Before Shabbos


LOCATION Crown Heights

RENT $856.69 [rent stabilized]

SQUARE FEET 900 [one-bedroom in 1926 six-story building]

OCCUPANT Shaunya Hartley [fashion stylist]

Look at those great ink drawings. My father gave them to me as soon as he found out I was moving. He put them up for me. My uncle polyurethaned the floor. I grew up a block away, on Empire Boulevard. My dad grew up a block away from there, where my grandparents have a house. He’s a computer engineer.

How did you get such a big TV? My mom bought it. I moved here last year. I just turned 24. My really good friend is a fashion stylist. She’s in Clinton Hill. She’s the one who pushed me into moving out of my parents’ house. I wanted to stay in Brooklyn. I can’t relate to the sort of Manhattan-centered, elitist-liberal lifestyle. Though I went to school in Manhattan—F.I.T., then City College.

You have to pay rent by money order here, you said. Quite a few buildings in the neighborhood won’t accept personal checks.

How would describe your immediate neighborhood? There is a Hasidic Jewish influence.

I didn’t see that. I got off the subway at Sterling and Nostrand. I saw Smell so Sweet, “Department Store Within,” then a school playground. The children were all screaming at the same decibel level—the scream of being tickled. There were some Tudor-like houses. Most of those are owned by Hasidic Jews. Crown Heights is like: Hasidic, Hasidic, and then a West Indian restaurant—primarily black and Hasidic. A lot of Hasidic shops are on Kingston Avenue.

Are you friends with your Hasidic neighbors? You do say hello to some. You’re supposed to say hello to neighbors. Before the Sabbath, you walk down the street. They’ll say, “Excuse me, lady, could you help me cut the light off or turn off my stove?”

Right! They need a gentile to do the work because on Shabbos, beginning at sunset, a Jew is not supposed to sow, plow, reap, bind sheaves, beat wool, slaughter, salt meat, kindle a fire. It goes on, but with the modern age comes the complication of electricity, which is associated with work. So you even have to unscrew the bulb in the refrigerator. You go in their houses . . . You just do it. I have a very trusting face. They explain. Usually they’ll send children or a woman to ask another woman on the street. Hardly do they ever ask a man or does a man ask.

If you needed help, could you ask someone Hasidic? When I lived on Empire with my parents, sometimes if I had a heavy suitcase, some man would say, Do you need me to get that? [I decide I have to explore Kingston Avenue. I call her later after she’s finished watching her favorite cooking show, Barefoot Contessa, and report back.]

The Young Timers store had long rose-colored gowns for children in the window. So old European—not like the baby at the Skyscraper Museum opening the other week who had miniature motorcycle boots on. All those cute clothes make you think of Communion or Easter. My mother used to buy my dress shoes from one of those stores.

Then there was Hamafitz Stam, importers and distributors of Esrogim and Lulavim from Israel and Italy, with silver candelabras and deep-blue velvet cloths embroidered with gold. Signs were on the street. “It is worth emphasizing . . . that girls and women (who wear non tzniinsdik) garments and thereby call attention to themselves disgrace themselves by ‘proclaiming’ that they possess no intrinsic qualities for which they should garner attention and according to which they should be evaluated (and their sole worth is) only through a manner of conduct that is the opposite of tznius . . . all women and girls, whether living here or visiting, adhere at all times to laws of modesty . . . (collarbone should remain covered) elbows . . . “ Calves should never be shown.