History of Hasidic Immigration to Williamsburg:
The trend of Jewish immigration to Williamsburg as compared to the immigration patterns in America is completely different. The percentage of reformed and non-practicing Jews has increased in the United States, while in Williamsburg there has been an enormous influx of orthodox European Jews replacing their more liberal predecessors. Today, almost all of the Jews in Williamsburg are Hasidic.
Many Western European Jews were well established in the United States and Williamsburg by the end of the Civil War. However, the first orthodox Jewish rabbis did not establish themselves in Brooklyn until the 1920s. These rabbis established the religious network that the Satmar and other Hasidic sects would follow after World War II. A large wave of Hasidic Jews came to Williamsburg during WWII to escape the Holocaust. In the 1940s and 1950s, the Hasidic Jews were surrounded by a non-Hasidic community. Today, almost all the Jews in Williamsburg are orthodox. As a result, the Hasidic community has isolated itself from the rest of Williamsburg. The Hasidic Jews in the neighborhood do not particularly interact with other sects of people because their enclave is so powerful and almost no outside intervention is needed.
Small Businesses in the Hasidic Enclave of Williamsburg:
The majority of the Hasidic enclave is located down Lee Avenue. The small businesses in the enclave vary from optical stores to bakeries. The Hasidic enclave is a very isolated region and the small businesses in the enclave are made to serve the Jewish community within. The small business owners in the enclave are not interested in appealing to outsiders. Most shoppers are Hasidic themselves because outsiders are not felt welcome. Hasidic men own a majority of the small businesses in this area while women stay at home and look over their children.
The small businesses in the enclave provide whatever the Hasidic community needs; anything else is not sold there. No major food chains are located in the enclave, such as Subway or Burger King. This makes sense because the food needs to be kosher and for food to become kosher it takes a long and costly process. Other large chains such as Best Buy are also not present. Instead, there are many small stores that sell audio equipment. Other types of small businesses in the enclave include bookstores, bakeries, jewelry stores, and clothing stores.
Bookstores in the Hasidic enclave include only Hasidic literature. This would range from short stories written in Hebrew to religious readings. Hasidic people like to teach their children from the Jewish scriptures and feel that the literature of other cultures is not necessary in the development of their children. This explains why literature outside of the Hasidic influence is not present in any bookstore.
Most of the bakeries in the Hasidic enclave are owned by women. We observed that women in the Hasidic community stick to gender roles, which would include baking. We interviewed Esther, who is a worker at the Bakery & Ice Cream Shop. The store has been open since 1984 and sells Jewish delicacies such as challah, apple pie, and macaroons. Esther said: “Challah is our best seller in this community. It’s a sweet type of bread that is consumed in large amounts throughout the year. The children like to stop by here every day after school to pick up cookies and other sweets.”
Another striking feature of the Hasidic enclave is the numerous jewelry stores that are dispersed throughout the area. The enclave sells all types of jewelry ranging from necklaces to bracelets. During the early 20th century, and even further back in history, Jews were forced out of a lot of businesses. The only business they were able to perfect was the mercantile business and jewelry was light, valuable, and very easy to sell. This trend continues to this day in the Hasidic enclave of Williamsburg.
In addition to jewelry stores, there are many Jewish clothing stores down Lee Avenue. However, the only clothing that these stores sell is the conservative Hasidic clothing that the Hasidic people wear. These clothes include spodiks (tall fur hats), tichels (headscarves worn by women), suits, and dresses. We interviewed Isaac Goldberg, who is an employee at Waldman’s clothing store. He told us: “The Hasidic community in Williamsburg is very conservative. All of the clothing that is sold in this community is religious and I know it looks weird to you since you are outsiders. The reason that we only sell religious clothing here is because these people would buy no other clothing. So since we are a business, we have to adapt to our customers’ needs.”
Our experience in the Hasidic enclave was an uncomfortable one. We were instantly spotted by the Hasidic people as outsiders and immediately shunned. The men, women, and children would not want to walk around us and a small number of them would even answer us back when we asked them questions. The Hasidics are conservative people, which would explain why we were avoided because of our non-Hasidic background. The Hasidic enclave has everything that the community needs which explains its seclusion.