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