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Clash of the Bearded Ones.
April 12, 2010 5:29 AM   Subscribe

Clash of the Bearded Ones. New York Magazine's neighborhoods issue covers some of the social dynamics in play during last December's clash over the Bedford Avenue bike lane. One man is trying to bridge the gap with an unkosher bike shop. "The Hasidim will soon be biking all over Williamsburg. My prediction is that in two years every Hasid without hemorrhoids will be commuting via bicycle in the warmer months." Baruch Herzfeld is loaning bicycles to Williamsburg's Satmar Hasidim.
posted by availablelight (44 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
In a battle between hipsters and Hasidm, I think I'll have to go with the hipsters.

Not that I don't feel icky about it.
posted by SansPoint at 6:08 AM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


We need a man of peace who can bridge both worlds. Pass the mic to MCA.
posted by Kattullus at 6:10 AM on April 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


A bicycle lane passing through that part of town was removed because a locally numerous religious group doesn't approve of bicycles? ("The Hasidic community immediately opposed the lanes, citing the reduced parking they would cause; some religious leaders also mentioned the immodestly dressed women who would come pedaling through the neighborhood.")

On the other hand, what's so bad about switching to the bike lane on Kent Avenue? I ask that having only seen the area on Google Maps.
posted by pracowity at 6:11 AM on April 12, 2010


Because Jews are News.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:16 AM on April 12, 2010


beard the faceless one
posted by the aloha at 6:29 AM on April 12, 2010



A bicycle lane passing through that part of town was removed because a locally numerous religious group doesn't approve of bicycles? ("The Hasidic community immediately opposed the lanes, citing the reduced parking they would cause; some religious leaders also mentioned the immodestly dressed women who would come pedaling through the neighborhood.")


The Hasidic opponents mentioned safety concerns as well, in terms of the amount of pedestrian traffic.

An early disclaimer that this post was mainly inspired by the awesomeness of the Traif Bikes shop, the boundaries crossed there, and the owner's vision of a bike share program in that community like exist in some European cities.
posted by availablelight at 6:35 AM on April 12, 2010


The Hasidic opponents mentioned safety concerns as well, in terms of the amount of pedestrian traffic.

Boy, no kidding. I was almost killed once when a guy walking down the street nearly bumped in to me. From now on, I walk in the middle of the road!
posted by DU at 6:44 AM on April 12, 2010


When the Satmars realized that the Artisten—the Yiddish name they used for the bewildering newcomers—were there to stay, something like panic set in. Rabbis exhorted landlords not to rent to the Artisten, builders not to build for them. One flyer asked God to “please remove from upon us the plague of the artists, so that we shall not drown in evil waters, and so that they shall not come to our residence to ruin it.’’ Rabbi Zalman Leib Fulop announced that the Artisten were “a bitter decree from Heaven,” a biblical trial.

Wow, you know this whole hating-hipsters trend is getting played out when even Satmars have been in to it for years.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 6:48 AM on April 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


Because Jews are News.

Buddhists are nuddhists.
posted by pracowity at 7:10 AM on April 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


I find it hard to sympathize with the Satmars here. Communities change over time as the population shifts. And this is New York. We're free to dress however we like, even if it offends your precious sensibilities. If they refuse to adapt (and it is nearly always about controlling women's sexuality, dress, and behaviors in these religious and/or conservative communities), then they can go live in a remote location like the Amish instead of an urban environment.

These things come with the territory of living in the city; especially one as large and diverse as New York.
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:27 AM on April 12, 2010 [15 favorites]


"On the other hand, what's so bad about switching to the bike lane on Kent Avenue? I ask that having only seen the area on Google Maps."

As it's introduced in the article - "It’s the longest in Brooklyn and runs through every imaginable ethnic enclave". The lane runs along one of the longest avenues in Brooklyn, from Sheepshead Bay, thru Midwood, Flatbush, Crown Heights, and Bed-Stuy before reaching both the Williamsburg Bridge and Greenpoint to the north. My issue with the Kent Avenue bike lane, while safe and convenient if you are headed from northwest-Brooklyn, it's difficult to access when travelling along Bedford or from any neighborhood to the East. To reach it from points east, one must ride along a highway service road, with vehicles traveling at higher speeds as they exit and enter the BQE exit & onramp at Wythe Ave and Flushing Avenues, respectively. One can't cut over to Kent earlier, either, since Kent only begins to head north at Wallabout street. Bedford Avenue and it's bike lane passes right over the highway, so that whole mess is avoided completely.
posted by stachemaster at 7:38 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Satmar settlement was meant to be a place apart.

