people deeply involved in the project ended up split on two sides of the divide, both claiming to have invested money or energy or focus in this building.

In 2008, when the divorce had been fairly complete, the construction was renewed when building permits were issued in Aaron’s name. In 2010 it was again stopped when Zalmen’s followers filed complaints that the Aaron camp was unauthorized to receive permits for the building. Authorities decided that this showed that nobody really controlled the project and revoked the permit till a resolution could be found.

The building sits unfinished to this day, almost twenty years since its construction began. It is one of the only things in Williamsburg that have stood unchanged over the six years that I’ve been a tour guide here. Everything is changing so quickly in Brooklyn — but the skeleton sits, a monument to the Satmar feud.

Here’s the Google Maps street view from June 2009:

Here’s the Google Maps street view from September 2018:

We pass this site on our tours and occasionally the big garage door is raised and we are privy to what’s inside, mostly storage for the Zalmen faction; bleachers and sukkah boards. But most important of all (:) the scaffolding makes this one of the few places in the area where we can find reliable shelter from the rain.

This happened in Hasidic Williamsburg: playboy model Marisa Papen traipsed through the neighborhood, in the heart of its busiest areas, in the nude. For a photoshoot. There are a bunch of pictures on her website of this orchestrated photoshoot stroll.

According to this photographer’s post:

“Marisa’s goal is to raise awareness about the global suppression of women by the hand of religion.

“Inspired by the suppressed souls that we witnessed in the ‘One Of Us’ documentary on Netflix we decided to move forward on producing a fine art series about the community.”

I am trying to wrap my head around this. I’m not so much interested in the drama that went down with this photoshoot. There is a video of Marisa and company getting chased by Hasidic men who are screaming hysterically and panting and reporting that she was walking around the streets nakkit (lol!!??) and we see the cops during the last few minutes. It’s a bad film with little to see, just a predictable clash between a provocateur and shocked-aroused Hasidic men. We hear that someone says titties with a Hasidic accent. It’s a panic. You can imagine, surreal if ever. Does life get more absurd?

What I cannot understand is how this is doing anything about the suppression of women by the hand of religion. Let’s follow the logic here. The lady playboy goes out with a camera crew and flashes the expertly trimmed down-there to young Hasidic men who are shocked and traumatized. Okay. So she did that. Then what? How does she hope to get from this moment of pornographic sacrilege in March 2019 to the great liberation, wherein all Hasidic women proudly go about shopping on Lee Avenue with the nothing but a Kate Spade bag and Bugaboo stroller? What’s the plan, pray tell? How will the cure come of this peculiar treatment involving a photoshoot, a good hat and fancy shoes, and presumably, pickles from Flaum’s?

Nutty people exist. But Marisa’s stunt isn’t the act of a mentally ill person who forgot to get dressed before going out for appetizing. She is doing it to get attention and approval. She’ll get it – the story has already been picked up by a handful of bemused media outlets. The stories often criticize Hasidim for their reaction, not her. Because there is an implicit okayness to behavior when it is dressed up (ha ha) as concerned with the rights of women. It is given a sort of cultural stamp of approval. Or at least the Internet and Twiterrati won’t descend on her. Because her motivation is noble. It’s against the suppression of women.

Yeah, only here’s the problem. About the suppression of women it is not. What an Orwellian, empty use of words. She just appropriates real causes for cynical personal gains. Outside of her calling it righteous, there is nothing to show that it is. From everything we can see, she is concerned with her own photos and vanity. It’s totally transparent. We don’t dare say that we see right through it. We give tacit permission, because supposedly the cause is good.

