Sunday, April 11, 2010

Is Bike Riding Kosher or Traif in Williamsburg? It All Depends...Are You a Hipster or a Satmar?

Bicycle riding on the streets of Williamsburg has been a controversial topic ever since New York City proposed putting new bike lanes through the Brooklyn neighborhood which is shared by young, secular residents who use bicycles to get around, and a large Chasidic Satmar community.

The chasidim opposed the lanes, fearing parking problems and the sight of immodestly dressed women who would be pedaling through the streets.

Right in the middle of the action stands the Traif Bike Gesheft, a store run by Baruch Herzfeld, who calls himself the "new rebbe of Williamsburg."  The store is marked by a sign that includes a huge Jewish star constructed from 50 rubber chickens.  

Herzfeld runs the storefront, which refurbishes and sells used bikes, but also provides free loaners to members of the Satmar community in an attempt to increase socialization between the Satmars and the hipsters.  (Editor's note:  Like we've been saying, you just can't make this stuff up.)

The shop is also home to the Time's Up! cycling club, where residents of both communities take free bike repair lessons.

The latest wrinkle in this unbelievable but true story is the large vending machine that Herzfeld has placed in front of his store, which dispenses bike parts and accessories 24 hours a day.

Writing in this week's edition of The Jewish Week, Sharon Usadin reports:
The Time’s Up! organization was actually at the center of a December 2008 clash between clown-cloaked cyclists and angry Satmar residents, who objected to new city bike lanes that began routing scantily clad cyclists through their parking spaces and school bus paths. Even more recently – December 2009 – cyclists decided to repaint 14 blocks worth of bike lanes that the city had removed from Bedford Avenue, in response to Satmar complaints. Yet Herzfeld stresses that his bike shop has only brought residents closer together, and he sees no division between the two populations.

“I see them as one community,” he said. “The rabbis want to keep them separated because they want to preserve their traditions, and they’re worried that if people are exposed to a different tradition then they’re going to lose a tradition of the past.”
While Herzfeld is all for preserving traditions, he finds that many Satmar chasids do so at the expense of socialization and instead become “miserable.” But lately, Herzfeld and his staff members say that the Traif Bike Gesheft has seen increasing numbers of Satmar cyclists attending their biweekly classes in recent weeks. As additional incentive, Herzfeld offers free bike loans to the Satmar community members, and anyone else who might be interested.
"He’s surprisingly brought a lot of Satmars together and to meet with other Jews and non-Jews in a friendly environment. And the bikes are only part of his efforts,” said Yoel Weisshaus, a Satmar chasid who uses Herzfeld’s Traif Bike Gesheft regularly but also empathizes with community parking concerns. Weisshaus, who recommends the shop to friends, thinks that bike usage will increase gradually, as more and more people learn about Herzfeld’s venture.
On March 25, Herzfeld appeared as the first guest on a new Satmar women's talk show sponsored by Vos Iz Neias, The Veiber Shul, where he is interviewed by Malkie on the subject of is he a tzaddik or is he dafkedik (I think I heard that correctly, but I'm not sure.  You be the judge.)   Here's the video of that show:
(Photo by Nathaniel Popper)