Yes, but unfortunately for them, Brooklyn ain't Monsey, and it's impossible and undesirable for the Satmar Hasidim in Borough Park to erect walls and shut out the rest of us.

There's a dichotomy to the Brooklyn Hasidic community which slowly emerged in the years after its founding that will never be resolved. On the one hand, they want to be left apart and alone to run their own affairs devoid of interference from the outside world. Their community is proudly insular, reactionary and anachronistic: they have their own court system, businesses that serve their community's needs, and intricate cultural, religious and value systems & traditions that permeate every aspect of their lives. On the other hand, unlike the Amish, they live in a city where it is impossible to avoid interacting with and experiencing modern culture in all its forms. It makes for an odd mix, since American standards and values have progressed without them in a variety of ways. The "lapsed Hasidic girls" on Facebook are mentioned in the NYM article. There's also a great deal of homophobia amongst the Hasidim and Orthodox.

If this had been solely characterized as a safety issue, I doubt anyone would have given a damn. But the moment they made it about imposing a dress code, they lost their argument.
posted by zarq at 7:39 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I had a friend, who had a friend, who knew someone, who was hit and killed by a scantily clad female cyclist even though he was wearing a bicycle helmet and walking on a bike path on a Saturday in a country with impractical suburban distances . Oh and the bicycle was a custom welded fixie with hand crafted corinthian leather trimmings and gluten free charcuterie saddle laser etched with a portrait of steve jobs.

So all your cycling arguments, while entertaining, are invalid.
posted by srboisvert at 7:39 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Because Jews are News.

Yes, they are news here. Why shouldn't they be? More to the point, this issue has state and national interest, since it involves state laws regarding indecency as well as rights that are Federally guaranteed.
The New York metropolitan area is home to the largest Jewish population in the world outside Israel. The New York metropolitan area's Jewish population in 2001 was approximately 1.97 million, 600,000 fewer than in Israel's largest metropolitan area, denoted as Gush Dan. In 2002, an estimated 972,000 Ashkenazic Jews lived in New York City and constituted about 12% of the city's population. New York City is also home to the world headquarters of the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch group and the Bobover and Satmar branches of Hasidism, ultra-Orthodox sects of Judaism.
In this case, the Satmar Hasidim are making the news specifically because they seem to be attempting to impose their religious values on the rights of others to express themselves freely. Those rights are guaranteed by our Constitution. If Muslims in this country tried to stop women who didn't wear hajibs from biking through their communities, that would be news, too. It would also be illegal.
posted by zarq at 7:47 AM on April 12, 2010


"At least two siren-topped minivans of the Shomrim Patrol—the Hasidic volunteer police—were parked nearby. "

Are these guys basically private security or do they have actual police powers? How are they able to detain people in public places?
posted by Mitheral at 8:03 AM on April 12, 2010


People of the bike, etc.
posted by ericbop at 8:09 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Shomrim are a civilian patrol.
"The Police Department's Civilian Observation Patrol (COP) Program consists of local residents who patrol their blocks wearing a bright orange jacket, printed with the program name, to provide a visible presence on the street and to discourage crime. Volunteers are encouraged to walk their patrols with their local Community Affairs Officer providing another opportunity to familiarize the community and officer with each other. Currently there are 23 active patrols throughout the City with approximately 362 members."
They are not legally able to apprehend or detain criminals.
posted by zarq at 8:13 AM on April 12, 2010


They are discussing a related issue on WNYC this morning. Includes an interesting interview with Brooklyn Borough President: Marty Markowitz.
posted by rosswald at 8:15 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


The whole world is a a very narrow bridge; the important thing is to not ride a fixie.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:49 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


This issue bothers me. A lot. I'm a Chabad Chassid. I'm also a cyclist who rides Bedford Avenue every day. I read every article about this that I can (and there tons of them, all over the local blogs). I've got to say, although biases are often present in the writing, the facts are rarely all that distorted.

