After finishing class today, I realized that I wanted to use my Unlimited MetroCard to visit somewhere interesting. And since I had time, I decided on the spur of the moment that it'd be fun to go to Gottlieb's. In case you're curious as to what Gottlieb's is, it's a kosher-style deli that's existed since 1962. They serve really fantastic heimesh food like various kinds of kishke, meat, chicken soup, brisket, cherry soup, etc.
Now, under normal circumstances it is proper to dress oneself so as not to offend the residents of a neighborhood. Thus, under normal circumstances I would have Bais-Yaakofied in order to visit this wondrous enclave of Hasidic Jews. But since it would take much too long to go home to Washington Heights, change, and then go back, I figured I'd wing it and test the amount of tolerance the various sects had for Jews other than themselves. To explain what one ought to wear if one's a young maiden in Williamsburg, I'll give you a breakdown of what I was wearing:
I wore: Black shirt (form-fitting), jean skirt (tiered), long gold hoop earrings and open-toe sandals with toenails painted red. Fingernails are blue.
The girls wear: Button-down Oxford shirts (not form-fitting), black pleated skirts, stockings with seams or black stockings, closed-toe flat shoes and studs or preferably pearl earrings.
So I hopped on the 6 train, went to Canal Street, transferred to the M, got off at Marcy and walked over to Roebling. However, at that point I noticed what seemed to be a main street, Lee, and I was so fascinated by it that I decided to walk as far up and down that street as I could, which proved to be incredibly interesting. Firstly, there was the fact that none of the men look at you as you pass by. They all look at the ground. I think this is a pretty fantastic talent, since they're still able to get where they are going, although I fancy they must get tired of looking at the sidewalk. The women, in contrast, are all pushing strollers while wearing their tichels, hair pieces and suits. Everyone speaks Yiddish (which means I don't understand a word.) Also, despite the fact that I smiled at everyone I saw, I was the evil whore of Babylon to all who saw me. Every single woman or girl (and that includes little kids) looked me up and down, saw my red toes and gave me a withering look of disdain (as though I were some kind of insect.) While I deserved that, I do think it is somewhat amusing that if I were a Jew in a hospital bed they wouldn't mind at all and would be happy to help me; it's when I infiltrate the community in inappropriate garb that I am an evil influence. On the plus side, they didn't stone me or say anything to me in a language I could understand (though some old ladies muttered to themselves in Yiddish), and really that is remarkably impressive and speaks well of their tolerance.
The thing that really tripped me out was the amount of Hebrew and Yiddish everywhere. I'm used to seeing Hebrew displayed on a Sofer or Jewish bookstore's shop-window, but every single store has some kind of Yiddish or Hebrew advertisement. There are signs up advocating for the release of the three boys who are in Japanese jail currently. Every single schoolbus has its Hebrew name displayed alongside it- whether it's a Yeshiva or a Bais Yaakov. That tripped me out; can you imagine riding a school bus with Hebrew alongside it? That's cool! I entered one of the Jewish bookstores and was fascinated by the fact that everything was either in Yiddish or Hebrew. There was one tiny section with all the English books crammed together (but you got the impression that English is not a spoken or widely-read language.) The cool thing about the Yiddish books is that there was one entitled Chana'leh. (And Shloma'leh and Moshe'leh and Ayn Zechus Phun Tehillim and something about a tailor- with the word shneider.) I wanted to buy the one with my name but my father pointed out that I can't read Yiddish, so there wouldn't be much point, sadly. Oh! And the Jewish bookstores sell magazines like Binah and suchlike (no other sort of magazine is to be found.)
But perhaps one of the most fascinating things I noticed was when I entered the toystore. Every single doll sold in that toystore is tznius. Or, to modify that, some of the dolls have pants but they are not the sort of dolls that show off skin. There are no Barbies or Bratz. These dolls are imported from France and are very cute and modestly dressed. They range from $25 and up in price. And it was really fun to see the aisles and aisles of Jewish-themed toys and games. You can make a crown reading 'Abraham' to hang in your sukkah for $88. Or you can purchase the Gematriah game or Torah-Land and much, much more.
I also thought it was interesting that there's unofficial stroller parking outside every store. I easily passed plenty of stores that had 20 strollers taking in the sunlight; women milling around inside the shop. But I also saw the lady who had left her baby outside (her baby was communing with me) while she went inside; I was less happy about that. Or there was the lady who hit her son in the street. (But none of these things are unique to Hasidic Jews- there are plenty of people who do all these things.) It also cracked me up that the population of the streets I walked through was Jews and black people. So I would pass three black guys and then 50 Hasidic Jews. There was something amusing in that.
There was a sign on a drugstore that I liked a lot. It read 'Are you trying to impress your shcheina (neighborhood) or the Shchina (God)?'
And then, after walking all the way back down Lee to Bedford and Divison, I decided to go to Gottlib's. Of course, just the fact that I walked in was scandalous because I was the only girl in a restaraunt filled with Chassidish men. Nonetheless, the person who was nicest to me out of everyone I'd met so far was the man behind the counter. Despite the fact that he could only speak English poorly and with a very thick accent, he made sure to give me everything I wanted. While I was eating my (delicious) food, a woman with her three daughters came in. The daughters (ages 3 and 5 and a bit younger than 3, probably) came and sat by my table; they liked me. The woman told them in Yiddish to leave me alone, but there was one little one who was particularly fascinated by me. I thought that was nice.
But it was the conversation I had with the nice man behind the counter that was the best.
Man Behind The Counter: You are from Flatbush?
Me: (sputter of laughter since I know that's an insult, but it makes sense- after all, I'm obviously not from here- look at my clothes!) No, I'm from Washington Heights.
MBTC: The subway, it goes there?
Me: Yup! The 1 train and the A train.
MBTC: But isn't it far?
MBTC: About an hour, yes?
Me: Yup, but that's okay. [he returns my credit card] Thanks so much!
MBTC: Have a good day.
Me: You too!
Some people trip out on drugs, alcohol or acid. I trip out by wandering through New York. (And then taking 5 trains in order to get back home- the M to the 6 to the 7 (Shuttle To Times Square) to the 2 to the 1). Also, apparently I'm from Flatbush. Huzzah for Williamsburg!