Tours visiting Brooklyn Jewish neighborhoods
Williamsburg, Crown Heights, & Borough Park are Brooklyn's Hasidic centers. But there's much more to "Jewish Brooklyn" or "Jews in Brooklyn"
Brooklyn has a long history of Jewish residents, with synagogues founded in the mid-19th century, various waves of immigration and outflow, and, notably, Hasidic Jews coming as refugees in the 1940s and 1950s after the Holocaust, building communities that have since grown enormously.
So "Jewish Brooklyn"--meaning neighborhoods where the population is mostly Jewish--is vast: it includes the four neighborhoods listed at right, which include the most observant Orthodox and Hasidic communities, and attendant schools, shopping, and kosher restaurants.
But these are hardly the only places in Brooklyn with signs of Jewish life. Many other parts of Brooklyn contain Jewish history, institutions, and residents, even if they don't have a concentration of businesses and institutions oriented to an Orthodox or Hasidic Jewish community. (And some parts of Brooklyn only have remnants of Jewish life.)
The tours I lead/devise are neighborhood tours, not "insider" tours that will take you into a synagogue or a scribe's study, as in the Lubavitcher tour of Crown Heights. (If you want the "most frum" tour, I'm not your guy.)
Most of my clients want an introduction to these neighborhoods. So our tour includes visits to major shopping streets and the opportunity to stop in bakeries and Judaica shops. We walk past major institutions like synagogues and yeshivas. And we learn how these neighborhoods have grown and evolved.
Please note: these tours are walking tours, with the destination reached by public transit or taxi, and perhaps with a taxi ride in the middle. A vehicle tour adds at least $50/hour to my fee to hire a car service. Also note: the Jewish neighborhoods are at least 30-45 minutes by public transit from Midtown Manhattan.
Also note that Hasidic life in Brooklyn is not the 19th century shtetl transposed in Brooklyn but rather a modern hybrid: the communities rely on new/adapted buildings for schools and synagogues. Nor is Hasidic life in Brooklyn, with communities that (mostly) keep a wary distance from mainstream society, the preservation and extension of early 20th century immigrant Jewry, a population that was Americanizing.
Please note: for those who are visiting Brooklyn for the first time, I strongly recommend not limiting yourself to Jewish Brooklyn but rather combining it with other parts of Brooklyn. (Otherwise, you miss a lot).
See Option 1 below. But if you would like to focus only on Hasidic Jewish Brooklyn, then Option 4 combines visits to Crown Heights and to Williamsburg, which have contrasting Hasidic communities. (Please dress modestly--we can discuss.)
Also, there are synagogues (reform, conservative, orthodox) in many other neighborhoods, as well as a historic or current Jewish presence.
All three of the neighborhoods below have had an evolving Jewish population.
Williamsburg includes a large Satmar Hasidic community adjacent to a former tenement area, now gentrifying furiously, and other areas of significant redevelopment in a formerly manufacturing/warehouse zone. Wondering about Hasidic life in Williamsburg? Here's a down-to-earth AMA (ask me anything) from Reddit.
Crown Heights is home to the Lubavitcher Hasidic community, an enclave in a larger neighborhood of row houses and pre-war apartment buildings, that has an African-American and Caribbean-American majority. Crown Heights has a branch of the deli Mendy's at the Brooklyn Jewish Children's museum.
In southwest Brooklyn, Borough Park has the largest Hasidic population, as well as a Modern Orthodox population. While architecturally and historically less striking than Williamsburg or Crown Heights, Borough Park has the largest shopping district, with many stores and some restaurants.
Please note: none of these neighborhoods are adjacent to each other. A walking tour that includes more than one neighborhood requires a bus or taxi or subway ride to connect the neighborhoods. See map at top right for sense of how these neighborhoods are placed in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn Jewish tour options
Option 1: If you want an introduction to Brooklyn and see a piece of Jewish Brooklyn--which means we exceed 2.5 hours-- I can add a Jewish element to one of my listed tours. For example, it's easy to visit Jewish Crown Heights as a 60-minute add-on to the 2.5-hour Brooklyn 101 or 4.5-hour Brooklyn 202 overview tours. (The Crown Heights part comes after the first 90 minutes.) Alternatively, it's possible to visit Jewish Williamsburg for 90 minutes after one of those 2.5-hour or 4.5-hour tours. (Note that those are not full visits to the larger neighborhoods of Crown Heights or Williamsburg.) Or we could visit both Jewish Crown Heights and Jewish Williamsburg as an add-on to Brooklyn 101: that would be at least 5 hours.
Option 2: Limiting the tour to 2.5 hours, we can visit Jewish Crown Heights and nearby Park Slope/Prospect Park (which is part of Brooklyn 101), but that means you don't get the full Brooklyn 101 tour. Park Slope, while not a religious Jewish neighborhoods, does have four synagogues (and many churches). I especially recommend this option--or Option 1--to people who have never been to Brooklyn before.
Option 3: My 2.5-hour tours of Williamsburg or Crown Heights already include visits to the Jewish sections of those neighborhoods, though the bulk of each tour is outside those sections.
Option 4: Jewish Williamsburg and Jewish Crown Heights together. We can spend 2.5-3 hours in these neighborhoods, walking the shopping streets, passing the synagogues, and yeshivas, and getting a sense of the history and forces that have transformed the notion of "Jews in Brooklyn" from secularizing immigrants to devout communities challenged by and (in different ways) confronting modernity.
This tour typically lasts 3 hours, including a taxi ride that lasts 15-20 minutes ($16-$20), but might be done in 2.5 hours if you're pressed for time. If you want to eat lunch at the end, I recommend the delicatessen Gottleib's in Williamsburg. If you want to start in Williamsburg and end in Crown Heights, there are several kosher options: Italian food, pizza, deli, falafel. (I omit Borough Park because of travel time, but we could of course pair it with Crown Heights or Williamsburg, spending at least 3 hours.)
Option 5: A visit to Borough Park includes a walk past the neighborhood's major synagogues (including that of the Bobover sect), which signal several layers of neighborhood change, stops in stores featuring Judaica and more, and a walk past a new hotel catering to religious visitors. This can encompass 2.5 hours, or a shorter version--60 to 90 minutes-- could be combined with a visit to other neighborhoods.
Further options: If you're a completist, we can see visit Modern Orthodox Midwood (in between Crown Heights and Borough Park), take a look at the Sephardic Brooklyn enclave around Kings Highway; or explore the Jewish remnants of Brighton Beach, now the heart of Brooklyn's Russian/FSU (former Soviet Union) community.
Note: if you are new to New York, the Lower East Side could serve as your introductory Jewish tour. It contains numerous synagogues, including some converted from churches and some converted to churches or commercial/residential functions. It is not the center of Jewish life in Manhattan, but it was the historic gateway to New York City. It still contains some significant institutions and a small but not insignificant religious Jewish population.
Overview: neighborhoods spaced apart
Hasidic Williamsburg, mostly Satmar
Lubavitcher Crown Heights (mainly below Eastern Parkway)
Hasidic/Orthodox Borough Park
Modern Orthodox Midwood
Sephardic Kings Highway/Gravesend