What the Treife Bike Gesheft (amazing tongue-in-cheek name, btw) is doing is great. We've got our own in Crown Heights. They will eventually come around… although I think two years might be being a little optimistic — we're talking about Chassidim, our general style was last updated before bicycles were invented. Last week's Chol Hamoed had enough Satmar and other Chassidim out on bikes (I ran into them all over the city) to show that we're getting there, slowly.

But in the meantime. I've got no sympathy. Bedford Avenue is a ridiculously important route. By the time it hits Williamsburg, it's a one way street that's really, really, wide – ideally suited for a bike line. Living in New York means we see things we'd rather not. That's life.

The current situation, btw, isn't that bad. Yeah, there may have been some tit-for-tat with the mayor's office, and city did waste a lot of money in removing the lines. The press has been bad for the city, and worse for the Satmar. But the bike lane is still there. There are no bike symbols anymore, and they're technically part of — by having been incorporated into — the widest parking lanes in the city, but auto traffic still can't, and doesn't, drive there. I guess I have slightly less of a right in them, but in the months of daily riding since the removal, I've never felt any less safe, and have had to jump into the traffic lanes at about the same rate as other bike lanes throughout the city. Also, with all of the noise made, there's no way anybody local's not aware of the cyclists. They may like us, but knowing we're there is a huge step I wish everyone in the city took.
posted by mhz at 8:51 AM on April 12, 2010 [14 favorites]


Living in New York means we see things we'd rather not. That's life.

Exactly. Also, tzniut has traditionally been "applied" internally to Jews living in Jewish communities or those attending Jewish shuls, communal activities, private schools or yeshivas. If someone (Jewish or non) was attending religious services or instruction in Boro Park, I can see why they might be expected to dress modestly. But the cyclists are just passing through on a major thoroughfare. The bizarre attempt to impose tzniut on outsiders seems almost antithetical to tradition.

Last week's Chol Hamoed had enough Satmar and other Chassidim out on bikes (I ran into them all over the city) to show that we're getting there, slowly.

That's pretty neat. :)
posted by zarq at 9:20 AM on April 12, 2010


I biked every day to work last summer, from Greenpoint to DUMBO, and the route took me down Broadway, Lee, Bedford and Flushing, all main streets where the Satmar live. It's not entirely bike-friendly in the morning when kids are walking to school, and I did my absolutely best to make sure I respected pedestrians' rights and watched for straggling kids running to class. I biked fast and followed traffic laws instead of speeding through intersections, I yielded to school buses, and kept my eyes down. Trust me, any young, non-Hasidic woman who pedals through South Williamsburg know she's not exactly welcome, so you try to keep your head down and follow the rules til the roads spit you out at the Navy Yards.

And of course, it's ridiculous to think that the Hasidim can dictate the decorum of passersby in their enclave, because it's in one of the most diverse areas in the entire world. But they also can't pick up and move as easily, because it would take a concerted effort to uproot the entire community. If anyone's interested in the history of Hasidim in Brooklyn, I strongly suggest watching the PBS documentary A Life Apart, which you can stream on Netflix.

That said, some Hasidim have often aggressively endangered my well-being when I biked through their hood. Men approached me at stoplights and asked, "How much?", and took me a few encounters to realize they were asking how much I'd charge for sex. This is less an inquiry into my rates as much as a way to let me know that in their neighborhood, where I'm wearing a skirt and a t-shirt, I look like a whore. Men have walked in front of me in bike lanes, deliberately cutting me off in heavy traffic to the point where I had to swerve off the lane and into the road to avoid hitting them. Vans veer into the lane, cars swerve inches away from my leg, and pretty much no one respects my right to pedal forward at a four-way stop. It's a huge fucking pain that explains part of the rising tensions between hipsters and Hasidim--yeah, you think I look like a whore on wheels and I'm surely a sign of changing times, but is it really worth heckling me and imperiling my safety when I bike down your street?

I'm very afraid that, God forbid, a bad accident is the only event that will really force the communities to work together rather than idly antagonizing the enemy at a distance.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:36 AM on April 12, 2010 [13 favorites]


Men approached me at stoplights and asked, "How much?", and took me a few encounters to realize they were asking how much I'd charge for sex. This is less an inquiry into my rates as much as a way to let me know that in their neighborhood, where I'm wearing a skirt and a t-shirt, I look like a whore.

