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Crown Heights

CH intro

 

What a week. It started in the Caribbean and ended up in Russia…

This week’s neighbourhood, Crown Heights, was actually the very first one Coco and I stuck our noses in when we arrived in NY three weeks ago. I knew it was a West Indian enclave but what I didn’t know until I started talking to the locals there was that every year it hosts a huge carnival – the Labour Day Parade, a celebration of West Indian/Caribbean culture that stomps and shimmies its way down the main drag (Eastern Parkway) on the first Monday in September.

How could I miss that? I decided to put Crown Heights off until then and chose another neighbourhood for my first NY installment.

Which is how I ended up ‘in the Caribbean’ last Monday. And the Russia bit? We’ll get to that later.

First, some facts. Crown Heights is in Brooklyn. Was posh and white in the early 20th century, then became more working class and black, a mix of West Indian and African American – while at the same time housing a large Hasidic Jewish minority. This mix of such different cultures was the original reason I wanted to explore the neighbourhood – and after last week’s look at the South Williamsburg Jews, I was even more intrigued.

Let’s go Crown Heights!

 

Part 1: Before the parade

Before I decided to put Crown Heights on ice until the Labour Day Parade, I’d already taken quite a few snaps. It was a Saturday, and across Eastern Parkway I noticed smartly dressed women sitting on benches.

Turns out they were from the Seventh Day Adventist Church across the street and Saturday was their church day. Having found the black Africans a little chilly in Paris, I approached with caution – but I needn’t have. You couldn’t hope to meet a friendlier bunch of people than the congregation of Shiloh Seventh Day Adventist Church.

 

 

in their Saturday best - outside the Seventh-Day Adventist Church - Danie, Sunshine and girls

in their Saturday best – Danie, Sunshine and girls

 

 

 

 

"Black women shouldn't have to straighten or braid their hair" - Danie, fighting for follicle freedom

“Black women shouldn’t have to straighten or braid their hair” – Danie, fighting for follicle freedom

 

 

 

 

perfect lines

the opposite – perfect lines

 

 

 

 

Patricia and Shianne :: 1

Patricia and Shianne :: 1

 

 

 

 

Patricia and Shianne :: 2

Patricia and Shianne :: 2

 

 

 

 

"I always wear a hat to church, always"

“I always wear a hat to church, always”

 

 

 

 

That church was just one of the many that we would find during our time in Crown Heights – and they come in all different shapes and sizes. From the Seventh Day Adventists to the Baptist churches and the Spiritual churches – and Mount Faith Zion Church, headed by Bishop Roach…

 

 

Bishop R.C. Roach, Mount Faith Zion Church

Bishop R.C. Roach, Mount Faith Zion Church

 

 

 

 

all welcome

all welcome

 

 

 

 

On the first wander in Crown Heights we also met some delightful local kids, all from a Jamaican background – Naomi and brother Fabian were having a ‘go’ of a stretch limo parked outside their house. They knew the driver and were testing it out.

 

 

rockstar for a second - Naomi :: 1

rockstar for a second – Naomi :: 1

 

 

 

 

rockstar for a second - Naomi :: 2

rockstar for a second – Naomi :: 2

 

 

 

 

Fabian

Fabian

 

 

 

 

Before leaving I took a quick shot of Naomi with a friend, hanging outside their homes on Eastern Parkway. It would be a very different scene when I returned three weeks later…

 

 

chillin' - Naomi and Kalila

chillin’ – Naomi and Kalila

 

 

 

 

Part 2: The Labour Day Parade

Like I said, a very different Crown Heights greeted me as I hopped off the 3 train last Monday – wild, deafeningly loud and incredibly proud. This was the West Indies’ day – Jamaica, Grenada, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago et al – and they were making sure everyone knew it.

 

 

a statue of liberty

a statue of liberty

 

 

 

 

"It's a chance for my kids to see my culture" - Jamaican born Virginia and her girls

“It’s a chance for my kids to see my culture” – Jamaican born Virginia and her girls

 

 

 

 

Jaden and Joel

Jaden and Joel

 

 

 

 

Robert - "I'm from Jamaica of course!"

Robert – “I’m from Jamaica of course!”

