With only days remaining before Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish New Year, Lee Avenue bustled with members of Williamsburg’s Hasidic community celebrating the dedication of a new Torah and shopping for supplies to prepare for the upcoming high holidays.
All week, members of several Orthodox Jewish sects have been patronizing bakeries, markets, dry cleaners and religious bookstores to get their households ready for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Tens of thousands of Hasidim are expected to attend services at synagogues throughout South Williamsburg from September 29 to October 1, where the blowing of the shofar will signify entrance into the New Year.
“We pray for God to forgive us for the past year and for the sweet year,” said Abe Deutsch, of Add Plumbing Inc. “We go around to all the parents, grandparents and family to get blessings from the rabbi. We bless each other and take blessings from everyone.
“All business will stop Monday night, Tuesday and Wednesday. Everything is disconnected. We are only connected to the prayer books.”
This past Monday, one week before Rosh Hashanah, stacks of portable wooden pews rested outside neighborhood temples while some Hasidic men were already building small porch sukkahs in their homes to celebrate the upcoming harvest-themed holiday, Sukkot. At Satmar Meat and Poultry (82 Lee Avenue) some parents were stocking up on chicken parts and brisket for the upcoming meal. Across the street at Kaff’s Kosher Baker (73 Lee Avenue), families were already placing orders for marbled sponge cake and honey cake.
“Honey cake. Everyone eats honey cake,” said Boruch Bernstein, busy taking orders over the phone and at the bakery.
“The custom is to eat certain foods like honey,” said Simon Weiser, a member of Community Board 1. “The whole month of the New Year, we dip our bread into the honey. We do things to symbolize the sweet year. We eat a part from the head of the fish. We want it to be a year from the head not from the tail. Also we eat pomegranate seeds to show that our good deeds should be the seeds of the pomegranate.”
There are more than a dozen sects of Hasidim in Williamsburg, though the two most populous ones are Satmar and Pupa, both of which descended from Hungarian immigrant populations that left Europe after the Holocaust. Each has slightly different customs and services, as the Satmar services typically last longer than other sects.
One such tradition that all sects within the Hasidic community celebrate is the dedication of a new Torah, which occurred on September 22. The Torah cost about $40,000 and will be used by a small congregation off of Lee Avenue, just in time for the high holidays.
To celebrate the dedication, hundreds of boys lined the corner of Wilson Street and Lee Avenue carrying paper torches as Hasidic men came by and ignited the torches one by one, as if turning Lee Avenue into a long, undulating menorah.
Women and their daughters stood on the south side of the street, smelling the fresh smoke, while boys marched with the torches and flags commemorating the event. Dozens of rows of Hasidic men in black suits and match hats linked arms and danced forward and backward in the procession while bystanders crowded around the makeshift pulpit where a rabbi was joyously holding the Torah and a bouquet of yellow flowers.
“We’re very happy about it. It’s a very exciting thing, a new Torah,” one man said.