On Sunday, January 4, as many Jews around the city fasted to commemorate the historical siege of Jerusalem by Babylonians, more than 100 Williamsburg Hasidim were protesting what they consider a siege of their community—by New York hipsters. Under steady rain, rabbis, laymen, and schoolboys gathered across from the newly renovated Gretsch Building at 60 Broadway, an old musical-instrument factory where rapper Busta Rhymes just bought a million-dollar-plus apartment. “We’re trying to keep this neighborhood clean and honest, and these people are destroying it,” said a protester, Hershl Grinfeld.
Hasidim have called Williamsburg home since the early part of the last century, and they have little interest in seeing their slice of Brooklyn become the next Manhattan. To their way of thinking, the only things hipsters (artist’n in Yiddish) contribute to the neighborhood are skyrocketing real-estate prices and morally suspect nightlife. And as one typical message on a Yiddish online bulletin board recently put it, the trendoids “pollute the eyes and the mind.” At the same time, some hipsters have their own complaints about the Hasidim: “When you willingly have ten-plus children based on your religious beliefs, feed most of them on food stamps, and displace everyone else in the neighborhood, there’s hardly any sympathy to be had,” says Dori Mondon, a designer who recently left Williamsburg.
The two groups have little in common besides a taste for black attire, and amicable co-habitation seems unlikely. There are even ads in Yiddish papers comparing the hipsters to the 9/11 hijackers. At the Sunday protest, Rabbi Zalman Leib Fulop declared that the growth of the local artist population was “a bitter decree from Heaven.” Those selling real estate to the hipsters, said the rabbi, would “never be able to leave hell.” Meanwhile, organizers distributed a prayer entitled “For the Protection of Our City of Williamsburg From the Plague of the Artists.” Could frogs and locusts in trucker hats be next?