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It’s implanted in us by our patriarchs – the capacity to sacrifice our most precious possessions in service of our ideals. Throughout our history we’ve seen that superhuman ability again and again, as great and simple Jews alike demonstrate their true mettle. Only someone who lives for a higher purpose can forgo comfort, security, life itself, to fulfill the desire of He who gives us life.

What does sacrifice look like to you?

Through the Snow

Hasidim in USA



hy was I trudging through Boro Park during a fierce snowstorm in the dark of the night?

I live in Queens. I have a good job running a business. I’m not chassidish.

But on this night, like so many others, I was trekking through the streets of Boro Park with my DSLR camera, attempting to capture yet another scene of chassidish America in the 21st century.

As a kid, I was fascinated by the photography work of Roman Vishniac, the Russian-American photographer famed for his photos of shtetl life in Europe. I wanted to do a modern-day version — to capture the thriving, pulsing chassidic life in America today. Twelve years ago, I started to build my collection (over 25,000 photos now). It’s been over a decade that I’ve been spending my free time in the streets of Boro Park, Williamsburg, Monsey, Kiryas Yoel, and New Square, snapping and clicking and building a reservoir of images.

What captivates me in these communities is the combination of traditional shtetl life — the values, the closeness, the traditional dress — and the modernity of the 21st century. As I shared my photos and spread a positive portrait of chassidim to communities that only tend to hear of chassidim in negative contexts, I realized I’d found a mission of sorts: to show the world that chassidic life is flourishing after the Holocaust, and that there is so much positivity and beauty here.

Back when I took this photo in 2010, some people were still nervous or suspicious of my camera, so I stayed in the shadows. Brooklyn had been hit by a massive snowstorm, and I made my way from Flatbush to Boro Park on foot, looking for that scene holding a story. On 14th Avenue, at around 8 p.m., I found it. A capture that tells a story.

An elderly gentleman was slowly, laboriously battling the blizzard as he made his way to shul for Maariv. You could see the struggle in his every step — this was a real effort. To me, the scene conveyed mesirus nefesh in the most literal sense of the word. It was cold, it was treacherous, he wasn’t young… not everyone would do that.

In hindsight, as I look at the photo again, I would say that his drive and passion encapsulate what makes chassidim so unique and also so vital. In a sense, I feel that chassidic Jews kind of saved Judaism for all the rest of us. They bring us passion and positivity, they bring us joy and inspiration.

Even though it’s not the way I grew up, I now celebrate Tu B’Shevat and Lag B’omer with my family, and I know I’m not alone. We all benefit from the joy that chassidim have infused into our observance. Imagine the frum world today without them. It would be missing an entire dimension — that spirited celebration of what we’re all about.

Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 757. Hasidim in USA is the handle for a photographer who documents daily chassidic life in America today. 


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