Birth of Hipster Hasidism?

It’s hipsters v. Hasids, round two. This time the Brooklyn battleground isn’t Williamsburg but Crown Heights, home to a large West Indian and African American population, the Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters, and, according to one Hasidic landlord, a growing number of “yuppies [who] bring pritzus [immodesty] to our neighborhood.”

In the anonymous open letter posted on the Jewish community site COLlive (and first reported by the New York Daily News), the landlord expresses concern over the introduction of “a very different way of life: new nightclubs and bars, sun tanning on rooftops, bike lanes” and presses others to “reinforce the observant Jewish character” of Crown Heights by not renting to yuppie goyim. By yuppies, the letter writer of course means hipsters, a bellwether of gentrification, who are being priced out of other neighborhoods, like Williamsburg (by yuppies).

The hipster-Hasid clash is a familiar story, and the recent battle over the bike lane in Williamsburg has come to symbolize the antagonism. But as the outraged responses to the landlord’s letter and the increasing attention paid to the two subcultures’ similarities (and appropriations) indicate, those tensions may well be waning.

Debra Nussbaum Cohen, writing at Forward’s The Sisterhood blog, notes there’s already a “whole new style trend among people I call ‘hipster Hasids.’ Chic young women (because they’re not limited to the black pants-white shirt uniform of their male peers) routinely wear close-fitting tops, tight, knee-length skirts, and high heels.”

But an influx of secular Jewish hipsters into the community could have a profound impact on the trend. For an essential difference between the Satmar community of Williamsburg and the Chabad community of Crown Heights is the latter’s focus on proselytization to other Jews. Indeed, several comments on the post at COLlive highlight the potential of the changing demographics to do kiruv, or outreach with the aim of bringing Jews closer to God.

And now that Matisyahu, hipster Hasid icon, has shaven his beard and renounced the Orthodox faith he was drawn to more than a decade ago, the time is ripe for a new crop of cool, conservative Jews. Could Crown Heights be the birthplace of hipster Hasidism?

nicole.greenfield@gmail.com'

Nicole Greenfield is a journalist and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. Her most recent longterm reporting project explored the intersection among religion, politics, and LGBT rights in Argentina. For more, visit her website.