Wednesday, June 25, 2008

On the Stability of Communities

Say the words "Crown Heights" and the immediate response here in NY is Lubavitch. Lubavitch is the frum Jewish presence in the area. But it wasn't always like that. Once upon a fairly recent time quite a few other Jews lived in that area. And then the neighborhood started changing and shifting. Those other Jews moved out and elsewhere, and Lubavitch became dominant.

Once upon a time Boro Park was a fairly sleepy little place with a mixed Jewish presence. The two biggest shuls there catered to the MO and the MO frummer. The Young Israel was on 50th Street. The Shulamith school was in Boro Park. Etz Chaim was in Boro Park. There was a Bais Yaakov school as well and a few small shtibel shuls. And then the Boro Park neighborhood started changing and shifting. The MO presence got smaller and smaller and then disappeared altogether. Boro Park became a neighborhood of chasidim and ultra yeshivish Jews.

Once upon a time Midwood/Flatbush was dominated by the MO. The largest shul was the Young Israel of Avenue I. Flatbush Yeshiva and YU's BTA were the largest schools in the area. And when BTA moved out Shulamith moved in. Here and there were a small shtibel or two. Chaim Berlin was not yet in Brooklyn. The Mir and Torah VoDaas were in small buildings and didn't draw most of their students from the Midwood residents. Today, MO Jews are the minority in the area.

Once upon a time Brownsville had a solid frum community. And then there came the clash of two cultures and the Jews folded their tents and went elsewhere.

Once upon a time Far Rockaway was known as an MO outpost. The White Shul was the dominant presence. Shaaray Tefila was in Far Rockaway and catered to the more modern MO community members. The Young Israel was there. The dominant school in Far Rockaway was HILI. Far to the the left you had Hillel. There were two shtiblach in Far Rockaway, both of which took their mispalalim from MO people with heimishe leanings, those who wanted to daven nusach sfard. Frum Jews didn't live in the Five Towns with only a few exceptions. Bayswater was only a small blip on the radar. Yeshiva Chaim Berlin was in Far Rockaway but ended up moving out since it could not get enough students from the community and Far Rockaway was just not its kind of place. And then a shift began. HILI moved out and merged with Hillel in Lawrence to form HAFTR. Darchei moved into the HILI buildings. TAG moved into Chaim Berlin's old building and then built its own in the center of Far Rockaway. The Aguda moved in. Satmar moved into Bayswater. And MO and yeshivish alike moved over the border into Lawrence and the rest of the Five Towns in droves. And the MO found a real haven in Woodmere.

I suppose you could look at the above examples and come to the conclusion that in New York chareidis chase out MO Jews when they arrive in a community. You could, but you wouldn't be getting the whole picture. Communities wax and wane over time, all communities. They change character. And in some time period in the future these same communities will once again change character. In Brooklyn, the money factor alone will guarantee it.

Boro Park and Midwood/Flatbush have out of sight real estate values. The children of those living in the area are simply not going to be able to afford to live there when the time comes for them to be married and raise families. It's what happened to young couples when I was first married. Boro Park was becoming too expensive to rent or buy in so we all flocked to Flatbush. It wasn't the religious factor that had us leaving; it was plain and simple MONEY. And when Flatbush repeated the pattern some of us moved to Staten Island and some to Far Rockaway and the outer areas of the Five Towns. And some moved to Edison and to Teaneck and to Passaic and to Bergenfeld. And some moved to Monsey and other points in Rockland County.

Just one observation: in those communities where there has been a stable mix of the various frum Jews, where one group did not become uber dominant, there has been more stability for community structures and for the community as a drawing card. The changes within the community are smaller, less radical. They tend to have more of a we're-all-in-this-together attitude.

Who knows, in twenty years Brighton Beach could become the "new" Flatbush. In thirty years Chaim Berlin could find itself migrating back to the Far Rockaway area. Schools which today find themselves as dominant in their community areas may slowly wither away for lack of students, while schools that today are withering may find themselves suddenly rejuvenated. Who knows, maybe students strolling to their YU school on Ocean Parkway, located in the old ______yeshiva building, will shake their heads in amazement as one of them says:" My zaide says that 50 years ago this area was super chareidi. I think he must be joking with me." It has happened before; it's going to happen again.


Anonymous said...

Like you we did the Brooklyn to SI move many years ago. Before they built the Verrazano bridge in '64 there wasn't even a community in Willowbrook. But with our kids now in NJ we also migrated with them to stay closer to the grand children. But at least we sold our house to a younger couple with kids so we did our part to keep the community going. Where will all the communities be in 50 years? A kollel community in North Dakota doesn't sound so far fetched anymore.

Anonymous said...

