USA Bril­liant Brook­lyn beck­ons

No longer a bridge too far, Brook­lyn is on the tourist map and worth a de­tour, writes Anthea Ger­rie

The Jewish Chronicle - - Travel -

SIT­TING IN A mikveh house with a rabbi dis­cussing the finer points of Or­tho­dox mat­ri­mo­nial law may not be an ob­vi­ous thing to do on a shop­ping trip to New York, but as of this year, it is an in­ter­est­ing op­tion. The Lubav­itch — who else — have ea­gerly em­braced the es­tab­lish­ment of a Jewish her­itage trail in the city. Their own con­tri­bu­tion is a guided tour of the Cha­sidic com­mu­nity of Brook­lyn’s Crown Heights, lo­ca­tion for their own world head­quar­ters and home to many other strictly Or­tho­dox groups.

And very fas­ci­nat­ing it is to sit down and talk re­li­gious phi­los­o­phy with charis­matic rab­bis Yis­roel ben Ka­plan and Berel Ep­stein, two rather cool dudes who find no as­pect of their cul­ture taboo. They in­clude mikveh rit­u­als as a must-see, show-and-tell along with a peek into a slightly chaotic neigh­bour­hood syn­a­gogue; the house of the late lamented Rebbe (whom they be­lieve was the Mes­siah), a visit to the work­shop of highly-skilled To- rah scribes who re­pair faded let­ters on an­cient scrolls as well as cre­at­ing new ones, and a nice kosher shwarma or pas­trami lunch to fin­ish off.

Whether or not half a day get­ting a rare glimpse into what in Bri­tain is a closed com­mu­nity ap­peals, it’s good to see Brook­lyn on a her­itage map.

This huge and vi­brant New York bor­ough is fa­mous not only as the for­mer stomp­ing ground of Woody Allen, Sarah Jes­sica Parker, Neil Di­a­mond, Adam San­dler and count­less other Jews — in­clud­ing the Euro­pean im­mi­grants who moved out from the Lower East Side ten­e­ments a cen­tury ago as soon as they had made a bit of money — but also for its many cul­tural of­fer­ings.

The Brook­lyn Academy of Mu­sic, founded in 1861 and Amer­ica’s old­est per­form­ing arts cen­tre — now so cut­ting edge it’s favoured for many pre­mieres over Broad­way — is the pride of Down­town.

But al­though the bor­ough has a bustling cen­tre, the real joy of Brook­lyn, as with Man­hat­tan, is its col­lec­tion of eclec­tic, rather far-flung neigh­bour­hoods which re­quire time and a Sub­way ticket to ex­plore in real depth.

Crown Heights — Jewish, in­trigu­ingly, on only one side of the main drag, East­ern Park­way, and black and proud on the other — is a fair way in from Man­hat­tan, but it has the virtue of be­ing

The Brook­lyn Bridge, one of New York’s iconic sights

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