I can't even imagine the massive, self-centered ego trip one must be on to be willing to say something so degrading and vile to another human being.

Assholes.
posted by zarq at 9:46 AM on April 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


Men approached me at stoplights and asked, "How much?"

I suppose replying "I don't know, what's the going rate around here? Your mom probably knows" would just just get a person injured, but I still can't help but want someone to say it.
posted by davejay at 9:55 AM on April 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Possibly the funniest thing about this is that you can still bike on that part of Bedford. Bikes are legally allowed on every street, and as mhz noted, it's actually safer than most non-bike lane streets in New York. The only difference is that now everyone on the sidewalk stares at you.
posted by 235w103 at 9:55 AM on April 12, 2010


Frankly, I have no more respect for Jews that try to impose their religion on public life than I do Christians or Muslims.

And I know that, just like the Christians and Muslims, they feel like it's other folks who are imposing on them, forcing them to see these immoral things, but as the only harm is imaginary (or metaphysical), freedom trumps repression. Sorry.
posted by klangklangston at 9:57 AM on April 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


yeah, you think I look like a whore on wheels and I'm surely a sign of changing times, but is it really worth heckling me and imperiling my safety when I bike down your street?

Well, yeah, I think it is for just about every large group to select another group to be disrespectful to, if not downright violent towards, in order to reinforce their community identity. In that way, just about every large group has a similarity to a bunch of stereotypical jocks in an '80s movie. So for them, yeah, it is totally worth it, because such actions in aggregate emphasize your "otherness".
posted by davejay at 9:58 AM on April 12, 2010


(I am also amused how often when I'm out canvassing for gay marriage, some Orthodox—often Lubavitcher—comes up to harangue me about how gays are against God's laws and to try to convert me from reform to Orthodox, which generally amuses me because I only look Jewish.)
posted by klangklangston at 10:01 AM on April 12, 2010


Hey, I just had a thought: I know a big part of this issue is that the folks in question aren't allowed (by their laws) to look at a woman who is not fully clothed. Isn't insisting that everyone in their vicinity be fully clothed achieving the letter of the law without the spirit of it? Seems like they should be reinforcing their faith by having the discipline not to look, rather than making it comfortable for themselves by doing away with the scantily-clad.
posted by davejay at 10:04 AM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


davejay, if the potential outcome of "emphasizing my otherness" is getting me killed, then fuck 'em. For real.

See, now I'm all worked up. And that, boys and girls, is the reason why this bike lane situation gets so tense.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:07 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]




(I am also amused how often when I'm out canvassing for gay marriage, some Orthodox—often Lubavitcher—comes up to harangue me about how gays are against God's laws and to try to convert me from reform to Orthodox, which generally amuses me because I only look Jewish.)


ha ha. I would think that people who stereotype me as "definitely Jewish-looking" were much more racist if it weren't for the fact that even Lubavitchers are constantly trying to lasso me into the Mitzvah Tank.
posted by availablelight at 10:13 AM on April 12, 2010


Loop introduces herself as the author of the topless-ride initiative, “which God stopped with a blizzard,” she adds. “Damn him!”

Awkward giggles ricochet around the room. Abraham’s face turns to stone.


Man, fuck this girl, too. That's completely petty and disrespectful even if I am on the side of her agenda. My friends and I jokingly came up with a similar premise to the topless ride, which we called Critical Ass, but we'd never actually do something so repellent to the Hasidim in their own neighborhood.

I'm not looking to be pals with the majority of the folks living in South Williamsburg. I don't mesh with fundamentalists of any stripe, but I'm also not going to flout their values just to act like a bratty little shit. Thanks, Loop, for ensuring that the people pissed about my presence in their neighborhood have that much more incentive to call me a whore and run me off the road.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:25 AM on April 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Hey, I just had a thought: I know a big part of this issue is that the folks in question aren't allowed (by their laws) to look at a woman who is not fully clothed. Isn't insisting that everyone in their vicinity be fully clothed achieving the letter of the law without the spirit of it?

Yes.

Seems like they should be reinforcing their faith by having the discipline not to look, rather than making it comfortable for themselves by doing away with the scantily-clad.

Yes.

