This was or first ever food tour on Chanukah and we had a wonderful time! We learned how to play dreidle and we tasted various of the newest iterations of donuts. The dairy donuts are now all the rage, and we tried some that sell for $8.50 a piece! They’re filled with delicious cream-cheesy fillings and come in a mad collection of varieties. It’s a lot of fun for me to keep up with the food trends in Williamsburg. The creative energy that goes into the food – incredible!

Photos credit: Rossana Casale Garner.

Peanut-butter & Oreo dairy donuts
Chanukah donuts at Tifereth on Lee
Dairy custard filling…
Piping hot challah.
Fluffy challah with a crispy crust.
Classic Hungarian “pulichinta”, sweet cheese blintzes
Fish balls in tomato sauce

A very nice Hasidic gentleman who works at one of the delis I take my tours to, told us a story today. He offered the story to me and some of my tourists just as we were wrapping up and heading out, ahead of this pouring rain.

“I have a story for you. You can use it on your tours.” he said.

He likes to tell me what to say on my tours. He isn’t the only one. Hasidim with whom I interact on my tours regularly scold me for not saying this or that. “speak to the charity, speak to the ambulate, the help for the sick, the organizations like Shomrim and Chaveyrim, etc.” It cracks me up; I laugh and say ‘yeah, yeah’ and don’t take it too personally that nothing I will say will ever placate these harsh critics.

Unless I tell the story I was told today, which I will.

Mr. G tells it so:

The other day a non-Jewish gentleman was driving outside of Monroe – maybe route 32 if I heard correctly – when he got a flat tire. It was late at night, he was distraught, and along drives a Hasidic person, pulls over, asks what the matter is. This Hasidic person was from the Hasidic organizations like Chaveyrim who will change your flat for free. (They changed mine several times while I had a car).  The Hasid said “let me fix the flat for you. We do it for free.” The gentile was stunned; “but I’m not even Jewish.” The Hasid didn’t blink. Helping a gentile can result in a kiddush hashem, raising the honor of God, and was a good deed in its own way. So he rolled up his sleeve, got hold of a  fantastic new tire — (Mr. G here told of an incident where he got a new tire from Chaveyrim after mid-night) –and changed it for him. As the two got ready to get back into their cars, the gentile said:

“I want to send a note to your wife to thank her for what you did. Is that okay?”

The Hasid said of course it was! Who wouldn’t want a bit of buttering the marriage.

“And this address you gave me for the note, is that your home?”

“It’s my home, yes, why?”

“Nothing, just curious – you own it? Rent? Just curious.”

The Hasid said he owned, gave his address, bid farewell, and off he went.

A week later the Hasid got a call from the bank. “Mr. So-and-so; we want to notify you that your mortgage has been paid in full.” Yes, kids. The recipient of the act of kindness had sent a check to pay off the entire mortgage. And who was this stranger? None other than Donald Trump!

Some tourists and I gasped. It was an unexpected twist. Trump?

“Yes” said Mr. G. “True story. It was in the Daily News- check it! Trump – I tell you, he’s not as bad as you think.”

And then Mr. G told us some more stories of Trump’s acts of kindness. The stories so emphasized Trump’s miracle making for ordinary people, I had to stop myself from pointing out the resemblance between the Trump stories and the apocryphal miracle stories of Hasidic Zadikkim. In fact, the Trump elevation to Zadik is almost not totally absurd. On Yiddish language forums Hasidic men regularly describe themselves as Hasidim of Trump. They use the term Hasid colloquially as “fans of”, but the similarities to veneration of secular and religious leader is not as different as you’d think.

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So on the train ride home, I looked for the Daily News story, and two seconds of googling led me to a number of variations of this same tale. None of them seemed to involve Hasidim, but all involve Trump rewarding a Good Samaritan tenfold for their act of kindness. According to Snopes, this saga is an urban legend. According to Trump, on the other hand, it is true. Matzav.com addressed the story in 2016 with the version in which the Good Samaritan in a Jew, and said it is fake. This story has apparently been attributed to so many celebrities, it is listed in Jan Brunvand’s Encyclopedia of Urban Legend’s, under “Celebrity Car Breakdown“. I find it fascinating that this follows the same pattern of how miracle stories of Hasidic Zadikim spread. One store gets attributed to many different persons of note, almost as if it didn’t matter who it happened with, but rather, that it could have happened with the person it is attributed to.

So there. I told the story but I ruined it too. Fact-checking sure gets all the air out of good old fashioned story telling…

As a tour guide, I’ve learned about some of the most fantastic tours in New York City. I was never one to consider tours, but I’ve come to understand that tours provide not only an opening to learning and exploring, but also a way to connect with people from all over the world. I’m so glad Fodor’s put this together, and that the tours of Hasidic Brooklyn made the list!

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“Leave the bus tours behind for a real behind-the-scenes look at New York City.

Time spent in the bright lights and busy streets of New York City doesn’t have to be limited to the top ten list of things to see and do. Go beyond the usual suspects of a Big Apple visit by venturing on a more in-depth exploration of the quirky sights, sounds, and tastes of New York City’s five boroughs. Whether you’re looking to enjoy amazing hole-in-the-wall Chinese dumplings, spit a hot 16 in Harlem, or shine on a Broadway stage, check out our picks for the 22 most unique tours of New York City.

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Hasidic Williamsburg Tour

I don’t live in Germany, but I am a tour guide in the Hasidic community in New York, and Germans are definitely my biggest customer demographic.

