Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gender Studies in Hasidic Williamsburg

This Thursday Ayala Fader, author of Mitzvah Girls: Bringing Up the Next Generation of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn, is coming to Tenement Talks. Her book focuses on the Hasidim in Brooklyn, specifically girls’ experiences growing up in this community. It should be a thought-provoking discussion of religious and gender.

While many ethnic groups adopt aspects of American culture, the Satmar Hasidim have for the most part resisted assimilation. Scholar Jerome Mintz describes this community, which was established after the Holocaust:

…unlike the immigrants of earlier decades who had sought to eliminate differences between themselves and other Americans and to integrate into American life… Distinctiveness from the American community, rather than acculturation, was the keystone of their social strategy.

Yiddish, rather than English, is the first language of Hasidim. Hasidic men and boys wear the same style of clothing that their Hungarian ancestors wore decades ago – long black kaftans and black hats. In New York, the Satmar Hasidim manage their own schools, satisfying the state educational requirements in English and secular subjects and dedicating the rest of their time to religion. They live in a concentrated area to attend synagogue; access food, health providers, drug stores, barbers, and tailors that accommodate the strict requirements of their religion; and be close to the rebbe, their religious leader. In this structured, homogeneous community, the Hasidim replicate their way of life in each subsequent generation.

As Fader argues, however, Hasidic women interact much more with the secular world then outsiders might imagine:

They are fluent Yiddish speakers but switch to English as they grow older; they are increasingly modest but also fashionable; they read fiction and play games like those of mainstream American children but theirs have Orthodox Jewish messages; and they attend private Hasidic schools that freely adapt from North American public and parochial models.

What do these changes mean for the community?

We’re looking forward to hearing more from Dr. Fader and hope you’ll join us on Thursday. Tenement Talks are held at the Museum Shop, 108 Orchard at Delancey, at 6:30 pm.

- Posted by Penny King

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