They shouldn't be trying to apply their standards to people outside their community anyway.
posted by zarq at 10:49 AM on April 12, 2010


zoomorphic, that sucks. Obviously, I'm in a totally different boat than you are, being male and visibly Jewish* — either of which is enough to get an entirely different reaction. I can't offer any response — anyone who can bring himself to say something like that is too far beyond words.
*I ride with Tzitzis, and when I'm not wearing a helmet my yarmulke is visible.

davejay, the 'making it comfortable' comes from the very first mishna of Pirkei Avot. One is not held responsible for something unavoidable, but how far you'll go to avoid it is what's at stake here. If the laws of modesty were about the temptation of looking, you'd be right. But they're not; they're about seeing. It isn't cheating to try and follow the law by removing the 'forced immodesty' from their immediate area. Making it 'comfortable' to follow the faith is a good thing, they're just not supposed to be doing it at the expense of everyone else.
posted by mhz at 11:13 AM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Lubavitchers will try to corrall anyone that looks remotely Jewish. I get confused for Jewish a lot, so I expect them to approach me whenever they are around. I've been tempted to see what goes on in the vans, but it would be pretty disrespectful to lie about my religious/ethnic background. Sometimes they are carrying a corn stalk or something similar around with them, which I imagine is related to some mitzvah they want to perfrom on non-Orthodox Jews, but I don't have a clue what it would be.
posted by Falconetti at 11:17 AM on April 12, 2010


Also from the Bike Gemach website I linked to earlier, a Chassidic teaching:
Mashpia Reb Reuven Dunin used to say: Life is like a bicycle: when it's hard you know you're going up. When it's easy – you're going down. And when you stop – you fall.
posted by mhz at 11:18 AM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


"The Hasidic community immediately opposed the lanes, citing the reduced parking they would cause; some religious leaders also mentioned the immodestly dressed women who would come pedaling through the neighborhood.

I haven't read this article yet, but this is a suspect argument as they just turned almost ALL of Kent Avenue into a one way and stuck parking in the middle lane of it for like a mile and half, running straight through the western border of the Hasidic community. So, all that new parking - it's no good for the Hasidim on Bedford because they have to walk an extra four blocks?
posted by spicynuts at 11:22 AM on April 12, 2010


Rabbis exhorted landlords not to rent to the Artisten, builders not to build for them.

BA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HAH HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. That's rich. Whatevs...did they make this same argument when the Poles started trying to rent all their real estate?
posted by spicynuts at 11:24 AM on April 12, 2010


It isn't cheating to try and follow the law by removing the 'forced immodesty' from their immediate area. Making it 'comfortable' to follow the faith is a good thing, they're just not supposed to be doing it at the expense of everyone else.

mhz, Is it appropriate for them to try to remove "forced immodesty" from their immediate area, when the immodesty is being displayed by a non-Jew?
posted by zarq at 11:43 AM on April 12, 2010


Not in my view. Obviously the people protesting it all think differently.
posted by mhz at 12:00 PM on April 12, 2010


Falconetti - the corn stalk mystery solved. It's only for one week a year during autumn.

As for snappy answers to 'are you Jewish?', my favorite is "L'havdil!" (It means to separate, but is used for 'bad' comparisons, like this, or just google lhavdil. In context, it means "it is absurd that you could you imagine I am a Jew", but uses a term that only a Jew would use.

Or you could just say "No, I'm a Dyslexian. Have you heard about Dog?"
posted by hexatron at 1:21 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


cmgonzalez: "I find it hard to sympathize with the Satmars here. Communities change over time as the population shifts."

That's one of the most hilarious/ironic things I've ever seen. The word "Satmars" so close to the phrase "communities change over time" literally made me laugh out loud.
posted by yiftach at 1:28 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nicole Marwell, a professor at Columbia, wrote a book, Bargaining for Brooklyn, that focused on this area and particularly the conflict between Puerto Ricans and the Satmars. Interview.
posted by ofthestrait at 5:32 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have so much to say about this I know it is best not to say it. Can women still take a cab through their neighborhood? Or have these nutjob religious fundamentists just closed off a section of the biggesr city in the US? Sorry for whatever, but this shit doesnt fly with me.
posted by timsteil at 6:55 AM on April 13, 2010


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