The first time I did a tour for Germans, I felt very torn about it. The Hasidic community is a community of Holocaust survivors. My grandparents had number tattoos, all four of them. My zeidy lost a whole family. Seven children murdered in the war. A whole family, wiped out, because of Germany. Was it okay to show Germans the current Hasidic community in an honest, humanizing way?

I tend to believe it is a good thing, but I felt terrible because I know many in the community would disagree.

We have had some interesting experiences.

The Germans whom I met have been my most thoughtful and sensitive customers. That’s the truth. They don’t delight in rushing to judgment and getting into an excited outrage over backwardness and injustice. I am sure there are people who hide terrible prejudices, but most people I meet seem to be really aware of the terrible danger of dehumanizing a whole group. The German education in recent years really tried to reckon with the Holocaust, and it shows. They come to the Hasidic community because they want to understand more. Because this issue is important to them. It’s like the German equivalent of America’s racism reckoning and reparations. Are there not still racists in America? Sure. And there are anti-semites in Germany. But those who bother to come to my tour seemed to be the ones who truly learned from history.

And it’s been an interesting experience to me. Especially because they are the one group that, ironically, can understand when I speak in my secret language, Yiddish.

We once went into a pastry shop to get some treats. I told all the folks to choose two pastries, on me. A Hasidic man came in and looked. I realized he was listening to the foreign speakers, listening to their language.

“Vere are you from?” he asked.

I held my breath. Here goes. Everyone was from Germany. “Deutschland.”

He nodded. Then said to the Hasidic man at the register: “dis whole group is on me.” and to us, “Take anything you want. I pay.”

He left.

Another time, we walked down Bedford Avenue and a slightly crazy-looking lady came up to us, huffing and puffing, her headgear off kilter, her coat too small, and said really fast because she swallowed her words: “Don’t come here. Your people come here and it’s not modest. Go somewhere else.”

Someone told her something, I don’t remember how it went down, but she suddenly picked up on the German.

She was suddenly all alert, shifted gear. “Whereareyoufrom? Whereiseveryonefrom?”

“Germany.”

“Germany?! You know we were all killed by you? Everyone here. Everyone here. Someone else’s family killed. You killed our grandfathers… they are still…”

She suddenly noticed an old hunkered down lady with a walker coming towards us. This Bubby was wearing a washed out pink turban and had a black woman aid. The reprimanding yenta grabbed bubby and pulled her over and asked “You were in Auschwitz, right?”

The bubby managed to croak out “yuh, yuh. Ich bin geveyn…”

“See!” the frazzled one said, red cheeked with passion.

When she left, some Germans were upset, which is to say a lot for Germans, because they aren’t as emotive as Americans. One woman said, “None of us were alive. You know, I was always so ashamed to be German. The first time I felt a hint of okay with being German was when Merkel welcomed all the Syrian refugees,” and she seemed very sad.

Then again, last Sunday, we had 13 people on a tour, and most were Germans. When we were in the bakery, a Hasidic man, about in his sixties, again showed interest, and I thought, “Uh oh. Here we go again.”

He was too pious to speak with women, so he spoke to the first man he saw, my little kiddo, not so man yet. He asked my son where we are from.

“Um…here, Brooklyn.”

Phew.

Then the Hasid asked a well-built German. “You? Vere?”

“Germany. And my vife is Poland.”

Suddenly the Hasid launched into a conversation in Polish, and they chatted like old buddies. They chatted so long that I had to pull the German guy away so we could move along. When he finally parted ways with his “new friend” the German said, “Dis man is… he speaks all languages. He spoke Polish. German. Hungarian. Russia. He talks everything. He’s… an amazing person, my new friend.”

A few other people who understood these languages nodded, nodded, wow.

A Hasidic language savant and a German tourist shakes hands in New York and call each other friends. It’s a fascinating world.

I gave a tour of Hasidic Williamsburg to a group of Mennonites, which are similar to Amish but maybe in some ways less insular. I think. That’s how they explained it to me.

Notice me in the jacket without a pretty hand sewn dress! I look so bad. So much like a shiksa, a bad Jewish girl. But wait. They are all not even Jewish!

The similarities between Hasidim and the Amish is striking. Both groups are incredibly insular in their way of thinking and have a world view that sees change, assimilation, integration as the destruction of their people. The women also behaved a lot like my childhood friends. Everyone was very careful to say the right and proper thing. Dare I say… repressed?

The one point in the tour that everyone broke into laughter was when I asked what kind of media they are allowed to watch, and then added on an impulse that came from my experience with Hasidim: “but don’t say anything that will get you in trouble!” and they all cracked up. They knew exactly what I meant. Whatever media you are watching that is verbotten, don’t mention that — everyone here can hear! The laugh was so knowing, so familiar.

But there were big differences too. The Hasidim sounded positively metropolitan next to our group and — all took pictures of us. One Hasidic woman came over and said “Good for you, you come here. We go to you in Amishtown, you should come back and enjoy the sites back!” Her confidence was wonderful Another difference: the Hasidic men are also a lot less timid.

What I realized is that both these groups believe in holding on to their traditions despite the changing tides around them. And when you try to preserve a way of life while you’re in the very enticing America with all its flashy colors and addictive ways, then you develop many similar methods: a unique language, dress and a rejection of popular entertainment. Both these groups have done it largely successfully.