An interesting sign caught my eye. I have recently been interested in how charity differs in modern society and in the Hasidic society, and I an going to go out on a limb and guess that this particular type of donation is unique to Hasidim. What is it? A collection of airline miles for the ill. Here’s some of the text:

“Your airline miles can save lives!”
“Donate your airline miles and use it to save lives.”

“Miles for life provides airline tickets and booking services to sick Jews and their caregivers who have to fly to hospitals in order to find their total cure.”

When I still lived in Kiryas Joel, I once got this unsigned notice in the mail. It is an anonymous warning that I had been immodest. The letter is only signed “from a good friend”. What so bemused me about this letter is not that it is pretty out there – there are always people in very insular Hasidic communities who are more out of touch and obsessed with modesty and policing others. But rather, that someone had brought efficiency to the process. Now all you need to do in order to inform someone that you don’t approve of their crock-wearing is fill out a brief form and drop it in the mail. Does it work? I can’t promise results… 🙂

Here is the translation:

Dear Ms. F. Vizel,

As it is the obligation of every Jew to be responsible for the well-being of the other, therefore I need to make you aware of the following thing:

The __ (2 piece duster – dark color) __ of the: 1) dress, 2) housecoat, 3) skirt, 4) blouse, 5) socks, 6) turban, that you work last __(week)__ is not permitted according to Halacha (law) because: ____________(by every step we sadly no-nonsense saw your back. Please be careful not to trigger the public! Thank you!)

short
narrow
bold
open at the neck
see-through
wasn’t properly buttoned
long robe outside of the home
red turban
spoke or laughed loudly in the street, bus, store…
the scarf or turban wasn’t properly covered
the wig was long
white sneakers (crocks)
went with “babby socks

May the efforts to behave with modesty and reserve as is fitting for a Jewish woman God will bless you with plenty of money, joy and pride from the children, health and it will bring God’s spirit in your home and the remedy of modesty will hopefully do its work to rid us of illnesses god forbid, as is written in the books, until the messiah will come, amen.

Of course the people who busy themselves with such zealous policing of others are a minority, but they wield a kind of power. Because no matter how absurd I found this letter, I also felt a rush of self loathing when I first read it…

There are posters everywhere – huge ones that can wrap a fat streetpost twice – inviting all men in the community to a Night of Rescuing our Education. This is an event that promises to bring “activists, rabbis, legal experts” to discuss the “Edict Against Education year 5779”. (This is a reference to the long history of decrees against Jews, from massacres to expulsions to intervention in religious observance, which are often referred to by the year; ie, “The Edicts of 4856“)

“Residents of Williamsburg awake!”
“What is our responsibility during this hour?”
“Do for the sake of the children of the community”

 

“The Edict of Education 5779”
“We will not allow Jewish children to get a goyish education”
“Fiery speeches by rabbis, activists, legal experts.”

One of the posters (which I’ll post if I get a chance to photograph) shows modern-orthodox looking kids in the backdrop, an ominous warning almost. It also promises in bold letters not only fiery speeches, but flam-feyerdigeh drushes, that is, the extra-hot-beyond-the-scoville-scale spicy speeches. In other words, here is a promise that this won’t be a boring committee meeting, but something inspiring, fiery, emotional – a rally of sorts! I almost want to go!

This extremely strong reaction from the Hasidic community doesn’t surprise me; I’ve long said that this is a raw nerve and antagonizing the community will mobilize the zealots. But what remains to be seen is if this will also inspire a counter-movement within the community and create a conversation about education reforms sorely needed, especially vis a vis updating how discipline and curriculum is done. We already saw the publication of a very, very insightful book by Katle Kanye in Yiddish on the subject. There is so much talent inside the community because of the high retention rate, that there are always things changing from within in some ways. I wonder if some things will quietly change while most every other ploni is too busy attending extra-fiery speeches to notice.

This canvas “streetsign” went up all over Williamsburg during the Hanukah season of 2018. It alerts consumers of the TAG Company — Technology Awareness Group, the company that provides kosher technology solutions — to various issues (bugs, if you will) with tech-based Hanukah gifts:

The cameras might have wifi and video that needs to be disabled…

The Gameboy might have wifi…

The iPod might have radio that can’t be removed…

Reminds me of the kosher camera. People always have a hard time figuring out what a kosher camera might be!

 

These posters tell us so much about the way Hasidim navigate a world of technology. The solution is not, like Amish communities, to reject or prohibit technology, but rather to modify it so as to benefit from some parts of it without embracing the elements that might result in “apostasy”, or a shift in one’s thinking.

 

This popped up on Lee Avenue this winter, 2018. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the community’s zealots busy themselves with the cause against smartphones. It seemed as if the matter had successfully moved from some extremists making noise through posters and such to the entire community changing its attitude towards smartphones, so the posters stopped appearing with that same urgency. But now a new angle: posters warning against flip-phones that might not be kosher either.

An innocent little door to HELL

The first sign shows a picture of a phone and it warns that it leads to hell. In the small text the people are warned that community activists had proof that individuals had been ruined by “innocent looking flip phones” that are in reality “treif”, pork, chazer.

The other shows us a cheeseburger and warns that treif meat might be cheaper, “it costs pennies and could be found in Walmart for bubkes”, but it isn’t kosher. The message, as I understand it, is that one might find a flip-phone at Walmart at a good price, but if it isn’t a “kosher phone”, then it is treif and “be careful, with a few buttons the filter could be removed”.

Maybe the author is a Hasidic kosher phone retailer with an economic incentive to steer business towards the kosher phones sold only by Hasidim. I’ve often marveled at how well the economic motive and the religious motive together make very expedient partners…