I was reading the New York Magazine article (April 11th, “Clash of the Bearded Ones”) in the bathtub yesterday, trying to figure out whose side I’m on: the Satmars, the ultra-religious Hasidic set, or the hipsters of Brooklyn. The issue at stake is a bike lane: the hipsters want to keep their lane on Bedford ave, and the Satmars, who are forbidden from looking at scantily-clad members of the opposite sex (hipster bike attire in Brooklyn is apparently risque enough to qualify).
To be fair to the Satmars, their Brooklyn settlement is one of the largest in the world, and has been there for much longer than our skinny-jeaned friends’. Religious freedom is not to be trifled with, obviously, and I can understand the dismay one might feel when a massive influx of heathens comes into what once was a homogeneous (as much as any radius in New York can be homogenized) little pocket of town. Obviously religious beliefs, particularly ones that have their roots in the way-back-in-the-day, aren’t what one would call “flexible” or “evolutionary” or “susceptible to the charms of trends like the sort sold at American Apparel.” It is harder to say “Hey Satmars, look at the ground instead,” or “Hey, Satmars, bike shorts still cover the most private parts,” than it is to say “Yo hipsters, shrouds are in.” Modesty is not something that is negotiable when you’re dealing with beliefs that dictate separation from secular life: the whole point is to get away from everything traif about modernism and preserve the customs of the past. Hipsters and their liberal causes and tricky post-modern affectations are a direct affront to everything the Satmars believe in.
At the same time, bikes are bikes. I personally have experienced bicyclist-induced rage attacks, because a lot of the time a person on a bicycle becomes an unreasonable harpy who will power their dinky vehicle into a left-turn lane on a zoomy road and then linger in the intersection, threatening to dart in front of you. [edit: I don’t mean that bicyclists are assholes; I only mean that they’re about as assholic as bad pedestrians who linger mid-crosswalk and bad drivers, but I feel as though I should point out that bicyclists are no less annoying than these other varieties of people. They are not exempt from bad judgment.] I have seen bicyclists on the freeway. What are you doing there? I have seen crazy bicycles with pedals like an elliptical machine, the rider with his hands in the air and his mouth open, catching bugs, going against traffic on Silver Lake blvd. Look at me! I’m on a goddamn bike! (By the way, in case you didn’t know, as the hipster in the NYMag article seemed to not know: don’t go around damning God in front of a Hasidic jew. It is a bad idea and makes you look like a real idiot. I can do it here because I’m posting a blog and there is no one around to make uncomfortable but myself). Because you are doing something great for the environment, you bikers can have my respect (1 point for you); but because you ignore traffic rules so much of the time, I am going to award one point to the Satmars.
While the Satmars are busy being annoyed at the hipsters, they’ve started calling them Artisten. I’m guessing this has nothing to do with the movie of the same name, unless the implication is that hipsters are from the circus, which is kind of a valid opinion, I guess. While the hipsters are busy being annoyed by (and almost arrested by) the Satmars, they planned a topless bike ride (in December? Hipsters, hello?) that was snowed out. Bummer! But also, doesn’t that seem like a terrible way to go about things? When was the last time you won an argument by repeating whatever had gotten you into trouble in the first place, but amplifying it by a thousand percent? When was the last time a terribly disrespectful gesture got you anywhere? I know what boobs can do. I would never hate on boobs. But I can tell you who would totally hate on boobs: anybody whose religion keeps them from reading racy tomes like The Catcher in the Rye.
In the midst of all of this, a guy named Baruch Herzfeld has risen: he’s bombastic (he calls himself “the new rebbe of Williamsburg”) and has a bike shop called Traif Bike Gesheft. He’s taking lots of interviews and, besides refurbishing and selling used bikes, he loans bicycles to Satmars for free and offers classes. He (at least appears to) understand what’s causing the rift (“The rabbis want to keep them separated because they want to preserve their traditions, and they’re worried that if people are exposed to a different tradition then they’re going to lose a tradition of the past”) and serves as a sort of ambassador to both groups, creating a friendly meeting spot where Jews and hipsters can talk chassis without flashing their butt cheeks.
It’s surprising to me that nobody else thought of this; or maybe I mean “this” too specifically (an inter-culture bike shop is specific). Maybe “this” is just an acknowledgment of respect that Baruch was able to convey because he understands both sides of the argument (Gawker has a quote from him from last year comparing the Satmar’s reception of the hipsters to the racism in Howard Beach; at the same time, he’s modern Orthodox and one would imagine holds some of the beliefs and reverence for tradition that the Satmars are trying to preserve). When your lifestyle is criticized, the least helpful reaction is to assert yourself IN BIG CAPITAL LETTERS. Even if you’re right. Even if you’re just trying to eliminate exhaust fumes from everyone’s air. Admitting that the complaints of your opponents are valid and then trying to find a way to conflate your way of living with theirs, a peaceful co-existence, a compromise — is this not an obvious, adult way of handling your beef?
I just heard a story about an Orthodox teenager approaching a friend of mine, modestly dressed in a sweater and jeans, as they were waiting for the L train. He asked her if she was a prostitute, and when she said that she wasn’t, he asked her, “Do you do sex?” Well, sure; of course, though not for money. Can we blame bike shorts for this fascination, or is it just an inevitable by-product of the pull of the secular in a place like New York City? If you want to really get away from modern life, aren’t there better places to go? Like upstate, where everyone is cold and anyone in bike shorts is suffering enough (and if they’re not cold, they’re being attacked by horse flies, which is worse).
If nobody capitalizes on the cross-cultural beard-specialty barbershop opportunities sure to arise in Brooklyn, I’ll be really disappointed.