I KNEW this was braggy! 

I KNEW this was braggy! 


Last month the Spanish Marie Claire featured a spread on Hasidic women in New York. Although the article discussed the rebel phenomenon, and focused on the group of people that consider themselves ex-hasidic, or at least on their way to becoming that, it also offered a surprisingly raw and brazen take on the more hidden aspects of Hasidic life. Photographer Ana Nance bravely infiltrated the Hasidic section of Williamsburg and snapped candid, up-close shots of great moments that really speak volumes about a world few outsiders can really understand. I think the photos are fantastic, so I’ve take screenshots from the PDF file that I received and uploaded them to my blog. Unfortunately they are not as clear as I would like, but I think you can get the idea.

Also, you might think differently, but somehow I can’t see an American magazine putting out a spread such as this. It is European in the sense that it strikes a viewer as jarring; the untempered strangeness of the images, the audacious close-ups. An American magazine might already be uncertain about the implications of exposing an insular culture, and would definitely try to maintain a respectful angle. Marie Claire Espana had no such qualms. The article itself reads as a blunt, objective perspective and makes no apologies.

My good friend Emiliano Ruiz Parra translated the article into English for me, and I’ve pasted it here. Please keep in mind that although the grammar and continuity may have been jostled in translation, it is still a worthwhile read:

In the name of Yahve

In New York lives a conservative Jewish community: the Hasidic sect of Satmar. They barely speak English, and their women are obligated to shave off their hair, wear wigs and they can’t wear trousers. But some of them struggle to relate to the outside world.


por andrea aguilar fotos ana nance

Cuatro jóvenes

It’s seven o’clock on a late autumn evening. On the corner of Broadway and Bleecker, in Soho, people hurry on their way. Young rappers, women tripping over their heels, mothers with babies and bags, managers on their way to the gym and tourists fill the sidewalk. Blogger Chasid Heretic waits at a door. He’s an ultra orthodox Hasidic Jew, part of a branch of Judaism that stems from late-XVIII Poland and spread through several countries of Eastern Europe. After the Holocaust, it took root in the United States. Not all orthodox are ultra-orthodox or all ultra-orthodox are Hasidic. But 165,000 Hasidic people live in New York and belong to different sects organized around several rabbis. They all share a language, Yiddish (a German variety of Hebrew), and a strict religious adherence, though that may vary slightly. Rules are dictated by men.

            As New York as Carrie Bradshaw, Hasidic women are very far from putting on manolos. They never wear trousers or tank tops. Their skirts end at least four inches past their knees. Thick tights conceal their legs in winter and summer. Contact with men is extremely regulated from childhood. At 18 they marry and this marriage is previously arranged. After that, Hasidic women have to submit to ritual baths once a month, cut their hair, wear wigs and, many times, also a hat or a shawl. The main purpose is to emphasize modesty and to establish differences  They can’t go to college. They can’t use contraceptives. TV, radio and newspapers are banned in their homes.



The meeting with the blogger was arranged via email. Shlomo wears a white shirt and pleated trousers, has a long beard and his head is covered by a black kipa. Four years ago he started blogging about his crisis of faith and his doubts about the way of life imposed upon Satmar members, the strictest Hasidic sect, ferociously anti-zionist, founded in the US by Joel Teitelbaum and set in south Williamsburg, a neighbourhood of artists in Brooklyn. He’s married with four children. He wants to abandon the Satmar community, but his wife would not follow him and he doesn’t want to lose his family. Though he doesn’t want more children: “My wife does not understand it. Children fulfill a Hasidic women’s life, and the more children, the better”. During menstruation, women are forbidden to have any physical contact with men, not even the slightest brush. When their menstrual period has concluded, women must examine themselves with a gauze. If there’s any doubt, the gauze has to be shown to the rabbi for him to decide. After this, women bathe in ‘mikves’ to purify. They have to clean themselves thoroughly for one hour. Then, another woman watches them put their head under the water, says a prayer, kisses their cheeks and declares them ‘kosher’. The hair is shaved after that.


