Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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A Glimpse Into a Chasidic Town


Initially, I thought that street photography was no big deal, just find some interesting characters and shoot their pictures. Nothing in life is that simple. Often, even the most basic shots take thought and effort to capture from the right angle, distance, and lighting.

            The theme for the photography project assigned to my class is cultural encounters. The isolated Chasidic Village of New Square is three miles away from my house. My theme is a subculture of Chassidism in America. New Square is .4 square miles with close to 5,000 residents. There is an average of 5.8 people per family and the median age is 14 years old.

Chasidim have many kids, so I planned to shoot large families. I wanted to capture mothers with five or six young children all in matching outfits. I hoped to see people rushing about. In spite of these expectations, when I drove through New Square on Sunday morning it was quiet. There were only hints of the large families-five tricycles on the lawn, three swings hanging from a porch.

I decided to just take pictures in the village and forget about the big family theme.  First I headed over to the main synagogue. I tried to capture the vastness of the structure, but it was hard to get the whole thing in the frame. Desperation caused me to be brave and photograph some of the men standing outside of the synagogue. One man approached me and asked, “Is there something I can help you with? Is everything okay?” He knew I was an outsider because I dress differently than the women there. I got frightened and walked away with a quick, “No, I’m fine, thank you.”

Next I saw an old woman crossing the street. Her clothing and headdress are typical for the town and the fact that she was all alone was striking. A few minutes later I passed by this woman’s house and I saw her raking the leaves. When looking at the pictures at home, I noticed that the woman’s walker and the large garbage can both are about the same size, and they are both situated on four wheels.

Next I went to the town shopping center to capture the scene. As soon as I got there I noticed loudspeakers on top of poles that looked 100 feet high. I also saw a mother and teenage son loading their purchases into a double stroller. I thought this would make a hilarious shot. I then realized it was a good way to illustrate the fact that the women in New Square do not drive as it is not considered feminine.

The image of the man talking on his cell phone in the middle of the road depicts the sense of security these villagers feel. They know that they live in an isolated town, which the general public does not drive through.  I also wanted to portray the small orange sign on the street lamp that says, “froyen”, meaning women in Yiddish. Men and women are required to walk on separate sides of the street because they do not want undue socializing between the sexes.  

I photographed two women with baby strollers leaving a multi-family home, and getting into a Haitian taxi. This highlights the fact that these women do not drive. It also shows that despite their seclusion, they are still reliant on the outside world. It is common to see Chasidim talking on cell phones. Many people think of them as the Amish, but in reality they do use electricity and modern day appliances, even though they dress in an old fashioned manner.

I discovered a fleet of school buses lined up at the entrance to the town. I tried to get a good angle of the buses, but there were so many that this was difficult. It was striking that this tiny village had enough school buses for a city. Even the buses have Yiddish writing on them. The parents want their children to grow up speaking Yiddish only. 

I wanted to capture the cultural diversity of the people who utilize Refuah Health Center, a local clinic. I knew that Latinos as well as Chasidim receive care there. The structure itself is unique so I settled for a shot of that.  

The park concluded my tour of New Square. I had no more time left to take pictures, because my father needed his car back. I was anxious to see how my pictures came out. When I got home, I was pleasantly surprised at the images I captured. A street photography project cannot be predicted, because anything can happen on the street.  



1 Jack { 12.11.08 at 12:33 am }

I never expected that in a place, not far away from the New York City, people would be so isolated. I have never realized that there are still religious communities in the 21th century. It was really a learning experience, after seeing your photographs, that all men dressed the same way. The loud speaker in your photograph reminded me of my old home town in China, where there were approximately 2,000 people. Looking forward to your collage!

2 Christian Iezzi { 12.11.08 at 5:17 am }

I share Jack’s surprise at the idea that there are still religious communities living in such close proximity to New York City. I found this presentation to be very enlightening. It is a testament to the faith of these communities that they are still around today.

3 Kamellia Saroop { 12.11.08 at 9:58 pm }

Your photography project was a learning experience for me. You really capture the mood and organization that Chassidism brings to New Square and you prove that belief systems are something that some people are strongly committed to.

4 Yuriy Minchuk { 12.12.08 at 8:21 pm }

This project was definitely more than just a set of images. I learned a lot from your presentation and was honestly shocked by the things that you showed. I had no idea that communities like this exist in the United States, especially so close to the city. Great job!

5 Katie Alarcon { 12.18.08 at 4:34 pm }

I think we were all impressed by the fact that a community of people would center their habit and villages on religion. Your photographs of the chassidic town are all new, eye opening.