Saturday, October 09, 2010

Borough Park, Brooklyn 

IN late September, during the final days of the weeklong holiday of Sukkot, young boys in white shirts and black hats could often be seen lining the streets of Borough Park, a large neighborhood in southwest Brooklyn. Standing behind folding card tables arrayed with long, thin willow branches to be waved in synagogue, they called out in Yiddish, hoping to attract customers from among the crowds of shoppers who exited, bags in hand, the kosher markets of 13th Avenue.

The neighborhood is home to one of the largest Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish populations in the United States — “the Jewish capital of the United States” and a “kosher utopia,” according to David G. Greenfield, who lives and works in Borough Park, in addition to representing it in the City Council.

Religious tradition and ritual touch nearly every aspect of neighborhood life. During Sukkot, sidewalks and apartment balconies sprouted sukkahs, the traditional wooden booths commemorating the structures that ancient Israelites lived in after their exodus from Egypt.

Borough Park’s commercial strips, 13th and 16th Avenues, are lined with independently owned businesses, many of them religious-themed. The few chain stores — Rite Aid, Duane Reade, the Children’s Place — are closed on Saturdays in observance of the Jewish Sabbath.

Although Orthodox Jews make up the majority of Borough Park’s residents, other groups are represented. Residents like Amy Sicignano, who was brought up amid the neighborhood’s considerable Italian and Irish populations, have ended up acquiring an appreciation of Orthodox rituals.

Ms. Sicignano, 63, has a childhood memory of her parents’ being asked to turn on the lights in Orthodox neighbors’ houses on Saturdays. The reason for such requests — the Orthodox rule prohibiting the operation of anything mechanical or electrical on the Sabbath — remained a mystery to her until adulthood, when she gained familiarity with Orthodox traditions and holidays through a job in a neighborhood flower shop.

“Living in Borough Park is living in another world, really,” she said.

Borough Park (sometimes written Boro Park) is about 200 blocks in area, and has a population of more than 100,000, census figures show. The abundance of children, and strollers, is a striking feature of street life — a reflection of the Hasidic tradition of raising large families. And the 711-bed Maimonides Medical Center, which abuts Borough Park, is said to deliver more babies than any other hospital in New York State, according to Eileen Tynion, a spokeswoman. In 2009, 7,704 babies were delivered; Ms. Tynion said projections for 2010 exceeded 8,000.

In addition to its abundance of independent stores, Borough Park demonstrates its self-sufficiency through a variety of all-volunteer service groups. In September four members of Shomrim, a volunteer security patrol, were wounded by gunfire in a confrontation — an unsettling anomaly in this generally low-crime neighborhood, residents and officials say.

There is also Chaveirim, a free service much like AAA, for residents who find themselves with a flat tire or locked out of their houses. Aron Kohn, Chaveirim’s founder and director, said its hot line received about 150 calls a day.


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