Shlomo still belongs to the Satmar community, but sometimes attends Footsteps, an organization that helps people raised in orthodox communities to integrate to society. This evening it’s hosting a meeting on Broadway. A young woman with long brown hair, jeans and sweatshirt hops on the elevator. She may be one of many girls that wander around Soho. But the Star of David hanging around her neck means she’s attending the meeting as well. The atmosphere is cozy and sober. Some men wear Hasidic coats and long curly sideburns. Other wear jeans. Women are a minority and their clothes give no clue about their lives. Footsteps was founded by Malkie Schwartz of Hunter College, New York’s City University. She put an announcement out searching for young people that, like her, were raised within a ultra-orthodox environment, and then abandoned it to go to college. She grew up in Crown Heights, and belonged to the Lubavitch sect, the most open among Hasidic, the first to found schools and publications for women, and the only one that proselytizes, attempting to convert secular Jews to their way of life.  



More than 20 students responded to Malkie’s call. Since its creation, Footsteps has helped 600 people, 35% of them women. Its purpose is to help them with the integration to the world and make easier their access to university. Fronts are diverse: from teaching English to adapting to contact with the opposite sex in the day-to-day life.  Faigy Mayer found support: ‘I’m becoming stronger and just one week ago I put on jeans’. Honesty and love towards your fellow man are the values she appreciates most among those she learned: ‘Not only Hasidic women have a hard life. Boys have to study the Torah for hours and their clothing is severely controlled’, she says.  

Deborah Feldman found a way out of the restrictive Satmar sect through literature. Her early escapes to a public library, a prohibited place for Hasidic people, were her first rebellious actions. The second one was to enroll clandestinely in the prestigious Sarah Lawrence College, where she got a scholarship. One year ago she signed a contract to write her memoirs (‘Unorthodox: The scandalous rejection of my Hasidic roots), to be published by Simon and Schuster in 2012. As soon as she got the advance, she left her husband, taking with her her four year-old boy. Since then she lives in the Upper East Side. ‘This place is full of memories, but I would never live here again’, she says seated in the Blackbird, one of the most popular cafes in the modern section of Williamsburg. Vintage chairs and tables bring her memories of her grandfather’s office, she says. He was one of the Holocaust survivors who founded the Satmar sect in Brooklyn. ‘The rules they set were harder to follow than the European ones. They decided married women must shave off their hair  and put on wigs in order to prevent temptation of showing a lock: the purpose was to make sure you always look like a Jew and prevent you from trying to mix’, she says. Deborah has long brown hair: she wears dark jeans, shirt, jackets and boots. She is interested in fashion, but miniskirts, necklines and makeup don’t drive her crazy. ‘Satmar was re-founded to be self-sufficient, impenetrable”, she explains. Satmar members keep their distance from the gentiles that surround them, strolling through the parks and streets of Brooklyn. But they don’t hesitate to confront their neighbours, the newly arrived hipsters of Williamsburg, when they attempt, for instance, to have a bikeway done. Satmar protests against women on bikes got many headlines last spring.

            Deborah’s grandparents had eleven children, her father among them, a person with mental disability. It was hard to get him married, and this made it harder for his siblings to get married too.  Eventually he married an English woman that came from a less rigorous orthodox environment. After Deborah’s birth, she became depressed and fled. Deborah remembers the black Honda she left the community in. The girl was raised by her grandparents, respected members of the community. ‘I lived with the stigma of being the child of scandal’ she remembers. During her childhood she dreamed of her mother living a free and happy life. Some years later she recognized her mother’s voice in a documentary, ‘Trembling before God’, about the intolerance that the gay community endures under orthodox groups. Deborah found out that her mother was gay and lived on her own. She visited her, and they have resumed contact currently. A Hasidic adage says that to get a couple together is harder than splitting the Red Sea. Matchmakers have a tough job. There’s no set price, but it’s better to be generous with them: 2,000 dollars is the usual fee for each marriage. Matchmakers look for candidates whose religious habits match as much as possible with those of the girl’s family. The first encounter is between the potential bride and the potential groom’s mother. Deborah met her future mother-in-law at the frozen food section of a Kosher market on Division Street. Even though day and time are previously arranged, the appointment must seem casual and there’s no serious talk. Then she met her future husband two days before becoming engaged. They threw an engagement party and gave each other a ring and a watch through intermediaries. A plate was broken and the agreement was signed by the rabbis. ‘It’s even harder to break off an engagement than the marriage itself’, Deborah says. That day she wore an 800 dollar-dress. She was then an English teacher in the school she had studied in as a child. Commonly, women work as teachers or administrative assistants during the first years of marriage, in order to let the men keep on studying the holy Scriptures, such as they did in the Yeshiva. These schools are the main place for socialization for men. Also synagogues are largely forbidden to Satmar women. They cannot study the Torah either. Organization of weddings, birthdays, births and Jewish festivities are their task, as well as raising their many children, and taking care of domestic duties. Infertility is a tragedy for Hasidic women, so fertility treatments are wholly accepted. Anthropologist Ayala Fader spent three years with Hasidic women of Boro Park, a slightly less rigorous community where different sects coexist, the Bobover sect being the biggest. Descending from of European Jews, Ayala wishes to be accepted, but it turned out to be harder than expected. In her book Mitzvah Girls, she describes Hasidic women as active and faithful, convinced that their way of life is the only one that makes sense. ‘If you manage to be accepted you enjoy a meaningful life’, she says. Fader portraits them as shrewd New Yorkers who don’t hesitate to teach their children to push through the crowds at Macy’s. They control contact between the community and the outside world but they can shop in Manhattan. The women speak English better than the men, raise the next generation and set the rules of participating in or rejecting American culture. ‘They think gentiles lack moral force to control their desires. Freedom is regarded as childish and immoral because it does not lead to a disciplined life’, she writes. Deborah spent her first year of marriage with no sexual relations. She consulted specialists, but it was a hypnotist who solved the problem. After her son’s birth, she went on studying. She told her husband she was attending administrative courses. Then she started a blog, Hasidic Feminist, that got an overwhelming response. She’s still committed to a feminist cause and has a critical outlook toward gentile world. Because not everything is rosy, she says: ‘Men are macho on the outside too. The Hasidic just don’t pretend that they are not’, she says, and asks herself, ‘female independence? In the secular world women are under an immense pressure to be beautiful and get married’.  