My dad tells us stories about what Boro Park was like while he was growing up there. Can';t recognize the place from his stories. If it could happen to him I guess it could happen to us too. I guess my kids won't recognize Flatbush from my stories either.

Anonymous said...

When I got married my in laws wanted us to live in Far Rockaway where they lived and we refused. There were some real questions about if the community was going to grow or be able to continue. There wasn't much by way of services and there were real community tensions between the Jews and the non Jews. At that time everyone was saying that Belle Harbor was going to be the next thriving community. Well you know how that went. Far Rockaway got really healthy and Belle Harbor went down the tubes. We ended up in Kew Gardens finally. And I understand that Belle Harbor now has a pretty solid community even if a small one. It's like a yo yo, up and down and up and down.

Anonymous said...

very well written as usual - but I do not think the math bears you out

you make this sound just as people moving from place to place

but consider that the chareidi community quadruples (400%) every generation (and fron there the growth is exponential)

tha MO community increases by 50% per generation - but probably loses that added 50% to attrition (secular, chareidi , or aliya)

exclusive MO communities in tri-state
englewood, teaneck/bergenfield, fair lawn, riverdale, upper east side, staten island, west orange/livingston, westchester (small)

mixed communities five towns (lawrence is almost 100% charedi, woodmere and cedarhurst is mostly MO - but the chareidi segment is growing fast ), most of queens (charedi Kew Gardens, Far Rockaway, Bayswater, KGH is mixed, Forest Hills still MO, not sure how one would charecterize the bukharian community) upper west side, lowereast side, elizabeth

charedi communities

all of brooklyn (and this huge), lakewood, passaic, all of rockland county (the MO community is in wesley hills but fading fast - most send their kids to school in Bergen County and many are on their way to BC), orange county, perth amboy

all the chareidi communities were once MO except orange county

Anonymous said...

Baruch - time to take off the Haredi tinted glasses. They are hindering your vision here.

While some of your info is correct, there are some glaring errors as well.

Only MO have attrition, not Haredim ? So what is all the discussion lately about off the derech kids and kids at risk ? Only MO?

If you are doing projections using statistics and the Haredi drop out rate increased recently, it could be projected to continue to grow to a great number. There was great Haredi attrition in Europe and elsewhere in the past, including many defections to more moderate groups, including MO. Sometimes history repeats itself, you may have heard.

Are you sure you can predict the future accurately? If so, congratulations on becoming a navi.

There are also still MO in Brooklyn and other places you mention.

And frum Jews are not either Haredi or MO. Not so simple to pigeonhole everyone into those two categories. There is a vast middle ground out there and many variations.

Anonymous said...

"Only MO have attrition, not Haredim ? So what is all the discussion lately about off the derech kids and kids at risk ? Only MO?"

Baruch didn't say that. He included off the drech in his LIST of sources of attrition, which also included chareidi and aliya. Do you think more MO kids become chareidi or chareidi kids become MO? And which community's kids more often make aliya?

Anonymous said...

"Baruch didn't say that. He included off the drech in his LIST of sources of attrition, which also included chareidi and aliya."

Read what he wrote. He writes of Haredi growth, with no mention of attrition. When it comes to MO, he concedes some limited growth, but then goes on to say that it is probably lost to attrition. Why no mention of Haredi attrition ?

I guess all the articles and smyposia about off the derech kids are only about MO, according to him. Well, I have news for you, while you may have been able to pass off that fable as fact in the past, it's alot harder to do so now. People are not as naive, not buying that propaganda as much now.

And talking about rapid growth - hey, certain less desirable things grow fast too. Just because something has a period of rapid growth doesn't mean the growth is of highest quality, and doesn't mean it will always continue that way.

ProfK said...

You are both right and wrong. Take your example of the chareidi population growth. Take a community where the chareidim live. Let there be 1000 chareidi families in that community (small by Brooklyn standards). In one generation you have them quadrupling. Let's have them all get married--you now have 4000 chareidi families. The parents aren't moving out of the neighborhood so those houses are not available. Let's say that 1000 homes can be found. This means that the schools should be okay because they will be replacing the children of that first generation. That means 2000 of those families will have to look to live elsewhere. Now go up one more generation. Your original 1000 families have become 12,000families. Only a very few homes are available in their grandparents' and parents' community because their grandparents and their parents are still alive and aren't leaving or moving anywhere (Chareidim are generally not Florida snowbirds). That means that 12,000 families cannot live where their parents and grandparents live. It also means that schools which provided education for your parents will have none or few students, since young couples are not moving in in sufficient numbers to support a school. The schools will move out to where the people are now living. Wait a few generations until the original 1000 families have died out and suddenly the first community may become viable again. Families from other communities, having nowhere to live in their parents' community, may start to move in. Schools will again relocate. And the cycle will start again.

