Religious life in Brooklyn takes on many different faces during the course of the year. It also varies by neighborhood.
By Sarina Roffe
Brooklyn has the greatest density of Jews in the world and the faces of Judaism are reflected in its people. From the various sects of Hasidic Jews to progressive and humanistic Judaism, Brooklyn has it all.
Religious life in Brooklyn takes on many different faces during the course of the year. It also varies by neighborhood. From Williamsburg to Borough Park, from Crowne Heights to Brighton Beach, the neighborhood scene changes depending on the group, its ancestry, as well as its adaptations to Brooklyn’s life.
In preparation for the observance of the Sabbath, neighborhood stores in many Jewish neighborhoods, are filled with shoppers purchasing food to prepare for the Sabbath meals. Jewish-owned businesses and schools will close early on Friday so they can be ready at sundown when the Sabbath begins, and then reopen after the Sabbath ends.
In certain neighborhoods, stores are closed on Saturday, and businesses are open on Sundays. Even banks will vary their hours to accommodate local Sabbath and local holiday observances. On Fridays, in anticipation of the Sabbath, street corners in residential neighborhoods are filled with vendors selling flowers to adorn the Sabbath table. Cars are rarely seen driving in these neighborhoods on the Sabbath.
Heavily Jewish neighborhoods reflect the year-round changes as different holidays and traditions are observed. The Jewish year begins in the fall with Rosh Hashanah. For the Jewish New Year, the streets are filled with people walking to and from their synagogues dressed in their finery, to and from family members to celebrate holiday meals.
In the days after Rosh Hashanah, kaparot markets open, also known as shlogn kapores. Special markets open for the traditional symbolic sacrifice of chickens during the Days of Awe, the eight days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
In the few days after Yom Kippur, many Jews around the borough are busy building their family sukkah – a temporary hut or simple dwelling, for use during the holiday of Succoth, the fall harvest festival. Drive through Brooklyn neighborhoods and you will see a multitude of sukkahs filling driveways, porches, and back yards. Specialty stores open to sell Sukkah supplies. And on street corners, you will often see tables set up to sell lulav and etrogs, necessary supplies for the holiday.
During December, for the eight days of Hanukah, menorahs of all kinds will appear in windows and in public parks to commemorate the Maccabean victory of the Assyrians.
In late February or March, a multitude of children will appear dressed in the characters of the Purim story and other festive costumes. And a month later, when Passover arrives, stores will be filled with matza and kosher for Passover foods, necessary for families to eat during the eight day holiday and the two Passover Seders.
The neighborhoods evolve with the holiday seasons and with the needs of their inhabitants. Brooklyn Jews hail from all over the world. Whether it’s Russian Jews in Brighton Beach, Syrian Jews in Flatbush or Eastern Europeans in Crown Heights, each neighborhood is a reflection of the customs of the Jewish people who live there.