BOYCHIKS IN THE HOOD: Travels in the Hasidic Underground by Robert Eisenberg

BOYCHIKS IN THE HOOD: Travels in the Hasidic Underground

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More of a quickie tour than genuine travels among the world's most distinctive--and most religiously extreme--Jews. Eisenberg is a nonreligious, long-haired midwestern Jew. But the fluent Yiddish he learned from his grandmother gives him entr‚e among the bearded, black-coated ultraOrthodox men and bewigged women whom he visits. But he squanders his opportunity to provide real insight into the various Hasidic sects portrayed here (each defined by its veneration for a particular rebbe, or spiritual leader): wealthy Vishnitzer diamond merchants in Antwerp; Bratslavers praying at the grave of their rebbe in the Ukraine; Lubavitchers running a glatt kosher meat business in Postville, Iowa. Eisenberg settles instead for brief encounters, amusing images (a young Hasid roller-blading around the slaughterhouse where he works), and cute writing ("" 'How's that,' I ask tersely, like Sergeant Friday on Dragnet""). Not only is a Saturday afternoon in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, not enough time to learn why the Satmars are the most notorious Hasidic sect; our guide also repeats without substantiation charges against the Satmars that have contributed to tensions with their Latino neighbors. His na‹vet‚ is equally visible in a discussion about Yeshiva University, in which he seems unaware of power struggles there between centrist and right-wing Orthodox. When he joins the Bratslavers on their annual pilgrimage to their rebbe's grave, we learn about how Hasidim are reviving Judaism in Eastern Europe, but not about the nature of the mystical bond that ties the Bratslavers to a man who died nearly two centuries ago. And the book's most poignant piece, a visit to the last two religious Jews in Dombrova, Poland, has nothing to do with Hasidim. ""Man, you've got to live here for three months, not as an observer but as a participant,"" says one hippie turned Hasid. If only Eisenberg had followed his advice.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: HarperSanFrancisco