Thursday, May 30, 2013

Hasidic Supermarkets and the Virtues of Insularity 

New York has more foreign-born residents than any other city in the world: more than L.A. or Hong Kong, and two-and-a-half times as many as London. But in this latest episode of Micropolis, we consider what's lost when people of different cultures and belief systems try to co-exist. In other words, what's the downside of diversity?

To find out, we journey to the Hasidic supermarkets in the overwhelmingly Jewish neighborhood of Boro Park, Brooklyn, where a remarkable support system is in place. Consider it a honor system.

"Most of the people who check out do not have any money on them," said Yosef Rapaport, a Hasidic journalist who lives in Boro Park. "They don't need to. If you see a large wagon filled with stuff, it's usually regular customers. They usually have an account. And when they have an account, it's called 'aufschraben.' In Yiddish. It means 'write it up.' Just write it up on my account. And once a week or once a month, the breadwinner, usually the husband, comes here, or if he's late, he'll get a call -- 'Pay up your account.'"

The system, which especially benefits poor members of the community, is dependent on strong social ties, which in turn are dependent on Orthodox and Hasidic Jews living close to each other, rather than dispersed through the larger society. If members of the community were fully integrated into society, this wouldn't work.


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