I’ve seen articles on this all around the blogging world, so I thought we should touch on it here (even though to me it partly just seems kind of funny.)
Basically, there’s a clash going on between the “hipsters” of Williamsburg, New York, and the Satmars, a group of Hasids who have been living there for more than 50 years. It’s been going on since Williamsburg became cool in the nineties, but in 2007, when a bike lane was built on the main road and women began riding on it while wearing, well, biking clothing, it was exacerbated. Then, a year later, the Hasids got the city to get rid of part of the bike lane, and some hipsters decided to repaint it, and the two sides have been even angrier at each other ever since (What a surprise)
To me, at least, the story doesn’t seem particularly exciting or out of the ordinary, when you consider that an extremely traditional group is being forced to mix with an extremely modern one, and vice versa, and that they are also in an owner/renter relationship. The Hasids own around 1/3 of the real estate in some of one of the North Williamsburg neighborhoods, and when money is involved, tensions always get worse.
But I guess to someone who is not used to hearing about ultra-Orthodox people in Israel throwing stones at other Jews for driving on Shabbat, the idea of people trying to get rid of a bike lane because women will ride on it and expose themselves seems absolutely foreign and absurd. And while I personally do believe that women should be allowed to wear what they want in public areas, I’m also very aware that it is a reality that in some areas they cannot. I know that as long as the Satmars have power (people want the Satmar vote, as they usually vote as a group, and votes=power), they’ll usually be able to get what they want. It happens in Israel, and so sure enough, it’s also happening in New York.
This is not to be entirely dismissive of the issue, as it is something that is affecting an entire community. However, I’m not really sure what should be done—how can you force a powerful, wealthy group of people who have already established lives in Williamsburg to go along with the new generation of hipsters? It’s not realistic to expect them to just go along with changes, because they don’t believe that they have to, and they most probably don’t, thanks to their vote.
So, I guess, it will be a story of time. With time, either enough newcomers will fill up Williamsburg that the Satmars will move elsewhere or, or as the article linked above touches upon, some of the Satmar population will split and move towards modernizing themselves.