 

 

 

 

because it wasn't noisy enough - Daniel playing the air horn

because it wasn’t noisy enough – Daniel playing the air horn

 

 

 

 

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

 

 

 

 

And the parade itself? Rhinestones, glitter, feathers and lots of skin – I was no longer in South Williamsburg…

 

 

a bird of paradise in a sea of blue

a bird of paradise in a sea of blue

 

 

 

 

he can't take his eyes off her

he can’t take his eyes off her

 

 

 

 

For months, costume-makers have been hunched over hot glue-guns, applying copious amounts of rhinestones and feathers to outfits like Alana’s…

 

 

more rhinestones and feathers than usual

more rhinestones and feathers than usual

 

 

 

 

marching for Trinidad and Tobago :: 1

marching for Trinidad and Tobago :: 1

 

 

 

 

marching for Trinidad and Tobago :: 2

marching for Trinidad and Tobago :: 2

 

 

 

 

I like his head dress too

I like his head dress too

 

 

 

 

purple pucker

purple pucker

 

 

 

 

all shapes and sizes :: 1

all shapes and sizes :: 1

 

 

 

 

all shapes and sizes :: 2

all shapes and sizes :: 2

 

 

 

 

Days later Coco and I visited the nearby Brooklyn Botanic Garden – and all the memories of the Labour Day Parade came flooding back…

 

 

yellow eyes :: 1

yellow eyes :: 1

 

 

 

 

yellow eyes :: 2

yellow eyes :: 2

 

 

 

 

scales :: 1

scales :: 1

 

 

 

 

scales :: 2

scales :: 2

 

 

 

 

scales :: 3

scales :: 3

 

 

 

 

Part 3: The Chabad-Lubavitch Jews of Crown Heights

I did know before I visited the nighbourhood that the Hasidic Jews of Crown Heights – from the Chabad or Lubavitch sect – were known as the ‘friendly’ and more relaxed Hasidic Jews. But I still couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw some Chabad Jews wandering down the street during the Labour Day Parade. They weren’t exactly standing on the side-lines, cheering the marchers on, but they seemed pretty fine about it. One Jewish man, Stewart, told me it was a good thing. A young Jewish boy, Daniel, had set up a stall of his old toys outside his home with his grandfather and mum nearby. Maybe it wasn’t exactly kosher but it was clearly okay. (Oh, and yes, they were totally fine about me photographing them – hooray!)

 

 

"It's good" - Stewart

“It’s good” – Stewart

 

 

 

 

Daniel outside his house with a toy stall

Daniel outside his house with a toy stall

 

 

 

 

living side by side

living side by side

 

 

 

 

The next time Coco and I visited the neighbourhood I noticed a large group of young male Chabad Jews outside a building across from their main synagogue, 770, on Eastern Parkway. We wandered over to find that the building was a dormitory for the men who were all overseas students, attending the school inside the synagogue. Because this was no ordinary synagogue – for Chabad Jews, 770 (known as that because of its address, 770 Eastern Parkway) is the most important synagogue in the world.

 

 

from Israel to Crown Heights :: 1

from Israel to Crown Heights :: 1

 

 

 

 

from Israel to Crown Heights :: 2

from Israel to Crown Heights :: 2

 

 

 

 

from Israel to Crown Heights :: 3

from Israel to Crown Heights :: 3

 

 

 

 

Amazing really, given the neighbourhood’s many churches and that earlier, just a few blocks west, we’d seen a Muslim family hit the tarmac to pray.

 

 

prayer, wherever it needs to be

prayer, wherever it needs to be

 

 

 

 

Crown Heights – neighbourhood of churches, synagogues and make-shift mosques.

 

 

reborn - tattoo man and the former movie theatre, now church

reborn – tattoo man and the former movie theatre, now church

 

 

 

 

Part 4: Three weddings in one day

On our last visit to the area, Coco and I stumbled on three weddings all happening on Eastern Parkway.

The first was being held in the Shiloh Seventh Day Adventist Church that we’d come across that very first day – it was a Sunday and I wondered why their door was open, given that Saturday was their church day. So we took a quick peek inside – to see a very nervous looking bride waiting for proceedings to begin.

 

 

Sophie at Shiloh Seventh-Day Adventist Church, about to walk up the aisle :: 1

Sophie, about to walk up the aisle :: 1

 

 

 

 

Sophie at Shiloh Seventh-Day Adventist Church, about to walk up the aisle :: 2

Sophie, about to walk up the aisle :: 2

 

 

 

 

Not wanting to add to her nerves, we quietly left and continued walking east along the Parkway – until we noticed a group of women sitting outside the Oholei Torah Center, not far from the 770 synagogue. By now I knew that the Chabad Jews were pretty cool about photography – and that their reputation for being friendly was well-earned – but these women were especially welcoming.

