The Chabad Emissaries of Cool

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In areas like Williamsburg, Brooklyn, hipsters and Hasidim have existed in their own separate worlds, isolated except for rare events like Seth Braunstein’s Hasid Meets Hipster music series. Over the past couple years, though, there’s been an outpost of the ever-trusty Chabad clan, staking out territory for the stray and unaffiliated Jews of the world.

“We don’t look at it like, ‘hey, there’s gentrification here.’ It’s where there’s a need,” said Rabbi Motti Seligson, spokesman for Chabad.org, the movement’s extensive online apparatus. “But a lot of times, when there’s gentrification, there are Jews moving in as well.”?

hasidim and hipsters

The article in today’s Observer mostly covers retread ground. But it touches on one notable phenomenon: the profusion of co-outposting between the local rabbi and Matt Roff (no relation), the owner of the local Franklin Park beer gardens, “which opened this year on the edge of Crown Heights”:

As Mr. Roff, a 33-year-old who describes himself as “pretty loose”? in his Jewish observance, tells it, Rabbi Kirschenbaum first stopped by his office a couple years ago, took him out to the parking lot for a toast and a vodka shot, and returned a few days later with a mezuzah, a tiny replica of an important Hebrew prayer that religious Jews keep on their doorframes.

I’m always a little wicked about these things — as much as I’m in favor of Chabad emissaries being there for the hopeful and the curious, I always hope that the influence goes both ways. The article ends with the most Kirkegaard-like thing I’ve ever heard from a Hasid’s mouth*: “I’m, like, the anti-cool,” Rabbi Pinson, 36, said. “But I think sometimes the anti-cool is actually really cool. I believe in being authentic.”?

* – okay, one of the top ten, maybe.

Posted on November 3, 2008

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