Erev Shabbos in Borough Park

This is a sunny day in one of the world’s largest cities. It isn’t a legal holiday; there isn’t an emergency; the authorities haven’t evacuated the neighborhood. Yet the shops are shuttered, the businesses are closed and the streets are empty of traffic.

Question: What is going on and where is everybody?

Answer: It’s just another Friday afternoon in Borough Park.

Borough Park (also spelled Boro Park), a somewhat run-down, working-class area of Brooklyn, is home to one of the largest Orthodox Jewish communities in the world. Many of the residents here follow the teachings of Yisrael Ben Eliezer, known as The Baal Shem Tov (The Master of the Good Name).

The Baal Shem Tov, who died in the Ukraine in 1760, was the founder of the Hassidic Jewish movement. He taught that God is best served and worshipped through singing and dancing, and instructed his followers to meditate, so they could connect with the “holy sparks of the Glory of God” that dwell in “all that is in the world.”

The male followers of The Baal Shem Tov are easily recognized by their distinctive appearance. Bearded, they wear garments modeled after those of their spiritual leader, including a beskeshe (a suit with long tailored jacket), a fringed prayer shawl called a tallit or talles, a skullcap known as a kippah or yarmulke and, on Shabbos and other holidays, a circular fur hat called a shtreimel. Hasidic women can dress in mainstream styles but are limited to suitably modest items. They are free to wear makeup, jewelry and other fashionable adornments, but once married, the women cover their hair with wigs, scarves or hats.

While they have always considered children a blessing, many modern Hasidim are committed to having as many children as possible, believing that they must replace the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Consequently, the neighborhood has the highest birth rate in the city.

On Friday afternoon, around 2:00 p.m., the entire neighborhood shuts down, allowing the Hasidim to go home and prepare for Shabbos, the Jewish Sabbath. It is Erev Shabbos (the evening the Sabbath begins), when, dressed in their finest garb, large families hurry through the streets to the services where they welcome their day of rest. Come Sunday morning, the normal workweek will resume; the restaurants and stores will open again, the sidewalks will overflow with bustling shoppers and the streets will be filled with roaring, honking traffic.

Posters on a lamppost Posted by Picasa

Sign on a construction site. Posted by Picasa

Holding his shtreimel and tallit (talles) Posted by Picasa

Retrieving a curious (and fast-moving) toddler Posted by Picasa

A chubby little scholar Posted by Picasa

Taking a break Posted by Picasa

Mazel Tov Bubbies & Mommies – ad on a 13th Avenue bus shelter Posted by Picasa

Kosher Submarine, locked until Sunday Posted by Picasa

A yeshiva school bus stands empty Posted by Picasa

A family of seven (one inside Mom) Posted by Picasa

No place to spend a dime Posted by Picasa

A row of shuttered stores Posted by Picasa

Sisters in matching dresses Posted by Picasa

The main street of Borough Park, 13th Avenue, at 2:30 p.m. Posted by Picasa

Not a soul in sight on New Utrecht AvenuePosted by Picasa

Nothing in this direction, either Posted by Picasa

  • Wikipedia: Borough Park
  • Village Voice: Close-Up on Borough Park
  • Boychiks in the Hood: Travels in the Hasidic Underground
  • Etude: At Work in the Fields of the Lord
  • Baal Shem Tov Foundation
  • 5 Responses to Erev Shabbos in Borough Park

    1. stonybuff says:

      those are great pictures! I also enjoyed reading about orthodox life in Boro Park. Thanks.


    2. Fidget says:

      very informative and i like that there are so many pictures illustrating your point


    3. karen says:

      i have never been to new york even though i would love to, i like how you can see things that a tourist just might not see, real life.


    4. Cupcake says:

      I love your blog Annulla, and you are a super talented photog. I also love seeing all the pics of babies!–>


    5. […] Borough Park is a neighborhood largely shaped and defined by its large population of Hassidic Jews. Last spring I visited on a Friday afternoon when the area’s businesses shut down to prepare for Shabbos, the Jewish Sabbath (see Erev Shabbos in Borough Park). […]


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