Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Where To Ride A Bike. In Williamsburg?

Remember that topless bicycle ride through Williamsburg (how could you forget? here)?

The story continues.


Clash of the Bearded Ones
Hipsters, Hasids, and the Williamsburg street

...We’re at one of the oddest New York City powwows in recent memory: a panel designed to quell a metastasizing dispute between bicyclists and Hasidic Jews...At immediate issue is the Bedford Avenue bike lane.

It’s the longest in Brooklyn and runs through every imaginable ethnic enclave including the South Williamsburg redoubt of the Satmars, the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish sect. In December, after many complaints from the Satmars about scantily clad female riders, the city sandblasted off a small stretch of the lane; some enterprising bikers painted it back in protest; the city then painted over the unauthorized paint job. Now two activists are up on criminal-mischief charges, the lane is gone, and the two groups are glowering at each other with even less empathy than usual. Worse yet, each group finds itself standing in for a larger one in a larger fight: the Satmars for all Orthodox Jews and the bikers for all young secular Williamsburgers, i.e. hipsters...When the Satmars realized that the Artisten, the Yiddish name they used for the bewildering newcomers, were there to stay, something like panic set in...

...Then, in 2007, came the bike lane, part of a citywide push to make streets more cycling-friendly...The Satmars were incensed. Hasids are prohibited from looking at improperly dressed members of the opposite sex, and some complained that the women cycling through their neighborhood were an affront.

...Around 4 a.m. on Monday, Ben was kneeling near the corner of Bedford and Division, putting the finishing touches on a stencil of a bicyclist figure. The can hissed and sputtered in his hand. Hechtropf and Piccochi were working in the opposite direction, painting near Williamsburg Street East. Suddenly, Ben’s cell phone went off: 'The Hasidic police are here,' yelled Hechtropf. 'This is getting ugly.' Ben dropped the stencil and ran toward the action, along the freshly painted line, to see if he could intercede. The scene he found on the corner of Williamsburg East was exactly what he’d feared. A tight circle of Hasids gathered around the crouching Hechtropf and Piccochi, pointing fingers and screaming that they were in big trouble...

...The bikers were now seemingly determined to shove their entitlement in the Satmars’ faces, and the Satmars were more disgusted with the hipster circus than ever. The two worlds had never seemed so far apart.

Gottlieb’s, a kosher deli on Roebling, offers a pastrami egg roll, a tongue sandwich, and a bowl of chicken soup filled to the rim with twisty, delicious bird stomachs. It also serves as one of the main marketplaces for Hasidic gossip in town. Right now, on a slow Thursday afternoon, the talk of the deli is Rachel, an 18-year-old Hasidic girl who "went off", the local term for breaking with tradition. 'She got a huge tattoo,' reports Baruch Herzfeld [he's the one in the baseball cap in the picture above] to a gangly copper-haired cook in full beard and payess. 'No way,' says the cook, ecstatic. 'No. Way.' 'Seriously. She shows it if you ask, too. Right here,' Herzfeld points at his thigh. 'So f***ing hot.' The cook just grins. 'What, you don’t believe me?' Herzfeld grabs his iPhone and opens Facebook, searching for photos of Rachel. The Hasidic Facebook is its own phenomenon, a parallel universe where the prim girls you see on the street in turban hats and snub-nosed forties shoes post their bikini snapshots and glamorously lit studio pictures. Herzfeld enthusiastically scrolls through his four-figure friend list, picking out the hotties for us to look at. 'Esther. Hot girl. Her father is super-religious. The interesting part is how many friends they have. Look: 273 friends. Most of them are Hasidic guys.'

Baruch Herzfeld, 38, is a classic macher and motormouth with a foot in both the Hasid and hipster worlds. He is an Orthodox Jew with close ties to the Satmars...He is dressed in a denim jacket that looks slept in, and a flannel cap that he can’t stop turning backward, forward, and to the side...Inside the shop, otherwise righteous men let down their guard. Tongues loosen. 'The men, they don’t know how to have a conversation with a woman,' Herzfeld explains, talking a mile a minute. 'Whenever they come to the bike shop, the first thing they ask me to find them a prostitute. I tell them, look, you’re searching for answers. You’re not going to find them in the vagina of a woman you’re paying $200 an hour. If you want to meet somebody, you need to step outside of the community, you need to get a hobby. Come over, and I’ll teach you how to fix a bike. So the bike shop is a kind of outreach program.' A friend of Herzfeld’s also uses the shop to slip Hasids traif books like The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby...

Read the whole thing

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