 

 

relatives of the bride and groom wait outside the Oholei Torah Center

relatives of the bride and groom wait outside the Oholei Torah Center

 

 

 

 

So welcoming in fact that it seemed perfectly normal to sidle up to one of them, Libby, and ask, “So is that a wig you’re wearing?”

 

 

Libby

Libby

 

 

 

 

(Yes, it was a wig. ‘Really?’ – ‘Really’. Libby explained that like the Williamsburg Jews, they have to wear them, but that they can wear any style of wig, they don’t have to wear hats and they certainly don’t have to shave their heads.)

 

 

Libby's daughter

Libby’s daughter

 

 

 

 

After taking a few shots, Goldie, the woman in the purple outfit in the third to last image above, asked if Coco and I wanted to take a look inside.

I didn’t take a shot of the room – it was a fairly nondescript convention hall (although interestingly, the women were on one side of a screen, the men on the other). But I loved talking to Goldie – she’s a Rabbi’s wife and a million other things but this 48 year old mother of nine was the perfect person to quiz about all things Chabad. Having just experienced a little of the Williamsburg Jews, I was intrigued about the differences between them. Goldie explained that while they had the same Hasidic religion, they had very different philosophies. A major one was that the Chabads were actively encouraged to go into the outside world to make the world a better place, one good deed at a time.

I spent so long talking to Goldie that I missed the bride’s arrival outside in the better light – but I got one shot of her sitting on a special seat.

 

 

the bride, Chaya, before the ceremony

the bride, Chaya, before the ceremony

 

 

 

 

Feeling that we’d stayed long enough – what did these brides think of a complete stranger suddenly appearing? – I thanked Chaya, Goldie and the other women and headed back onto Eastern Parkway.

We’d only walked another minute when I spotted a large gathering across the street, right outside the 770 synagogue. Yes, it was another Chabad wedding, but this was the actual ceremony, when the bride and groom stand under a chuppah and various things happen.

I couldn’t see anything until it was too late – I just caught sight of the bride and groom disappearing into the synagogue for the next step in the ceremony, where they spend 10 minutes alone in the yichud room. They’ve had to fast the whole day so finally this is when they can eat something – and technically, this is the first time they’re allowed to be alone together. Oh, and also, they’ve had to spend the week before the wedding apart. Why, I asked someone? “Anticipation!” they answered gleefully.

 

 

step 1 - the ceremony under the chuppah

step 1 – the ceremony under the chuppah

 

 

 

 

step 2 - the bride and groom enter the yichud room

step 2 – the bride and groom enter the yichud room

 

 

 

 

By then I’d met the brother of the groom and his mother. I thought she looked quite exotic and when she talked I realised she was Russian, as were several others around her – and then I remembered, that was where Chabad Jews originated from, over 200 years ago. Standing there, waiting for the bride and groom to come back out, surrounded by Russian voices and the black hats, admiring the groom’s mother’s piercing blue eyes and pale unlined skin, I felt that I’d been transported – across the seas to a land of snow and ice and red wine. Red wine?! More like vodka – red wine was what I had to pick up for dinner – Coco and I had been invited to a friend’s house and we were late, we had to go!

For the last time that day we said our goodbyes and jumped into a taxi.

 

 

from Russia with love - the groom's Russian mum and brother

from Russia with love – the groom’s Russian mum and brother

 

 

 

 

step 3 - exit the building as man and wife

step 3 – exit the building as man and wife

 

 

 

 

married at 20 - Talia :: 1

married at 20 – Talia :: 1

 

 

 

 

married at 20 - Talia :: 2

married at 20 – Talia :: 2

 

 

 

 

lacework

lacework

 

 

 

 

Mazal Tov Chaim and Talia!

Mazal Tov Chaim and Talia!

 

 

 

 

Part 5: Love and peace

Crown Heights has had its troubles – there were riots in 1991, a real low point in relations between the black and Jewish communities – but wandering around its quiet back streets or even along Eastern Parkway at sunset, it seems like a pretty chilled place, one that’s able to accommodate even the most different faiths and peoples.

 

 

brownstones in golden light

brownstones in golden light

 

 

 

 

the quiet life on Eastern Parkway -  Sierra-Maree and Kimani

the quiet life on Eastern Parkway – Sierra-Maree and Kimani

 

 

 

 

of all descriptions

of all descriptions

 

 

 

 

they do a pretty good job of it in Crown Heights

they do a pretty good job of it in Crown Heights

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

Crown Heights knows how to throw a wild party  – and apparently the Labour Day Parade used to be a lot wilder, in every respect. But even so, I absolutely loved it. I remember walking down the street, through the glitter and the feathers and the broad smiles, thinking, I know it’s cliched but I really LOVE New York! And that was before I felt the joy of being able to take photos of the wonderfully warm Chabad Jews, at their weddings no less. It’s a week that made me feel full of gratitude. Gawd. I think I’m going to have to go get my hanky now.