Earthquakes, like the one that struck in Christchurch, New Zealand yesterday, rank among the most devastating natural disasters, capable of leveling cities and causing extensive loss of life — largely because they are so unpredictable. On Sunday, however, less than 48 hours before the quake, 107 pilot whales beached themselves and died along the nation’s shores, a phenomenon that biologists have yet to fully understand. The proximity of the two events, in both time and location, have sent the Web in a frenzy over whether they are related — and whether strandings can provide precious foresight before disaster strikes.

Earthquakes, like the one that struck in Christchurch, New Zealand yesterday, rank among the most devastating natural disasters, capable of leveling cities and causing extensive loss of life — largely because they are so unpredictable. On Sunday, however, less than 48 hours before the quake, 107 pilot whales beached themselves and died along the nation’s shores, a phenomenon that biologists have yet to fully understand. The proximity of the two events, in both time and location, have sent the Web in a frenzy over whether they are related — and whether strandings can provide precious foresight before disaster strikes.

(Source: magnificentlifeofplants)

via acogan

The only thing that is getting me through the last three months, ever of my degree I am about to express:  I haven’t been in England for the summer months since 2006.  The times i’ve spent away have been literally amazing and have shaped me into the person I am today, (I work/ed at a Jewish summer camp in Pennsylvania and well, the moral, spiritual and basically just being a good person understanding I gained from this is unprecedented) 

Although being terrified at the prospect of being in England for nearly all of the year, I get itchy feet when I stand still for too long, claustrophobic, anxious blah blah, I am excited.  There is something in my bones that I cannot wait about for this summer, and although i’m scared, I’m excited.  And what i’m excited for is England.

- I can’t wait to be in a heat that is nice and warm and pleasant, not humid and where I won’t be covered in bugs every two seconds. The English breeze, if you will. (n.b I’ve not been away for so long to be fooled that there could be nice weather at all, but one can hope)

- I can’t wait to be able to lie on grass that isn’t really prickly.  American grass hurts, it’s not as well tamed, or cultivated as English grass…apart from if you’re on a golfcourse or something, but that’s fake.  

- I can’t wait to see English country garden style flowers.  My Gran always has the most beautiful garden, and where i’ve been for the summer there aren’t borders and hanging baskets filled with petunias and marigolds and bizzie lizzies. 

- I can’t wait to play with British animals, this may sound silly but i’ve forgotten what delights can be seen around the place in the summer.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a hedgehog.  I mean it was really cool for the first little while to see bears and snakes.  And well skunks lost their novelty after the first ten million I saw and smelt. And the first chipmunk I found in my drawers was really cute, but then that also got annoying.  But these aren’t exactly animals I can lure into a cardboard box and keep as a pet for a little while.  As I totally plan on doing to a hedgehog this summer.

