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To get to Borough Park from Anywhere Else takes considerable effort. I ride the N train deep into the intestinal puzzle of southern Brooklyn, and notice a demographic shift. First it's a train full of white and black and Asian and Hispanic people. Then just Hispanic people. Then just Asian.
But getting off at New Utrecht Avenue and walking north, the whiteness is plain to see. Women pause at streetcorners to chat, their slightly off-shaped sheitels somber and stiff atop their scalps. Men's black, floor-length frocks sweep along the sidewalk. There are tall black hats, curly payes, and strollers, strollers, strollers, as far as the eye can see. Borough Park is one of the largest, most autonomous and famously insular Hasidic communities in the world.
Oy. Even as a white Jewish girl in white Jewish community, I'm a stranger in a strange land. Passing residents on the sidewalk, I try my best to be invisible in plain sight, and they try their best to regard me as they would a human-shaped block of air. I wonder how long it would take for me to be noticed, pounced on, tarred and then feathered. But that might take too much time, waste too many Kosher chickens. Then I remember something else: just last week I had heard a friend's horror story about Hasidim in cars vs. hipsters in bike lanes. What about Hasidim in cars vs. lone hipster on the sidewalk? There's a possibility I could end up road-schnitzel. Silently, I curse my editor.
But the driver of nearly every car that passes has a beard and Bluetooth. They look professional. Probably harmless. So do the many houses I pass that have some kind of credential-declaring plate attached to them. Meyer Lazar, Certified Public Accountant. Cohens, Steins and Bergs. Adult Urology, Pediatric Medicine, and OB-GYN.
I walk into a deli to talk to the shopkeeper. He seems uncomfortable, and after a few questions about the neighborhood he stops making eye contact. I ask if he knows where I might find a realtor. He directs me up to 60th Street.
"Where on 60th?"
"60th, 60th," he says, massaging his beard. "You'll see it."
I walk up 60th, but don't see a realtor. I trip over an empty can of Four Loko. A car pulls up and its non-Hasid driver rolls down the window, making whistling noises in my direction.
"Hey baby," he says.