And you are only assuming that the chareidim will quadruple every generation. With birthrates in the 5-10 children per family range it is quite possible that 1000 chareidi families could become 25,000 to 50,000 families by the third generation.

You say that MO families only go up by 50% per generation and you also put Staten Island firmly in the MO camp (more on that in a minute). That would mean that 1000 MO families would become 1500 families after one generation. Those figures don't hold true in SI and I'm not sure they hold true in the MO communities in NJ either. If the MO families only had 3 children each that would be 3000 additional families after one generation. My generation had 3-5 children (as seen in SI). Our children are continuing in that 3-5 range, some even more.

Apropos of the attrition due to aliyah--expand that to mean "aliyah" to other parts of the country, such as Florida and you may have a case.

About Staten Island--think Borough, not village. There are four frum communities in this borough:Willowbrook, New Springville, Eltingville and the Yeshiva area. There are also a couple of fledgling Chabad communities. The Yeshiva area (MTJ) is all chareidi. Eltingville and New Springville are all MO, except where they are not. Willowbrook, the largest of the communities, is mixed, but that doesn't explain the community either. The term MO doesn't apply well to a lot of the residents here, and neither does Chareidi. We have an Aguda, two good sized shteiblach, a small OU shul and the Young Israel, the largest shul in the area. But saying Young Israel doesn't tell you much about the people in the shul. We are also the only Young Israel with a nusach sfard minyan as one of the six minyanim, with mispallelim whom I suppose you could call black hat on Shabbos MO sort of families. We also have a Lubavitch shul,the Hatzalah Minyan ( a mix of all types) and two shuls that are sefardic. The RJJ schools--Mercaz HaTorah--are the yeshiva ketanas for boys and girls, and RJJ doesn't qualify as MO as the term is usually used. There is also a day school. We also have a small boys high school in Willowbrook (chareidi/chasidish) and a kollel for yunge leit as well as a Kollel Baal HaBatim for retired men(and mostly with members of the Young Israel). So please, let's take Willowbrook out of the MO column and put it into the one marked "other." If we have to give it a name let's call it "tolerant of everyone."

Anonymous said...

I agree with pbp when he says "And frum Jews are not either Haredi or MO. Not so simple to pigeonhole everyone into those two categories. There is a vast middle ground out there and many variations." Trying to use MO and Haredi as if they meant something specific or as if they were the only two choices is why these kinds of discussions sometimes get really heated up. I think that is what ProfK might have meant when she said "So please, let's take Willowbrook out of the MO column and put it into the one marked "other." If we have to give it a name let's call it "tolerant of everyone." From what she describes the SI community doesn't fit neatly under the label MO, whatever that really means.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Allen, pbp and the Prof that the MO and Chareidi labels don't really say much about the people and communities they get put on. It's what I hate about the shidduch questionnaires also. They want y9ou to squeeze down your hashkafa and your beliefs and practices into one little word. I was turned down for a shidduch once because the place I come from has the label MO, which doesn't really describe it accurately, and so because the place is MO I must be MO too.

Anonymous said...

I agree that in the US people don't fall into categories as they do in Israel

That said - the general categories do hold and the schools with the exception of maybe (JEC and TAG) generally fall into one category or the other - marching in the salute to israel parade is usually a good indicator

I do not have chareidi tinted glasses - and like many people I do not fall into any category - I live in Bergen County, NJ - I am just calling it as I see it

Prof K - you are focusing on housing - I am focusing on demographics - There are only additional chareidi areas - the new MO areas in Bergen County are basically a population transfer of MO from Rockland County, Passaic, Queens and other places

In terms of 3-5 years - the statistics say 3.4 - but professor think about it economically - you need $350,000- $400,000 to survive paying MO tuitions and camp for five kids

and in terms of chareidi kids going off the derech - off course they go off the derech and there is an attrition rate to secular and even a little to MO and even a small amount to aliya - but as % it appears to be much lower - and to be blunt the charedi fertility rate is such - that the defectors hardly make a dent (if one of 10 chasidishe kids goes off the derech in a family - it hardly impacts the superior demographics)

I know assumptions can change - but the way things look now - MO will be a very small share of the total orthodox going forward - they will be a very wealthy elite - respected by other orthodox for their money - but not their hashkafa

Anonymous said...

Belle Harbor is now on the upswing again. A recent look at home sales have shown new Jews moving in, and while many are Sephardic, others are coming as well. This is an example of a community that refused to give up and is reaping some of the benefits. An "out-of-town" community in the heart of the frumme world.

Anonymous said...

I agree regarding Belle Harbor. The main shul has a young Rabbi and I hear he is quite dynamic. They still lack some amenities, but I'm sure that will come next. Never write-off a community. As long as there is a core that cares, it can grow.