New York City is filled with many ethnic enclaves. An ethnic enclave is a place with a high concentration of a distinct ethnic group. One of these enclaves is Borough Park, Brooklyn. Borough Park is located on the southwest side of Brooklyn and has one of the highest concentrations of Orthodox Jews in the United States. Because Borough Park is an ethnic enclave, it has distinct history, clothing, and shopping. All of these things help to build a unique cultural hub.
Jewish History in Borough Park
Borough Park Brooklyn was settled by the Jewish people between the the late 19th and early 20th century. Before it was settled, the area was mainly filled with a few small cottages. The main reason that the Jewish people came to America was the pull of religious freedom. Most of these people were coming from Russia because the Jewish people were pushed out of Russia by overpopulation, oppressive legislation and poverty. After the area began to be settled, many uniquely Judaic businesses began to arise. They began to create an ethnic enclave. The population of Jewish people in Borough Park, Brooklyn spiked dramatically during World War II due to the heightened religious persecution in many European countries. A lot of Jewish people fled to Borough Park to start a new life. The people of Borough Park proceeded to have many children, earning it the nickname “baby boom capital”. The birth rate continues to be much higher than the rest of the country at about 24.4 births per 1,000 people. This accounts for high population that you see in this area today.
Borough Park Clothing
If you look around Borough Park, Brooklyn you can see a very distinct style of dress. Orthodox men and women are both dressed very modestly due to religious customs. The men tend to wear dark overclothes to remain modest. On days that are not specifically holy days, they tend to wear cloth rekels (long, dark jackets), black socks, black top hats, and black slacks. Women tend to wear long skirts and sleeves past their elbows in order to adhere to Jewish law. Married women are always required to cover their hair outside of the house. Sometimes this is done with just a headscarf, but some groups require women to wear both a wig and a headscarf. If you go to Borough Park on a Saturday (or any other holy day) you will see a few more distinct clothing pieces. For example, married men wear fur headdresses and silk bekishe on holy days. The type of dress remains one of the more distinct cultural features that exist in this ethnic enclave.
Stores in Borough Park
Borough Park, Brooklyn has many stores that cater to the needs of the Orthodox Jews. Because the Orthodox Jews have many rich cultural traditions, there is a higher demand for products that are not as common in other places. For example, there are many stores that sell sterling silver dinnerware because a bride and groom are traditionally given tableware as a wedding present. The Orthodox people use these wedding gifts for important events such as Sabbath dinners and Passover seders. Another interesting set of businesses are the wig shops. There are many wig shops in Borough Park due to the Orthodox rule that only a woman's husband is allowed to see her natural hair. Stores like these give this ethnic enclave its unique landscape.
Comfort Is Key: the reason why enclaves are helpful
It is helpful for new arrivals to the United States to live in or near ethnic enclaves because they give people a sense of comfort and security. Just like uniform landscapes comfort the weary traveler, ethnic enclaves give new immigrants a sense of place. Going to a new country is scary. You are starting fresh in a place that you are unfamiliar with. By settling in an ethnic enclave, you can see many things that you know and understand. If you are a religious person, you can find a house of worship. If you speak a different language, you can find people who understand you. Enclaves create a sense of community for those who need it most. These communities often offer many job opportunities to those of similar origin in order to help those with similar experiences.
Some may argue that ethnic enclaves limit the immigrants’ new experiences, but venturing a little ways outside the enclave can give a person a whole new experience. Some say that ethnic enclaves are not diverse enough, but places like New York City have fluid boundaries. New people and businesses are constantly coming in and out. Life in the city is never without new experiences because the population and state of development is constantly changing. Also, ethnic enclaves tend to acculturate which gives them a unique culture of their own. The enclave tends to adapt to the popular culture in order to thrive. For example, my Italian-American grandparents grew up in a very different environment from true Italians because their community had many american influences. This is the case with almost all enclaves.