Portions of this article have been updated.
A rash of anti-Semitic vandalism has turned eyes on Borough Park, the Brooklyn enclave that functions as the headquarters of Hasidic Jewish life in the Western Hemisphere. Never a neighborhood to cower, however, the area remains better known for stalwart piety and endless designer discounts than for any troubles. The streets thrum with stroller traffic and are mercifully free of chain stores, besides a strictly kosher Carvel and a Benetton selling only modest clothing. The low rows of worn-looking brick and stone edifices punctuated by Hebrew signs recall British Jewish-Arab districts like East Oxford and Bayswater, but nicer blocks look downright suburban. With discount stores on every corner, real estate prices that pale in comparison to more fashionable districts, and over 200 houses of worship, what’s not to celebrate?
Boundaries: 12th Avenue to the northwest, McDonald Avenue to the east, 18th Avenue to the southeast, and 60th and 65th Streets to the southwest.
Transportation: Take the F to Church, Ditmas, and 18th Avenues, the M to 50th, 55th, and 62nd Streets, or the N to New Utrecht Avenue. B8, 11, 16, and 23 buses travel through the neighborhood.
Main Drags: 13th Avenue between 39th and 54th Streets is lined with hundreds of discount shops and kosher meat markets, pizzerias, and bakeries. Designer and name-brand apparel is king, and each strip has its specialty; coats, for instance, dominate between 45th and 46th Streets. Many stores vend wigs and hats—married Orthodox women have to wear them—and cleaners advertise shatnes testing, which confirms that garments conform to Biblical injunctions against the mixing of wool and linen.
Average Price to Rent: One-bedrooms rent for $1200 (between $750 and $900; two-bedrooms: $1400 to $1500, ($900 to $1200); three-bedrooms: $1800 ($1200 to $1500).
Average Price to Buy: One-bedroom co-ops go for between $200K to $250K ($90K and $100K); two-bedrooms: $250K and up ($160K and higher); three-bedrooms: $300K and up ($200K and higher). The few condos, mainly two- and three-bedroom affairs in the 60s, go for between $300K and $400K. As for houses, “prices in Borough Park are wild,” says Samy Hassan, a broker at Achievers Realty on 18th Avenue. “You can pay $400,000 for something small in the heart of the industrial area or the commercial streets, and $1 million-plus on a prime real estate block.” Houses are snatched up quickly, often by neighborhood renters.
Community Hang-Outs: The Boro Park YM-YWHA offers extensive girls’ and boys’ programming; low-cost adult arts, exercise, computer, and vocational classes; a cardiac center; free lectures; a senior center; a pool, sauna, whirlpool, and steam room; a Holocaust survivors club; and a Yiddish film series showcasing classics like The Dybbuk and The Singing Blacksmith. Beat that.
Landmarks:Yiddish-language ATMs at Astoria Federal Savings, 5220 13th Avenue, let you withdraw money where your mouth is. The Bobover Hasidic sect has its world headquarters on Bobov Promenade (48th Street between 14th and 15th Avenues), around the corner from the neighborhood’s gorgeous, old non-Hasidic synagogues: Temple Beth El, decked with Corinthian columns and stained glass windows, and the onion-domed Temple Emanuel.
Local Events: The annual Purim Festival, a carnivalesque religious celebration in which revelers wear costumes, twirl noisemakers, and honor Queen Esther, a Jewish queen of Persia who saved her people from genocide at the hands of the villain Haman, draws a crowd each March to 14th Avenue. Similarly kid-friendly and raucously pious celebrations take place on Passover (the spring celebration of Jewish emancipation from Egyptian slavery), Sukkos (the harvest festival), and Simchas Torah (the end and beginning of the annual Torah-reading cycle).
Best Restaurants: Strictly kosher Café K, 4110 18th Avenue, 718-438-1859, serves a range of decent fresh fish dishes and pastas; Lenore Lowenthal, the Big Apple Greeter who showed me the neighborhood, mentioned that its cappuccino is the bomb. Panaderia Puebla, 37-10 13th Avenue, 718-851-7229, serves flaky, sticky, custard-filled barquillos for 75 cents.
Best Stores: Underworld Plaza, 1421 62nd Street, 718-222-6804, has a terrific selection of Olga, Warner, Wacoal, and other name-brand bras, most in large sizes, at deep discounts. Eichler’s, 5004 13th Ave, 718-633-1505, claims to be the world’s largest Judaica store and carries music, toys, books, videos, ritual items, and key chains ranging from the religious (“Just Say NO to the Yetzer Hora [Evil Inclination]” and “We Want MOSHIACH [Messiah] NOW!”) to the quotidian (“Get Well Soon”) to the quasi-feminist (“Every Mother is a Working Mother”). Train World, 751 McDonald Avenue, 718-436-7072, attracts out-of-state customers with its close-out deals on an ungodly selection of model trains (including the ever-popular Thomas the Tank Engine trains and the slightly disappointing new Harry Potter Hogwarts Express, a close-out that goes for 70 percent off the list price). Train World’s warehouses cover half of the otherwise forsaken block.
Politicians: City Councilmen Bill DeBlasio and Simcha Felder, State Assemblymen James F. Brennan and Peter J. Abbate Jr., State Senator Kevin S. Parker, and U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, all Democrats.
Crime Stats: The 66th Precinct serves Borough Park, Midwood, and Kensington. As of September 25, 2005 it reported 5 murders, 14 rapes, 188 robberies, 124 felonious assaults, and 270 burglaries. (As of mid-December, it reported six murders, up one from the previous year; 13 rapes, down four; 196 robberies, down 35; 153 felonious assaults, up five; and 387 burglaries, down 97. Crime has dropped 69.9 percent over the past ten years, slightly more than the city’s overall 66.5 percent decrease).
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 6, 2004