- British insects.  When I was a kid I was definitely not a normal girl, I didn’t play with dolls and Barbies, no! I has a wormery, a pet snail and little kits (containers with magnifying lids and air holes and the such like) that helped you catch and identify insects.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a ladybird, (not the dead one on Daniel’s curtain) or an actual cute bumblebee, not the ones that look remarkably like a wasp. And also, I really really had to think hard to decide whether fireflies existed in England.  I don’t think they do, but they’ve been the norm for the last few years.  

- I can’t wait until there’s a sunday, where I’m a little bit bored and I can say to my lovely boy, ‘oh let’s go for a nice walk down the canal and end the day in a beer garden’  There is NOTHING that can beat a nice village pub garden, filled with the aforementioned flowering beauties, and a nice, icy cold cider.  

- I can’t wait to go to the seaside!!! ‘Nuff said.  In fact, I might make this my first trip post-last exam!  

- I can’t wait to go strawberry picking.  There is a farm quite near to me and I haven’t been for years and i’m going to make fresh jam.  

In the meantime, I must get back to my 3000 word essay on why Yugoslavia collapsed so quickly during WW2.  

I recently mentioned to my boyfriend that Gustav Kimt’s ‘The Kiss’ is one of my favourite paintings, I love the power and the passion of the kiss and the way the man is clearly so into her.  Then a few days later my boyfriend produces a Klimt book for me, with ‘The Kiss’ on the front cover.  What a hero.  

I recently mentioned to my boyfriend that Gustav Kimt’s ‘The Kiss’ is one of my favourite paintings, I love the power and the passion of the kiss and the way the man is clearly so into her.  Then a few days later my boyfriend produces a Klimt book for me, with ‘The Kiss’ on the front cover.  What a hero.  

At my ripe old age (i’m not going to disclose this information) tomorrow I will be celebrating/taking part in/whatever my first ever Valentine’s Day.  I’ve never had a boyfriend on this ‘momentous’ day before, or really ever.  I mean, I have (and obvs always had offers) but not anything that lasted for longer than three months as I’ve always been a firm believer in trusting my instinct and also a believer in fate. Is this the man I really like, will I want him to be the father of my children? Absolutely not, end it there, off you go. Or just stop texting back as I may have been known to do…cruel.

These two combined have given me a blasé approach to relationships, furthermore, I’ve previously been a self-confessed commitaphobe, first sign of emotion, entrapment, and dare I say the word…future and I was off like a shot: possibly not in the most thoughtful or considerate way, a breakup over vid chat springs to mind..trying helplessly to act remotely sympathetic when I really saw it as my liberation, my escape to freedom, a massive weight off my shoulders, and they were left with a broken heart.  I think I failed. Which, in hindsight I’m very glad about this laps in serious-relationships-at-a-young-age for a number of reasons:

 I was able to be my own person through the years who I didn’t really know who I was myself, I was able to travel and spend multiple months abroad (over a year and a half of my life in total) and most importantly, save many special moments for someone truly precious.

 If I think back to the days of school and there would always be the token girl who was growing up significantly quicker than everyone else with her skag head 25 year old ‘cool’ boyfriend (really he was 25 and dating a 15 year old…not so cool, definitely more illegal) finding herself in situations most level headed women are probably not mature enough to deal with until they’re in their late 20’s, let alone teenage years.  Meanwhile I was mostly worried about where the funds for my touch up pink streaks were going to come from, or my latest pair of Doc Martens, or whether my Nirvana discography was in the right chronological order.  

So really, females of the world, particularly my younger readers who are stressing about not having a boyfriend, valentines, that cool girl who has the older boyfriend and no one looks at you.. blah blah blah… EMBRACE IT.  Be yourself, you seriously have enough time to grow, find your independence as a woman, without a man. And when you’re my age you’ll have something the girls you long to be today don’t have, a free soul and a free spirit, no nasty baggage or past.

 Then the time you realise you’re 22, dang there’s my age… and you’ve never had a boyfriend on Valentine’s (or your birthday…or Christmas…as was the case for me until this year) then you find yourself with the man of your dreams, who you’ve perhaps nearly been going out with for an entire year (who am I? seriously?) without so much as an argument or remotely bad word shared, you’ll be eternally grateful that you had these precious moments bottled up for that someone special… And they weren’t wasted on someone I can barely remember.  

Peace and love to you all.