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January 29, 2012 3:48 pm

Hipsters and Hasids: The Clash of Cultures In Crown Heights

avatar by Eliyahu Federman

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A hasid on a bike. Photo: Elke Reva Sudin.

On January 26 a blazing headline in the New York Daily News read: “It’s religious Jews vs fashionable hipsters in Crown Heights.” The article describes the sentiment of some Jews in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, who are seeking to maintain the insular religious makeup of their community, amid a perceived cultural encroachment by non- Jewish hipsters.

The Brooklyn Orthodox Jewish community is clearly resistant to integrating with the hipsters, which begs the question: Is it wrong and bigoted for the Orthodox Jewish community to want to preserve the homogeneity of their enclave?

To an extent, doesn’t every community seek to maintain its culture? If the Westborough Baptist Church moved into the LGBT community in Greenwich Village do you think the locals would be pleased? Would they view the Church’s anti-gay rhetoric as unwelcome? What happens when a porn shop wants to open up across the street from a conservative Christian school? Would it be wrong for the school to protest?

Is it fair to say that a community’s sensibilities, whether right or wrong, should be considered? In deciding what is unprotected obscenity under the First Amendment, the US Supreme Court case in Miller v. California, 413 US 15 (1973), applied a test that included what the “average person, applying contemporary community standards” would find offensive.

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In one community a strip club might be considered prurient and offensive but in another community, such as a very religious one like Crown Heights, bikiniclad women might be considered prurient. The point is not which one is right, but that different communities have different standards that should be respected.

Of course in an ideal world, all communities should be open to fully integrating with other communities. However, this becomes a difficult challenge when two communities striving to live side by side clash in both culture and values.

The Crown Heights Jewish community sees “nightclubs, bars and suntanning on rooftops” as inherently at odds with their community standards. This may seem initially ridiculous to individuals who, like myself, take pride in being able to integrate with diverse groups, but a community’s religious identity should never be taken lightly.

Of course it becomes illegal and wrong when a community violates housing discrimination laws or laws that ensure people are not discriminated against in other ways. In this instance, no allegations of illegal discrimination have been made.

Practically, it would be impossible to enforce an entirely homogeneous community without violating anti-discrimination laws. But this doesn’t change the fact that members of a close-knit community, whether they be Orthodox Jews or members of the LGBT community, have a right to speak out against a perceived threat to their culture. If anti-discrimination laws are not violated is there anything wrong with allowing that in a free society?

The author graduated law school in NY, where he served as an executive editor of the law review. He has advocated for gender equality in voting rights, sexual abuse awareness and better police-community relations in Brooklyn. This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

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