MICROPOLIS: Hasidic Supermarkets and the Virtues of Insularity

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 - 04:00 AM

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.

To learn more, listen to the entire Micropolis segment above.


Yosef Rapaport (right) shows off one of the many kosher products at the Super 13


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Comments [17]

JackBlair from Hoboken, NJ

White Liberals are like dogs chasing their tails sometimes.

Jun. 04 2013 10:19 PM
someguy from NYC

The Israeli sociologist's name is Iddo Tavory. He is at the New School.

Jun. 01 2013 01:13 PM
Adam Golfer from Ft. Greene

Does anyone know the name of the Israeli sociologist that is named? He lived in a Hasidic community in LA for three years. I can't find him anywhere...
thank you

May. 30 2013 04:10 PM
Happy Camper from West Village

I love this segment and the idea for the series. Good thinking, WNYC, and valuable. I had no idea supermarkets in Hasidic neighborhoods operated this way.

I wonder if it's true, though, that a similar system couldn't work outside a tight-knit community, or at least parts of such a system. I'm thinking of the way wealthier customers in Boro Park choose to anonymously pay the bills of poorer customers. The idea of directly helping individuals in one's own neighborhood would appeal to a lot of people, I think, if the means were available.

May. 30 2013 11:12 AM
Diversity from NYC

Many of the most horrific acts perpetrated by one group on another are founded in the xenophobic belief of us and them. If we are to stop the insanity we must build a society that is diverse and inclusive not insular and apart.

May. 30 2013 10:34 AM
Louis from Jersey Shore

When an Orthodox Jew "Pledges Alliance to the Flag" , what country are they
pledging to??

May. 30 2013 07:10 AM

I grew up in Williamsburg and worked for years as a stockboy/delivery boy in a small Hasidic supermarket. One interesting note though, most of these men would pay their bill with an AFDC card.

May. 29 2013 06:57 PM
Jackov from Newark

Good story. I grew up in the Bronx in the 70s & 80s. I always felt unwelcome in NYC, and don't any fond memories. My adopted hometown is Las Vegas.

May. 29 2013 06:11 PM
Kressel from Monsey, NY

I'm a Hasidic Jew who used to live in Boro Park, but I was raised in a secular family in Queens. Though much of what you said was true, I resent the implication of being out of step with "modern feminist values." It's true that we reject some "feminist values," but when I left the secular world, it was specifically because of the meat market of male/female relations on my college campus. Too many outsiders judge Hasidic women to be oppressed, but having lived in both worlds, I can say that women honor themselves more by dressing and behaving modestly instead of showing off our bodies to convince ourselves and others that we fit the larger culture's ideal of highly sexualized beauty.

May. 29 2013 05:22 PM
Snackie from nyc

I am an Israeli by birth but living a secular life (ham pizzas) and live in another Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn - Crown Heights. I love the Orthodox supermarkets in Crown Heights (and I'm familiar with the B.Park ones too).
They sell all the food from my crappy childhood in Israel...Krembo anyone?
Also, as with any traditional/religious place, one must respect their customs (to a degree) and comply with the "odd" customs of the place.
I do hate seeing the signs telling women to wear "modest" clothing. I don't by the way, but know of a woman who was asked to exit a bookstore due to immodest dress.
Anyway - I love the Israeli food these places sell.

May. 29 2013 12:54 PM
Yud from Brooklyn

Frimet, you might be right, it appears that the world doesn't hate Jews and especially Hasidim enough, it is up to You Frimet to let the world know for once who the Hasidic Jews really are, Hasidic Jews need to follow your example and the example set by the small community of Airmont on how to be real Jews and how to integrate with the secular society that produces such amazingly good Kids and people with such great life values, what a Shane that Hasidim are missing out in all those opportunities that awaits you and your family in your future life.

I strongly suggest to you Frimet that you take a trip to Germany and you should hold a speech for the German race and remind them how bad the Jews are for the human civilization an that should rethink their decision yet starting again their campaign for "new world order " only people like you Frimet will be vital for informing the human race about the danger Hasidim pose to themselves and to their kids and to world piece You Shmuck!

May. 29 2013 11:37 AM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights


Consider yourself lucky that you are shunned, ostracised.

In a different community you would be stoned to death over "family honor".

May. 29 2013 11:12 AM
Frimet from Airmont, NY

As an ex-Hasidic woman who is intimately familiar with the community and culture, I found this segment to be yet another whitewashing of the Hasidim. Yes, Hasidic communities are wonderful when it comes to helping their fellow members. However, if you deviate slightly, you are shunned and ostracized. Additionally, the reason for their insularity and fear of diversity is not so they can have all the perks like "aufschraben" in the supermarket; it is to isolate themselves from the rest of society, Jewish or otherwise.

I find that I am extremely frustrated with the media coverage of ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Jews. Most reporters lack a basic understanding of what the communities are like.

I did love one part of the segment: the Hasidic music in the background. It immediately transported me to the Hasidic supermarket. Great job highlighting that as an SFX.

May. 29 2013 10:49 AM
Reb Yid

Only someone consumed with hate could spin a charitable society into something bad.

May. 29 2013 10:19 AM
Edna from 10023

When I lived on Riverside Drive in the early 1970s all the markets took charges: Greystone butcher on Broadway, a pharmacy at 91st Street, etc. It was before lots of credit cards and writing a check for everything was slow and painful (remember the days of getting cash once a week at the bank). Cheers.

May. 29 2013 10:08 AM
Richard Rubin from Upper West Side

As a largely secular Jew with Orthodox Jewish relatives I found the story about the Hasidic supermarket as both interesting and rewarding. I also grew up in a grocery store where a large part of the business was conducted on credit, so it brought back memories of helping out in the store when my parents were busy with settling monthly credit lines. But as a journalist of 30 years, I saw zero reason for including the segments about Hasidic exclusionism and Canarsie. They added nothing to the main story and in fact acted as a foil, as if one couldn't say something nice about the Hasidim without having to back away from it. As an editor, and I am one, I would have cut those parts out.

May. 29 2013 10:01 AM
Barbara Kass from Prospect Heights Brooklyn

Our local neighbor owned pharmacy fills and delivers prescriptions and will take care of ups-ing a package before payment is received. Occassionally, I walk in and square up my bill, usually on my own accord. We are a diverse community and they apparently and much to the neighborhood's benefit, pull that off! That's why I always fill my prescriptions there. I want to support them whenever I can.

May. 29 2013 09:42 AM

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