Ear­li­er this week, Michael Levin wrote about the why and how of his art and research on Hasidism. He is a Brook­lyn-based artist and the author of Jews of Today: A Primer on Hasidic Dress. Michael has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

Jews of Today could nev­er have begun as a project had I not encoun­tered the phe­nom­e­non of the Hasidic enclave. As a recent trans­plant to New York City in 2006, I wan­dered into Williams­burg like any oth­er would-be gen­tri­fi­er in search of cheap bars, good restau­rants, and an authen­tic” atmos­phere. I did not expect to encounter such a dense pop­u­la­tion of Yid­dish-speak­ing, black-frock-wear­ing Jews. I felt like I’d found my lost ances­tors. I was awestruck and attract­ed. But my ear­ly efforts to make con­nec­tions with Williamsburg’s Hasidim were met with the cus­tom­ary cold shoulder. 

I quick­ly learned that their part of Williams­burg was a vir­tu­al fortress, meant to keep peo­ple like me (or rather, unlike them) at a safe dis­tance. This of course only enchant­ed me fur­ther. Why? Who knows. I guess I felt like some secret of great impor­tance was being hid­den inside their cas­tle walls. The Ethiopi­ans claim to keep the Ark of the Covenant in a church in Addis Aba­ba, which, after all, no one is allowed to enter…

So how is a Hasidic enclave cre­at­ed? Jew­ish enclaves have a long his­to­ry, full of impor­tant vari­a­tions. Of course, they were usu­al­ly imposed on Jews from the out­side, rarely by Jews them­selves, and even more rarely by Jews against oth­er Jews. Williams­burg rep­re­sents an impor­tant rever­sal of that trend. Philip Fish­man, a non-Hasidic Jew who grew up in mid-cen­tu­ry Williams­burg, has writ­ten a vivid mem­oir on the sub­ject, titled A Sukkah is Burn­ing.

This (some­what aged) arti­cle from Matzav is an impor­tant arti­fact of my research and shows very specif­i­cal­ly how my favorite Hasidic enclave is being main­tained today.

Find out more about Michael Levin here.