No Time for Nonsense

Many American Haredis critical of their non-working brethren in Israel.

Haredim in America are too busy working to follow developments among their brethren in Israel

Haredi Brooklyn is a teeming, pulsating Jewish universe of religious schools, teachers' seminaries for women, yeshivas, Jewish ritual purification baths, or mikvehs, newspapers and magazines in Yiddish and English, delis and stores. Here, says the Chabadnik journalist Noam Zigman, ultra-Orthodox Jews live an American life. The Haredi sections include Crown Heights, populated by members of the Chabad movement, Flatbush and Williamsburg, as well as Hasidic Borough Park, the largest Haredi concentration in the world. In this neighborhood most of the cars one sees are geared to large families.

A visit to Borough Park might well induce culture shock in Haredim who grew up in Bnei Brak or Jerusalem. Life in the Hasidic neighborhood begins early in the morning, because almost everyone hurries off to work after prayers. The truck driver wearing blue overalls is a Hasidic man, and so are the plumber and the electrician. There are Haredi policemen, physicians, businessmen, lawyers and bankers. Many of the working men engage in religious study at the expense of their private time, and they are rarely seen on the streets during the day.

Few here have heard about the latest legislation that is causing a stir among Haredim in Israel. Talk about separation between men and women on public transportation or about "kosher telephones" makes even the ultra-ultra-Orthodox of the Satmar sect laugh. The news about the latest scandal over the excavation of ancient graves has reached Brooklyn, mainly because activists from the Eda Haredit pasted wall posters on buildings housing the offices of American investors at the construction site in Jaffa.

Solomon, the owner of a kosher grocery store on 13th Avenue in Borough Park, told me about a close friend of his who moved to Israel and looked for work as a bus driver. "They looked at him like he was crazy - since when does a Hasid want to drive a bus?" he related. According to Moishe Stein, the manager of a restaurant on Avenue Plaza, "These days the Haredim control the whole plumbing market. Haredi semi-trailer drivers leave Borough Park on Monday, drive to Los Angeles and return on Thursday or Friday, before Shabbat. They make a very good living. Only if you don't work, like in Israel, is there time for nonsense, for demonstrations, for burning garbage cans, for talk about government allowances. Here there is no time for nonsense - people get up in the morning for work."