Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Crown Heights Conundrum

Contrary to popular belief, which paints Crown Heights as a Lubavitch and generally Meshichist community exclusively, it is in fact extremely varied, containing all different sorts of people. While of course, all of them are Lubavitch, they each have their own way of practicing and serving God. They are alternatively curious, puzzling or downright inspiring. In fact, Crown Heights has its own fascinating cultures and subcultures, various groups into which people fall or can be categorized. Here is a listing to introduce the uninformed to this intriguing community.

Gezhe: Gezhe, which means you have Lubavitch yichus, invokes respect when mentioned. If you are gezhe, your great-great-great grandfather was in Russia and was Lubavitch during that time. You likely know Yiddish, may have inherited money, dress very conservatively (which means it's possible your daughters don't wear jean skirts), and raise your children to want to go on shlichus and to revere the Rebbeim. You will generally know the birthdays, yahrtzeits and histories of all the Rabbeim.

Wannabe-Gezhe: This is a subculture of Gezhe and applies to people who take on the practices, mannerisms and trappings of the Gezhe community without actually being Gezhe.

Chabad-House Style: This categorization refers to people with whom the Gezhe lifestyle does not necessarily resonate, but who love the Lubavitch movement. If you are Chabad-House style, you are likely to invite lots of guests who are not necessarily frum to come over for Shabbat, are open-minded, discuss anything from politics to art to current events at your Shabbat table and are generally a professional of some sort. At the same time, you are very dedicated to Lubavitch and its principles such as loving every Jew and respecting the Rebbe and Chassidus. Basically, you run your home like a Chabad-House the way it would be run in any place outside of Crown Heights.

Baal Teshuva Scene: If you are a member of the Baal Teshuva scene and are a woman, you went to Machon Chana or alternatively, Machon Alta (if you are is Israeli), and if you're a man you went to Hadar HaTorah or Morristown. You're very careful about halakha and respect the Ghezhe lifestyle very much. You still have an open mind and an open home and love to talk about your old days as a hippie.

Sephardi Scene (French/ Israeli): People who are Sephardi or come from abroad who seem to stay close to others they know from their original countries.

Singles Scene: If you are part of the singles scene, you are an adolescent boy or girl, alternatively in your early twenties, and hang out with people of the opposite sex. Generally the people who are part of this scene are more modern. The shul Aliyah is often associated with members of this community.

Singles Communities (Male/ Female): There are separate singles communities, one of unmarried girls and the other of unmarried guys. The unmarried girls usually go to Nightlife, which is programming for single girls. Many of these girls are usually seminary graduates who now work at a Chabad House or in the Diamond District or go to school at Touro or Stern. The guys are generally in yeshiva or working.

Sydney Boys: A sub-culture of the Male Singles Community, these are the guys who went to yeshiva in Sydney, Australia and form a tight-knit group. They are generally very frum Lubavitchers who wouldn't necessarily mind going to a bar to get a drink and maybe watch sports. They'll also read newspapers and possibly talk about politics. Their wardrobe extends beyond black and white.

Sheitel Hookers: Sheitel Hookers are associated with Beis Shmuel, although the shul definitely encompasses more than than prototype and is run by a very sincere man who wanted to create a Chabad-House for people on the fringers of Orthodoxy. The men generally shave or trim their beards and are more money-oriented and possibly ambitious, while the women wear supposedly sexually attractive sheitels, and tight, designer clothing. They may go to the park in 6-inch heels. They also vacation together in Florida.

Young Married Couples: These are young married couples who are regular people, probably have a job, and would like to move out of Crown Heights after a couple of years. It's like the Washington Heights community, but for Lubavitchers.


thanbo said...

What about the "Tzfatim", young guys brought in from Israel as Meshichist frontline troops in the kulturkampf?

As one sees on the various Lubavitch-watcher blogs.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Chana.

Anonymous said...

impressive for one shabbos!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your insights. Now, I know a little more about the culture to which I'm assumed to belong.

G said...

Care to go through their varied approaches to the Rebbe, his status and his role in the world?

Charlie Hall said...

I actually know a Litvik family in Crown Heights!

AmIaFrumFeminist said...

Charlie: The first Chabad Rebbe came from a Litvishe family and brought Litvishe morals into his Chassidus, so you could really say that Lubavitch is litvishe chassidus.

It's a nice listing, but I think it's a bit more complicated than you've painted it. For example, there are plenty of "gezhe" people in the other categories.