Things to Know When Visiting a Hassidic Community

Jewish Culture in Brooklyn

Hasidic Community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC
Getty Images/Alexander Spatari

Everyone knows New York City is a melting pot. From Chinatown to Brighton Beach, there are numerous culturally vibrant neighborhoods. Every culture has their own customs and in order to respect the community, you should read about them before you visit. 

All kinds of people live in Brooklyn, and, especially for visitors, some of the best people-watching is in the borough's Hasidic Jewish neighborhoods, where people dress with Amish-like modesty and observe different social norms. Here are some tips to keep in mind when visiting a Hasidic community.

Clothing 

Most of the people you may encounter at Brooklyn's Hasidic neighborhoods — in Williamsburg, Crown Heights, and Borough Park — will be dressed in the garb typical of their communities. That means modest, loose-fitting long dresses for girls and women, and generally black pants or suits for boys and men, who all wear yarmulkes or hats.

Store Hours and Lifestyle 

You will not find any bars in these neighborhoods unless they are on the outskirts and owned by non-Hasidic people. Also note that all establishments are closed two hours before sunset on Friday, all day Saturday, and on Jewish holidays.

Be aware that adult men and women do not wait in stores for each other to try on and model clothing; there's a separation of men and women.

Suggestions for Visitors

As a matter of courtesy:

  • Do not eat or bring any food that is not kosher into a food establishment.
  • It's best not to photograph people without their permission.
  • Women visitors should, if possible, avoid low cut or tight fitting tops.
  • Women visitors should not try to shake hands with local Orthodox men; they won't, and the particularly pious may even avoid eye contact.
  • People in these communities are generally open and friendly to outsiders. However, it helps to understand a little of the rules they live by.

If you feel a bit lost and would like to know more about the culture, consider signing up for a tour. Popular tours include Visit Hasidim, a two-hour tour "led by guides who grew up in the Hasidic community and want to share with your the essence of this cultural and historic gem." Or take the Jewish Neighborhood tour with NY Like a Native. For a gay-friendly male tour, check out A Hasidic Tour of Williamsburg with Hebro, which offers at two-and-half-hour tour that includes a pastry tasting and a crash course in Yiddish.

 Or download a tour through Detour and take a leisurely walking tour using your smartphone. Just to note, Williamsburg isn't the only Hasidic neighborhood, but it's the most prominent and the one where they host tours. 

For those in search of Jewish culture and a place where you can enjoy many meals in Kosher restaurants, take the subway to Midwood. The stretch of Coney Island Avenue near Avenue J has numerous kosher restaurants and is also home to a gourmet kosher supermarket, Pomegranate, which is similar to a kosher Whole Foods. Other spots include incredible bakeries with delicious pastries like rugelach. Enjoy an overstuffed sandwich in one of New York's few remaining kosher Jewish delis at Essen New York Deli.

Steps from the deli are two large Judaica stores, where you can peruse the aisles and pick up hard to find items. 

For a kid-friendly tour of the Jewish world, plan a trip to the Jewish Children's Museum, located on Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights. The museum hosts many events and activities. However, you don't need a special occasion to visit this museum. There are many educational exhibits to teach your child about the various aspects of the region and culture. From crawling through an enormous challah to mini golf, the museum is a must-visit during a trip to Brooklyn 

Edited by Alison Lowenstein