In the Land of Black Coats

Take the D train to 55th Street in central Brooklyn, and you feel as if you have set foot in a different world. The station sits at the junction of New Utrecht Avenue, 13th Avenue and 55th Street in the heart of Borough Park, home to a quarter-million Orthodox Jews, one of the largest concentrations of Jews outside Israel. To travel to Borough Park is to journey through both space and time.


There you may meet David Sondik, an exuberant Orthodox Jew who sings as he walks. Speaking very fast, he stops a visitor and pulls out a picture of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh and last rebbe of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, based in Crown Heights. The magical moment in Borough Park comes after sunset. The empty streets and the street lights create an almost surreal atmosphere, peopled by Jewish men in black coats heading home or to shul, and students making their way to Talmudical Seminary of Bobov.


If you had walked into Congregation Khal Chasidim on 49th Street and 15th Avenue on a recent Sunday evening, you would have seen a Jewish bride receiving her women attendants before her wedding. An hour later, thousands of people milled outside the synagogue, near the platform on which the wedding was taking place. That evening, many hundreds of men gathered on the streets and on a grandstand to sing for the groom, who with other young Jewish men formed a circle and held hands to dance the horah. By midnight, the bride and groom were dancing in the center of the synagogue as guests stood on chairs and barriers, hoping for a better view.