 

 

Coco and I snapping the fish

Coco and I snapping the fish

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

All pretty quiet on the home front. Except for the usual arguments about Coco spending too long on that blooming iPad. But as I usually complain about it while chained to my own computer, it doesn’t really cut deep. She also got to see a whole load of creepy, crawly spiders this week at the American Museum Of Natural History. Not with me though – anyone who knows my story (an Australian White-Tail Spider basically decimated half a thumb of mine) knows I don’t do spiders.

 This suburb has been brought to you by Nadine Lee

 —

 See you next Monday-ish.

 

  1. Di @ beachtropic says:

    Fantastic as always. Thanks so much. Di

  2. Jenni says:

    I’m loving the NY postings. Keep enjoying!

  3. Mitch says:

    Another cracker post Louise! Fav mirror image: “the opposite – perfect lines”

  4. Fay Thomson says:

    I enjoyed the photo of hairstyle with divided plaits next to a leaf of similar pattern.

  5. katerina says:

    Best ever !! So love what you and Coco are up to !

  6. pat says:

    Our security has finally let me back in and I am loving the postings . Thanks so much, keep up the wonderful work and enjoy it!! Don’t worry about Coco and home schooling she will benefit so much from these experiences.

  7. Wendy says:

    Once again such an enjoyable read and beautiful photos. Thank you.

  8. Jennifer says:

    I love love love this. Thanks for sharing such amazing experiences. It’s so much more vivid when stories are coupled with thoughtful visuals, isn’t it? You’ve made me reach for my hanky.

  9. Kristin says:

    Amazing, love this post and photos!

  10. ellen says:

    wow i loved this surburb are you nearly finnished in ny but you arent at 52 yet hope you get there i loved the pics in this one ny is very cool place in fact all of the places are you get away form the toruist part and you see real people and i like that as for the jews in this one they do seem much nicermore like tones i used to go to school with one of them shes in a chair her sister is at uni like works there in disability research and the mum is a dr they do soem of the traditions but nto totaly the way soem people do to me they are about as jewish as my fam are catholic we dont observe everything in catholic faith eather xxxx

  11. Sharon says:

    Your posts contine to amaze me Louise. Can’t wait to see where you are off to next.

  12. Liz says:

    It was quite ironic that you mentioned spiders at the end, half way through looking at your fabulous blog I spotted a enormous huntsman type spider on my bedroom door, my teenage children came running after hearing my screams , after some time and quite a battle, it departed this world, but I couldn’t believe it when I finally got back to your blog and saw your spider comments….spooky! All the best x

  13. Louise says:

    Di – Nice to see your name pop up!
    Jenni – I’ll try!
    Mitch and Fay – The perfection of the braids is quite something isn’t it?
    Katerina – Many thanks!
    Pat – Welcome back!
    Wendy – So glad you enjoyed it.
    Jennifer – Do you think other people around the world know what a hanky is?!
    Kristin – Danke!
    Ellen – The Chabad Jews I met were incredibly warm and welcoming. I was so hoping they would be after last week’s difficulties and I wasn’t disappointed.
    Sharon – Oh good, I like to amaze!
    Liz – How funny about the Huntsman! It’s weird being away from Australia where you don’t have to check under outside chairs or examine walls to see if nasty little spiders are waiting to pounce. You get so used to doing all that when you live there. It’s one thing I definitely don’t miss about my beautiful country!

  14. Trudy says:

    I see me! Great photos Louise. Feel free to send me the ones you took of my friends and I! LOL

    • Louise says:

      Trudy – Yay! I’d hoped you and others I shot that day would check in here to see your fabulousness! I’ll send you some pics for sure.

  15. Lisa says:

    I Love New York too and am especially enjoying you bringing some of those other New York stories, especially about the different types of Hasidic Jews.

  16. Ben G Morgan says:

    I love that your memory is as sharp as your eye. When you see something like the fish and then those amazing women, it must be like you see it in your mind’s eye. They’re my favorite shots in this set as they say so much about the breadth of life on this planet. Beautiful!

