B&H: Camera Shopping As a Religious Experience

By | Tagged: History

We love B&H Photo & Video, the only midtown New York store that I actually have fun in that doesn’t sell comic books or Legos. It’s not just a massive electronics store. It’s not just a massive electronics store owned and operated by Hasidic Jews. And it’s not just a Hasidic electronics store with bowls of free sour candy all over the place and mysterious, amazing conveyor belts over your heads that move merchandise with seeming lightning speed. It’s unearthly. It’s unnatural. And yet, it seems to function with all the determination and efficiency of a synagogue service.

b&h photoEvery time I visit the store — whether it’s a 3-hour trip to pick out a new video camera or a quick run-in for some batteries — I come out with a new story. Sometimes it’s as simple as the Satmar Hasid at the checkout counter asking me what I think of the Sleater-Kinney album blasting from my earbuds. Sometimes it’s a little more complicated. Other times, I don’t even have to go inside the store to get a new B&H story. Here are three of my favorites:

Someone stops me on the street. He asks, in bad Hebrew with a bad put-on Israeli accent, “Ayfo B&H” — Do you know where B&H is? I start to answer — in my own equally bad Israeli accent — but then I stop. Something about the lilt of his Hebrew sounds familiar. “Are you Australian?” He is. He’s from Sydney. He ends up knowing not just my wife, but her entire family. As a matter of fact, he had lunch at my parents’-in-law’s house a few months ago. He apologizes to me for not wearing a yarmulke (I’m not clear on why) and wishing me a good Shabbos. It’s Wednesday afternoon. It makes me look forward to Shabbat. It makes me feel good.

Someone stops me on the street. He asks me the same question — in English, this time — laughing, like he knows it’s ironic. I answer, although I’m a little offended at the stereotype. I mean, does every Jew in midtown Manhattan with a beard and sidecurls have to b&h photobe affiliated with B&H? If he stopped to pay attention to the person I am, and not just the way I look, maybe he’d be a bit less stereotypical and bit more astounded. I’m a freakin’ Hasidic Jew who writes films, dude! I’m more than my payos! Just because I’m Hasidic, it doesn’t mean I know every other Orthodox Jew in New York. Or where they work.

Posted on October 27, 2009

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