NFT New York Borough Park

Borough Park

Williamsburg and Crown Heights have nothing on Borough Park (sometimes written Boro Park), home to the largest Orthodox Jewish population outside of Israel, including a burgeoning enclave of Hasidim. With ever-expanding boundaries, the neighborhood keeps growing, as do the families, with an average of six children per household. It's no wonder some have been calling it the "baby-boom of Brooklyn." These religious residents might garner attention on the subways for their wigs or their peyas, but in Borough Park, it's the non-Orthodox or Hasidic Jew that's the anomaly. You will certainly feel a little out of place here if you fall into that category; best to bring along that English-to-Yiddish dictionary. Yiddish, by the way, is everywhere. Along with Hebrew and Russian, it's widely spoken in the streets and shops, printed on signs, and an option on ATM menu screens.

Borough Park is a haven of family values and religious tradition. Some of the best times to visit are during the more festive holidays--either Sukkot or Purim. But on any given day, it's not unusual to see crowds numbering in the thousands spilling into the streets as a wedding lets out at a nearby synagogue. In contrast, by sundown on Friday for the Sabbath, the shtetl is virtually empty--no people, no lights, and no cars.See more.

To move into this neighborhood, one would have better luck marrying into the community than finding something through a broker, but a few nights in The Avenue Plaza Hotel will give you a good dose of Borough Park culture. Catering mostly to Israelis who have come to visit relatives, attend weddings or conferences, it's one of the few luxury hotel options in Brooklyn and testament to Borough Park's importance as a hub of Orthodox and Hasidic practices. One of the neighborhood's more important synagogues is the Congregation Anshei Lubawitz, a landmark neoclassical structure.

Except for banks, chains are nearly non-existent, but there are plenty of independently run shops, many catering to the religious needs of the community. Wig shops, kosher delis, and Judaica bookstores abound. Be aware that in keeping with the Sabbath, most shops are closed from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. Bustling 13th Avenue is the main shopping drag, and a good base to start exploring the neighborhood--it's the picture of wholesomeness and old world mercantilism with its shoe cobblers, furniture stores and bakeries. Borough Park boasts some fine discount shopping--and not just on the gefilte fish--designer housewares, china, clothes (albeit, modest ones) and furniture are among the cheapest in the city.

Around Passover, watch the lines crowd around the Shmura Matzoh Factory, one of the few bakeries in the United States that makes shmura matzoh, which is matzoh that has been shepherded and blessed by a Rabbi during every stage of the process from grain to unleavened bread.

Beyond the late-night discussions that go around at the falafel shops, there is little to be done here after dark. After all, six kids per household have to happen sometime. Otherwise, try shooting pool at 60th Street Billiards.

Nowhere, apart from maybe Israel, do you have so many kosher options. Falafel does a competitive business. There are some international offerings, too, including China Glatt for sloppy Chinese that's been blessed by a Rabbi.

Eichler's is the spot to get your Borough Park souvenir. Get a challah at Kaff's Bakery and a hat at Kova Quality. Otherwise, hit Trainworld if you're a model train buff or Bulletproof Comics if you're, well, a geek.


On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Ilona Virostek
Photo:  Ilona Virostek

Emily Happy
Emily Happy will not transport you to a "glad rags" shop near circa-1967 Kings Road, London. Nor will it transport you to a "gothic Lolita" shop near circa-now Harajuku Station, Tokyo. It's not a sweet little doll store where little girls can choose a dolly and a little pink stroller. It has nothing to do with Hello Kitty. It's not a just-so hipster-run craft store full of owls and lace. Nor a rainbow-coated sweet shop full of taffy and pastel marshmallows. It's none of these things and less--so much less that it's a wonder to behold a store with such an incredible quality-of-name vs. quality-of-merchandise ratio. It's a mom-and-pop "convenience" store in Sunset Park, with shelves about 20 percent full. I saw some pencils and frozen food. I can't even remember if the lights were turned on. And yet, this is an endorsement, because 1) with such a great name, who needs merchandise?, and 2) it means Sunset Park isn't gentrifying yet, which means I can still afford to live here. Which is great because it's my favorite place in the world. Ilona Happy Too.

Posted By:  Rebecca Katherine Hirsch
Photo:  Rebecca Katherine Hirsch

Every night since I've bought my mini blue Torah pillow has been a holy one. I've been able to sleep soundly and communicate with the Lord. Thank God. Let's talk about Eichler's' "the world's largest Judaica store." Eichler's sells a lot of piety-aiding appliances, from English/Yiddish pop-up books for toddlers (obey the Almighty, squash disobedience), picture cookbooks featuring bloodcurdlingly stereotypical Jewish spreads (lox, rugelach, omnipresent spectre of the Messiah), shelves and shelves of identical yarmulkes, pretty Torah pointers and vats of small, medium and large versions of my mini blue feather-stuffed Torah. In other words, pretty much everything you could ever hope for. Chussids, Modern Orthodox and ostentatiously Jewish atheists alike scour Eichler's aisles of wares: Hebrew cassettes, silver wine goblets and 'We Want MOSHIACH [Messiah] NOW!' key chains. Amen.

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