  17. marjan says:

    another wonderful and really interesting entry – i just love reading this and because of your lovely writing style and fantastic images it feels as if i am actually right there. planning to go to ny myself next year and will definitely keep all this info to visit these great places myself.

  18. Juliette says:

    Lou; really loved the variety of life in this post. It’s so obvious you feel ‘at home’ in NYC!! As for the ipad arguments…you’d be having them wherever you were on the planet…our kids relationship with techno stuff is so totally different from our own. LOL Jx

  19. Gay says:

    Louise I do believe you are in your element! I can see your gleeful face with a mischievous giggle.
    FANTASTIC! Lovng it through your eyes.
    Those big mamas in the parade !! Wonderful.

  20. Lou Southerden says:

    Love all your posts, Lou, but this one in particular, wow. It’s like being inside your head, seeing what you see, hearing your thoughts and observations, wonderful storytelling in words and beautiful images. Thank you!

  21. Ray says:

    Great work.If only the big publications devoted space for photos like yours, the world would be a much better, and happier, place.

  22. goldie says:

    :) yup so I see you met my people and they are warm as I had hoped.

    I used to live next door to the dormitory of young boys from Israel. I hope you enjoyed my ‘hood. And btw for some yum food – go to a place called Wholesome Bagel (on kingston avenue) and order a potatoe bagel. Spicy hash browns on a soft bagel. :)

  23. Louise says:

    Lisa – The Hasidic Jewish religion and culture is so interesting isn’t it? I remember decades ago, seeing the Jewish community in Bondi walking up the hill, so wishing I could document some of their life. It’s taken me a while…
    Ben – Many thanks, I love those images too. And yes, I have a databank of images in my head, all waiting to be paired up – when I see a match, it makes my day.
    Marjan – Thank you! And very glad I can provide some inspiration for your own visit.
    Juliette – You’re so right, I do feel at home here. I guess I’ve been enough times over the years but I think I felt at home the first day I laid eyes on the place, 25 years ago. Maybe it had the energy of Hong Kong with a European twist?
    Gay – The big mamas indeed. Aren’t they wonderful?!
    Lou – Thanks so much. You’ll know as a travel writer that it can be tricky to know how much or how little you want to include of your own observations – but given this is such a personal project, I figure, I may as well let it all hang out!
    Ray – Many thanks, that’s a lovely comment.
    Goldie – As I said, it was so fantastic to meet you and I’m thrilled you checked in here. And yes, your people are really lovely. Sadly I can’t eat gluten so I’m afraid I’ll have to give the bagel a miss – but it sounds delicious! I’ll get Coco to try it. Many thanks again Goldie for answering all my questions last Sunday – it was an instant education!

  24. Sarah says:

    Late this week (I am- not you! Oh so busy!)

    I think the frosty Africans in Paris is cause they are very much racially targetted (I’ve seen some brutal arrests when I’ve just been buying bread or boarding a bus). I think the Africans in the US are far better integrated, or happier with the way they are treated, esp in NYC?

    Love the braids vs leaf! And the crazy yellow eyes! And I’m so interested to learn more about Judaism (as always!) The ipad won’t kill Coco… yet!

  25. Claire says:

    Here I am again.. Love the photos as usual – can see you are in your element in NYC!!
    Wish I was there too… Big hugs for you and Coco.. x

  26. Jackie Nolan says:

    Another very interesting post! You always truly
    capture the essence of the people and the location.
    This suburb – Crown Heights was an eye opener for
    me re the diversity of churches/beliefs and the
    nationalities.From Seventh Day Adventists to Chabad
    Jews!! Delighted in the bridal fashions and the great
    fabrics.The Trinindad/Tobago costumes with feathers
    and rhinestones …so colourful/exotic. Three photos
    especially stood out to me…1)The lady in pink outfit
    with the hat going to church..”I always wear a hat to
    church…..” 2) The married couple on the steps of the
    Synagogue with the no.770 on the wall- Eastern Parkway. 3) The Jamaican girl with colourful headdress. However, all were good. Another great
    journey! Jackie Nolan

    • Louise says:

      Jackie – Very glad you got so much out of this. And yes, I love the lady at the church in the hat too – maybe we need to bring back hats. They’re all class.

  27. Rob Steer says:

    love the colour, mood and feel of the pics. a real sunny disposition I would say!

  28. Kaye Camp says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for these WONDERFUL shots and side-by-sides. you have an amazing imagination and great writing style. Also, I would like to quote you in some of my writing and wanted to ask for permission. you can email me at the address provided! Thanks so much!

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