They don’t roll on Shabbos, or anytime else. But among the Hasidim of South Williamsburg, a grassroots organization is pushing for more bike-share stations.
Hasidim For Bikes, founded late last month, is committed to uniting those members of the Hasidic community who are psyched for bikes — and bummed about a perceived dearth of bike stations south of Broadway.
“We feel we were discriminated because we are Hasidic, we wear Black coats and Black hats, we look different, we were stereotyped that we hate bikes,” said the group’s spokes-person, e-mailing anonymously for fear of backlash from community leaders who’ve been in a huff about Huffies.
This may come as a surprise since Hasidim For Bikes is comprised of the same sect of ultra Orthodox Jews involved in the infamous bike lane feud of 2009 (yes, the “clash of the bearded ones”). The conflict came to a head when the Department of Transportation agreed to remove 14 blocks of bike lanes in South Williamsburg in response to complaints by Hasidic leaders over immodestly dressed cyclists (the ladybikers of NYC haven’t quite cottoned to those CBGB cycling jerseys).
But even during this supposedly divisive rivalry, some Satmars were clandestinely demonstrating their support for bikes.
According to StreetsBlog, days after the bike lanes were removed in 2009, a guerilla group comprised of secular cyclists and their Hasidic allies repainted the bike lanes in the dead of the night, and drew the NYPD to the scene.
Both the rivalry over bike lanes and now the Hasidim For Bikes campaign call attention to latent tensions between the Hasidic community and the leaders that represent them.
“If you look at the BikeShare original map where people could suggest locations for the bike stands, lots of suggestions went up in South Williamsburg with lots of support,” the Hasidim For Bikes rep wrote. “We found out the last minute that leaders (that are not in tune with the needs of the community) said that we in Willamsburg don’t need bikes.”
Indeed, a suggestion map published by the Department of Transportation shows many more bike stations in South Williamsburg than currently exist.
“There is no reason not to drive a bike,” said the Hasidim For Bikes rep. “But it is so ingrained in us since we are kids that bikes are wrong and non Jewish, that it became taboo in the community, and it takes years after we get married and independent to shed this mindset.”
Shulem Deen, founder and editor of Unpious, a blog of “voices on the Hasidic fringe,” said, “I think for the most part, though, most Hasidim (perhaps even Satmars) don’t care either way, but as with all things Hasidic, you let your leaders do the talking.”
Heated reactions have been blowing up all over the Yiddish-speaking blogosphere, with anonymous contributors deriding those who oppose bikes. On one of the blogs, Kavesh Tiebel, a contributor by the name of Frisher writes, “You have the coffee in the right hand, the cigarette in the other, and the Droid phone in your double chin. That is ok. But if you have a bike, then you sinned for being like a non Jew.”
A quick survey of the neighborhood revealed that not everyone thinks bikes are a win-Schwinn situation.
You won’t see Maidechai Rubenstein, a South Williamsburg resident, popping wheelies anytime soon. “It goes against the Jewish religion,” he said, adding, “We have to do what our parents, grandparents did. Nobody from 100, 200, 300 years past rode a bicycle.”
A Hasidic woman who asked to go by the name of J.S. said, “It’s horrible. They wear nice clothes and ride the bikes like this” — she motioned bending forward — “and our men come from synagogue and have to see that. It’s horrible.”
But perhaps the campaign for bikes represents something bigger.
Another contributor on Kavesh Tiebel, under the name Ben Temalyon wrote, “In Georgia there was the Rose revolution. Tunis the Yasmin Revolution. Iran the Green Revolution. Ukraine the Orange Revolution. And so forth. The Hasidic revolution will be the bike revolution.”