Monday, April 18, 2016


I had seen men in the diamond district of Manhattan and on the subway with side locks, wearing long-sleeved white shirts, black pants, long black coats, and black hats.  In winter this clothing seemed warming; in summer I felt it would be unbearably hot.  This is the style of clothing of the Hasidic and there is significance to it.

There are several Hasidic communities in BrooklynBorough Park and Williamsburg are quite large.  The community nearest me was Crown Heights.  I wanted to learn the significance of the side
locks, and so one Sunday I took the Lubavitcher Tour - a walking tour of the Crown Heights Hasidic Community.
A group of use – four tourists and me – met the tour guide on Kingston Road, not far from the temple on Eastern Parkway.  When I reached out to shake the hand of the tour guide, he ignored it without a word of explanation.  I learned later on in the tour, that there is a prohibition about the different genders touching and strong segregation of men and women.  Perhaps he expected me to know this already.

First, the tour guide taught us about the different communities in Brooklyn, the importance of the rabbi and how he is chosen.  He explained one distinction between Hasidic Jews and other types of Judaism is that Hasidic men are not to shave the five corners of the head which includes the beard.  There are differing opinions on what the five points are (learned online), but one is very clear – the sideburns are not to be shaved.  They become ringlet side locks.  

We walked around the neighborhood a bit before we went inside the temple to the women’s section – upstairs and separate from the males.  There were windows in the room that overlooked the main temple.  The windows were covered except for a small opening at the bottom.  The tour guide explained that the women could “look down into the temple and pick out their husbands.” 

Marriages are arranged with strong guidance from the families for picking the right mate for life.  After a woman is married, she must cover her hair even at home.  In this community, women did not have to shave their heads, as I recall.  Although I have read that in other Jewish communities, the married women shave their heads and cover them with wigs.

The tour guide also explained the teffilin – black leather boxes attached to leather straps that get wrapped about a man’s head so that the box is on his forehead or wrapped about his arm.  The boxes hold parchment scrolls with verses from the Torah (to me, the first five books of the Old Testament) and are worn during prayer.

After visiting the temple, we went to a place where men make mezuzahs.  A mezuzah is a small piece of parchment with a verse from the Torah printed or written on it.  Usually the parchment is inside a decorative case that is about 3 or 4 inches long and about ½ inch wide.  The cases are made of different metals and woods, and the ones these men were working with, were elaborately engraved.  The mezuzahs are attached to door frames, outside and inside the home, in a very particular way – usually tipped.

There is so much I’m leaving out because the tour was at least two hours, but eventually we headed back to the starting point and parted.

Shortly after that tour, I met a group of five Hasidic children in Prospect Park on afternoon.  There is a holiday that the children celebrate by offering blessings and these children were running around doing that.  Their guardian was a young man in his late twenties. 

One angelic little boy ran up to me joyously and gave me a blessing.  The man hurried over and asked me, “Are you Jewish?”  And I said, “No.”  The little boy was only supposed to dispense his blessings to those declaring themselves Jewish, but it had already happened and the little boy was so happy.  The man could see that I was happy too, and he said, “That’s all right.”

And I kept that blessing. 

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