If anyone can bring together the hipsters and the Hasids, it's Baruch Herzfeld.
Herzfeld is a businessman, used bike dealer, and Modern Orthodox Jew living in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood, an area long populated by Hasidic Jews that's been recently invaded by young secular hipsters.
You may recall the Williamsburg neighborhood as the center of the controversy over bike lanes a few months ago. A lot of people got upset after the city painted over the neighborhood's bike lanes at the request of the Hasids living in the area. They claimed the bike lanes would reduce parking and safety and could bring in immodestly dressed women (think shorts and a Tshirt) on the bikes. All hell pretty much broke loose.
The Hasids of Williamsburg are not big bike riders, or at least the adults aren't.
After the bike lanes were painted over, a group of hipsters (and reportedly some Hasids in favor of of the bike lanes) worked to reestablish them, painting their own in a late night raid. Here's video of the mission:
So enter into this picture Baruch Herzfeld. Last summer his bike was stolen, and in searching for a new one he ended up buying 500 used bikes for about $8/each at a police auction. He turned his backyard into a bike shop and soon attracted a following of bike-loving hipsters. He donated space on the ground floor of his house to Time's Up, an activist bike collective.
Having secured the love of the hipsters, Herzfeld (pictured right) then set his sights on the Hasidim.
To bring in the Hasidim, Herzfeld organized a block party and had Time's Up volunteers fix up police auction bikes for Hasidic kids. He also decorated his store front with a giant Star of David made out of rubber chickens with the words "You can come borrow a bike to ride around and have fun" in Yiddish and lends out bikes for free to any Hassid who want to give it a try.
It should be noted that Herzfeld's brothers are rabbis, one at the National Synagogue in Washington, D.C. Whenever a religious objection to adults riding bikes is thrown his way, he deftly turns it aside by pointing out that his very smart and religious rabbi brother has given the green light for his two-wheeled adventures.
Herzfeld has grander plans to build an Amsterdam-style bike loaning program and is importing bikes from Japan to expand his operations.
Like I said before, if anyone can bring together the disparate communities of traditional Hasids and freewheeling hipsters, it's Herzfeld. It'll be interesting to see how things come together this summer.
Via The Jewish Daily Forward (Photo of Herzfeld courtesy of Nathaniel Popper)
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