Head south deep into Brooklyn’s interior on the elevated D train and get off at the 50th Street station. At the bottom of the stairs, an open air market greets you with fresh fruits and vegetables anytime of the year. One block away on 13th Avenue is Borough Park, spelled by locals as Boro Park – the main thoroughfare of one of the world’s largest Orthodox Jewish communities outside of Israel. Here you can learn a bit about Jewish culture by simply walking the streets and picking up a neighborhood newspaper. You’ll quickly scratch beyond the surface of ubiquitous black top hats and discover that this Orthodox community is far from homogenous.
The primary residents of Boro Park are Hasidic and Hareidi Jewish families, although many other sects call this neighborhood home. Each family typically averages six children, creating a localized baby boom. Synagogues and yeshivas (schools) figure very prominently in the community, but not in the ways you may expect. Many synagogues aren’t separate ornate structures, but instead occupy row houses along side streets. Front entrances are rather unceremoniously marked with simple signs in Hebrew, sometimes outlining the Torah. In time, a good number of Hasidic rebbes (rabbis), as well as other rabbinical personalities, build a following and break away to establish their own synagogues. It’s not uncommon to see some of these leaders walking through the crowds on 13th Ave. singing praises or making proclamations.
The Hasidic community has developed their own version of a neighborhood block watch by forming a Shomrim, a network of residents who volunteer to prevent crime and handle emergencies. The Boro Park Shomrim was originally established as “The Bakery Boys,” a group of bakery delivery drivers who noticed that crime surged during their late night and early morning deliveries. The group now receives extensive training and has become a full citizen patrol in partnership with the New York Police Department’s Community Affairs Division. Although they don’t carry weapons and desist immediately upon NYPD orders, they maintain constant radio contact with the police department’s central dispatch, investigate suspicious persons, assist residents with police matters, and conduct searches for missing persons.
Food and Lodging
Boro Park is globally renowned among Hasidic Jews and other tourists for its extensive dining and lodging options. The 13th Avenue district, roughly one mile in length from 39th Street to about 55th Street, is the community’s lifeblood. Among the prominent mix of banks, a staggering variety of shops, markets, and kosher eateries beckon the senses. But don’t label puffy melt-in-your-mouth jelly donuts from The Donut Man, whole wheat personal pizzas and cheeseless calzones from Amnon’s Kosher Pizza and Falafel, or truffles from Candy Land as junk food. Perhaps these delicacies taste too good to be wholesome, but you’ll notice the flavor and how your stomach isn’t doing handsprings after indulging. Chalk this up to the use of pure water, only fresh ingredients, and cooking done under strict Rabbinical supervision.
Photos courtesy of Steve Mirsky