Step-by-Step: Strolling Along Brooklyn’s Crown Heights Orthodox Jewish Neighborhood

by on August 9th, 2015
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I never liked expressions with words like “killing time” or “an hour to kill.” Give me an hour without some scheduled plan or must-do activity and I’ll find golden time and something worthwhile to discover. That was the situation last week when I found myself passing the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. I was early for an appointment. A last-minute thought to visit the Brooklyn Museum didn’t work when I discovered it is closed on both Monday and Tuesday. But nearby, a giant sculptured dreidel at the intersection of Eastern Parkway and Kingston Avenue was all the invitation I needed to easily park and discover this Chabad-Lubavitch heavily Orthodox area on a busy weekday afternoon. The huge dreidel sits balanced in front of a wall displaying hundreds of pictures of children. Step back and you see one huge picture of one single child. It’s all part of an appropriate welcome for the entrance of The Jewish Children’s Museum features changing displays along with its obligatory gift shop. The Crown Heights Museum also houses a branch of Mendy’s Restaurant. Heading across Kingston Avenue is the busy headquarters of the Lubavitch movement. Alongside their building, outdoor speakers and microphones were being set up. On this mild winter day, the afternoon prayer services were to be held outside.

Continuing to walk along Kingston Avenue deep into the Orthodox neighborhood, each step made for interesting discoveries. Not surprisingly, hordes of mothers, sometimes escorted by a grandparent, pushed strollers, many of which were double strollers. Groups of children carrying school backpacks actively conversed as they quickly walked. A man shouted across the street, “Hello, Mendel” and received a friendly response in return. Many of the retail establishments were busy with business to be expected in this area. Wig shops, baby shops (one called “Everything but the Baby”, hats were predominate. Entering a felalfel and pizza shop proved to be an exercise in frustration and every table was taken with young families and the line for counter service seemed to go on forever. Yet everyone looked and sounded thrilled to be there. A nearby bakery provided some pre-dinner nourishment one I weaved my way around the strollers and picked out a few freshly baked noshes.

“Check your Tefillin $45″ screamed the colorful banner outside a retail door inviting passersby to go one flight up to find “The Source for…Sifrei Torah, Tefilin (sic), Mezuzzahs.

There was no shortage of Judaica stores on and around Kingston Street in Crown Heights. I found myself exploring the retail establishment called Hamafitz, where books with titles like “I Daven”, “I Can Make a Bracha,” “Feivel the Falafel Ball” and “Pat, Roll, Pull: A

Challah Braiding Story” caught my attention. This section of the store was a parent/grandparent’s treasure trove with everything from children’s books, colorful yarmulkas, inflatable groggers and Purim stickers were stocked.

On one corner, I noticed a stuffed newspaper display box showcased this week’s copy of “Torah Times” which is, I’m convinced, at 216 packed pages, seems to be the biggest neighborhood ‘pennysaver’-type publication anywhere. With advertisements from Yiddish teachers to wig repairs, to sewing classes, the Jewish weekly shopper helps define the story of the area.

Continuing to walk through this neighborhood, one notices blocks of well-kept and very large homes for the large and growing families. The Crown Heights area of Brooklyn is also experiencing a growth of young career professionals forced away from pricier Brooklyn and Manhattan neighborhoods. Their arrival has, according to some recent reports, not always been met with the most welcoming of “Shalom Beit” hospitality. And while there is no shortage of synagogues in the area, there are still some former synagogue buildings to take note of including the former Congregation Petach Tikvah structure, which served as a conservative shul and is now a Christian church. Even the aforementioned Chabad Lubavitch Hassidic organization has taken over what was the former conservative Brooklyn Jewish Center building on Eastern Parkway.

So the next time you find yourself with some bonus time, explore a neighborhood. It could be a step-by-step discovery that’ll make you feel right at home.

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