What is Williamsburg, Brooklyn like? To a great extent, the answer you receive depends upon the age and class of the person you ask.
In the early part of the 20th century, this waterfront community was the most densely populated neighborhood in the United States. Immigrants from Italy and Ireland lived in Williamsburg and worked in its thriving refineries, breweries and shipyards (Williamsburg was the setting for the best-selling novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn).
Following World War II, the neighborhood was transformed when thousands of Jewish refugees arrived from Europe. The area became headquarters for several displaced Hassidic sects, most notably the Satmar community that originated in Hungary.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Williamsburg changed again when it acquired a large Hispanic population, mostly new arrivals from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
In the 1970s, when the city teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, the neighborhood reached its lowest point. While the South Bronx burned, much of Williamsburg was overwhelmed by poverty, drugs, arson and violent crime.
Real estate values plummeted, the middle class fled and, in their wake, young artists arrived. The 1980s and 1990s produced an influx of hipsters and musicians who established a creative community around Bedford Avenue (one subway stop away from Manhattan).
Today, ever-evolving Williamsburg is attracting developers who are replacing many of the old industrial buildings and tenements with luxury housing.
Despite the vast and rapid changes to the neighborhood, South Williamsburg remains almost exclusively the domain of the Satmar. This is an area where Yiddish is more widely spoken than English, strangers are regarded with suspicion, and most of the businesses cater exclusively to the needs of this devout, insular community.
It isn’t easy for an outsider to get a peek inside the world of the Satmar, but here is a sampling of the signs they’ve displayed on the streets of South Williamsburg.
Record Online: In Brooklyn, Hasidim Build Shul in a Flash
NY Post: It’s a House Of ‘Gosh!’
Block Magazine: The Satmar Community of Williamsburg Divided
Hasidic News: Satmar
OU: Rav Yoel Teitelbaum – The Satmarer Rebbe
Village Voice: Arson for Hire
Demographia: The South Bronx:
From Urban Planning Victim to Victor