I’m Hasidic. Don’t You Know I’m Human Too?

Editor’s note: This essay was written by a friend of a (Facebook) friend. We saw the post on the Facebook friend’s wall and asked for permission to publish it.

I sit on the commuter train, as I do every morning for the past ten months. I am one among the hundreds of thousands of humans who commute daily from the suburbs to New York City.

But I’m different. I’m Hasidic.

The trains during peak hours are crowded. The window seats get occupied first. When these are all taken, commuters double up and fill the aisle seats. After the last pickup station, the two rows of seats are set like two jaws neatly socketed with teeth. Except for one gap. How odd it must be to complain about having a double seat. Instead of being crammed butt to butt, I get some breathing space. Who wouldn’t want that?

I for one don’t. Not when it happens almost every day. Why does it take a no-other-options situation to sit down next to me?

Am I a leper?

Do I smell?

I showered this morning. With shampoo. I put on deoderant. And I wear a clean shirt. I don’t look menacing.

Do I?

So why won’t you grace me with a rub of your commuting butt against mine and breathe into my nostrils? You want to avoid me.

I am a pariah.

I’m a Hasidic dude with those weird side curls. Doesn’t that make you a little xenophobic?

Are you scared I’ll bite you? I won’t even as much as say hi. This is New York. We ignore each other here.

I’m like everybody else. I carry a backpack emblazoned with the Nike logo. I wear white earphones and pretend to read something on my phone. Sometimes I sip from a coffee paper cup. I won’t pass gas, and I won’t force feed you gefilteh fish.

Please, I want to be made as uncomfortable as everybody else.

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  • Avatar photo Mirel adler says on July 4, 2016

    Abe got passed over for a shipping and distribution position because he wasn’t wearing a suit and tie to the interview. The company rep stated that he was not within dress code requirements.

    • Avatar photo Kay says on June 2, 2022

      I thought it was the principle among Orthodox Jews to keep the sexes separate? As a woman, I would not sit next to the author if an available seat was next to him on the train. Not because I’m hostile against him but as a way to be considerate of his beliefs. Unless I’m misinformed? Please let me know.

      • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on June 2, 2022

        Thanks for your question. Other than nuclear family, we don’t touch the opposite sex. Most people sit next to people in public transportation. They just would be careful to not touch someone of the opposite sex.

  • Avatar photo Esther Lerch says on July 6, 2016

    Once, I was on a crowded bus in Brooklyn enroute to visit my father in the hospital.
    A chassidic man seated in the aisle seat, repeatedly kicked me in my ankle but said not a word. I thought he was crazy. I asked another man standing next to me, also Orthodox, “What’s he doing?” “That’s his way of asking you to back up. You’re standing too close.” Never, ever would the idea of giving up his seat to a lady enter his mind. But the idea of kicking her was all too apparent to him.

    Another time, I walked into an Orthodox-owned shop and was ignored until a woman wearing a sheitl asked me if I needed anything. They wouldn’t even do business with an unaccompanied female.

    Another time, in Jerusalem, I innocently boarded a bus that happened to pass through Mea Shearim on its route. I took the first available seat. And that’s when the yelling began. Such a geshrei! Someone explained to me that, as a woman, I had to pay my fare in the front, then *exit* the bus and re-board in the back. The back of the bus was crowded. There were women standing up in the back of the bus, while men had room in the front of the bus to spread their belongings. Fortunately, this discriminatory practice is now illegal.

    These days, even in cosmopolitan New York City, when I enter a popular Judaica shop such as Levine’s or West Side Judaica, I speak with no one unless I absolutely must. All the pleasure I once derived from a Jewish environment is gone. I don’t want to talk to these people. If it’s convenient to order online, I’ll do that instead.

    And it makes me sad. I grew up in a very Jewish environment, but now I’d prefer to limit my contact with the Ultra-Orthodox. I remember what my mother used to say, but which I never understood until later on: “Those chusits! They’ll turn you into a Jewish anti-Semite!”

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on July 7, 2016

      Thanks for your comment, Esther. The experiences you describe are obviously very troubling and against *actual* Jewish values. At the same time, they don’t speak for the entire community, so it is a shame to lump everyone together.

    • Avatar photo David Feder says on August 30, 2016

      Esther, I totally relate to your stories. Once I was shopping for an etrog in a crowded market in Jerusalem. Two young men in black suits, white shirts, black hats and peyot came rushing through the crowd, physically shoving me (and several other people) out of their way. I managed to grab the second young man’s arm and stop him. I asked him in what book of halacha did he and his friend learn that they could treat people like this? I also asked for their names and their Yeshivah so I could pass on my compliments to their Rosh. Applause and laughter rose around us (mostly from other Chassidim), and the young mean retreated abashed.

      There are rude and obnoxious people in every population that walks the earth, and Chassisism are no better. Be careful not to judge the whole by the few memerable louts who cross our path.


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