Walking naked in Williamsburg for the liberation of women is the absurd example of a much more banal genre of profitable enterprises under the cloak of concern for women. There is a whole industry of publication that appropriates real feminist causes for pop culture ends. It’s in all the stories of the woman who “escapes”. Western culture loves these stories. In books, movies, tv shows, podcast, you name it. This includes the Netflix documentary ‘One of Us’, which is as skewed and dishonest and as concerned with women as an evangelical anti-abortion documentary. It makes sense that it inspired this nudity stunt. And there are the many books about religious women who heroically self-determined by throwing off the shackles and leaving. I’m thinking titles like ‘The Marrying of Chani Kaufman’, the Naomi Ragen series, Deborah Feldman’s self-flattering ‘Unorthodox’, Leah Vincent’s ‘Cut me Loose’, and probably a few others in my library. Even Judge Ruchy Frier, the ultra-Orthodox judge and something of a media favorite, is in this category. Her story is celebrated by the New York Times not because she is Orthodox, but because while she is Orthodox, she’s also bought into the modern idea that a woman’s value is found in her career accomplishments. In essence, Judge Frier escaped while staying. Her story has a fresh twist, but the same underlying problem.

What all these stories have in common is a complete and total disrespect for the life of the everyday religious woman as she values it. It scoffs at motherhood, domesticity, family and female friendships. It tells us that the Hasidic woman is living life wrong. That she isn’t living until she escapes for twenty-first-century capitalist striving. In this narrative the secular culture is always by definition liberating, the religious culture always oppressive. The girl who leaves her faith and roots is always brave, the woman who gives her all to her children a sufferer of the patriarchy. Those who escape are accomplished, those who stay are nothings.

The story never considers that some women might not share in this hierarchy of importance. It ignores that not everyone wants to walk around in the March cold with their cooter getting frostbite while mixing a confusion of personal ambition with zealous proselytizing.  It decides what kind of sacrifices are meaningful. It’s winter and you’re cold? Well, keep going, all the more heroic fight for the cause! The more you suffer to prove your feminist liberation, the more the suffering oppressed will be liberated. Everyone suffers, sure. But secular-feminist suffering is noble. The suffering of women who live differently is not.

The “Her Escape” story arc is not feminist. It is the total erasure of women’s lives when they don’t match our modern values. It is to impose meaning on someone else’s life. Real support for women is to try to understand the nuances of the challenges and triumphs of a religious woman and to respect what she wants, not what we want.

The genre is profitable though. There is always an audience for a coming of age tale of self-determination. It’s no surprise that Deborah Feldman’s book is being adapted as a TV show by Netflix. The story stells. And as long as it sells, there will be half-talents regaling them.

Audiences know that the motive behind these self-proclaimed activists are insincere, but they shrug, because — well, the story is still good. It makes secular society feel better and right. It makes secular society feel like it is emboldened, powerful, attractive, sure of itself. Look at us secular woman, strutting so free. Strutting so proud. Meanwhile, no one is allowed to say the obvious: that it’s crazy. That the empress has no clothes, and it’s goddamn nuts.

Besides for feeling slightly nauseas about the way feminist causes are co-opted, I’m also so bothered by the nude provocation itself. Pulling such stunts can do real harm. I feel sorry for these naive teenage boys. I know many people would comment about how lucky they are, (yuk) but it can be so damaging. I also am bemused that we should further the liberation of women by introducing men on first occasion to the most unlikely female body — one that very few women will see in the mirror even at their best, nevermind after many children. Hasidic men and women very rarely get to see what normal female bodies look like. They see models and celebrities and porn personalities, but they don’t see the vibrant diversity of boobs and butts that make up my Orange Theory Gym dressing room. It pains me that Hasidic people don’t realize what normal bodies look like. So to show as a model of female sexuality a body that is so unrealistic and creates so many insecurities among the rest of us plain-bodied. It is so harmful to women. Oh the irony.

On a happier note: whenever someone on my tour tells me they feel terrible for Hasidic women, I can now suggest to them that they strut naked in Williamsburg in order to make a difference. If you see a sixty year old IRS employee from Chicago going about in the buff on Division, and a forty year old mother from Melbourne without clothes shopping on Flushing, know that they are liberating women and it’s all peachy from here.