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Borough Park

Borough Park (usually spelled Boro Park by its residents), is a neighborhood in the southwestern part of the borough of Brooklyn, in New York City in the United States.

Borough Park is home to one of the largest Orthodox Jewish communities outside of Israel, with one of the largest concentrations of Jews in the United States and Orthodox traditions, rivaling many insular communities.[1] Since the average number of children in Hasidic and Hareidi families is 6.72, Borough Park is experiencing sharp growth.[2] It is an economically diverse area, with rich, working class and poor people living side-by-side and going to the same schools and synagogues.[3]

Its heart lies between 11th and 18th Avenues and 40th and 60th Streets. Borough Park is patrolled by the NYPD’s 66th [4] Precinct.

Neighborhood transformation

The neighborhood has undergone many transformations in recent decades. Demographically, it has changed from a neighborhood of Italian, Irish, and Modern Orthodox Jewish families to one of mostly Hasidic Jewish families.

‘Baby Boom Capital’

In a 2000 Census study, it was reported that an estimated 76,600 Jews lived in Borough Park.[5] Since that time, Borough Park has grown significantly, and has earned the title of “baby boom capital” of New York City because of its high birth rate. The neighborhood recorded 4,523 births in 2004,[6] the highest in the city. The closest Brooklyn neighborhood in terms of population growth was Williamsburg, home to many Satmar Hasidim, which reported 3,839 births. Borough Park’s birth rate, 24.4 per 1,000 residents, has translated into major growth in the neighborhood.

Hasidic families often require larger homes, and this has fueled construction and renovation projects across the neighborhood. The vast majority of these projects involve larger bedrooms and kitchens. Since 1990, the Building Department has issued more permits for private construction projects – new homes and additions – in the Borough Park area than in any other residential neighborhood in Brooklyn.”[3] These construction projects were aided with a new law in 1992, which established Borough Park as a special zoning district where residents could build on 65% of their lot. This reduced the size of setbacks and backyards tremendously.

Many of these births occur at Maimonides Medical Center, a prominent hospital in the Borough park area. The Maimonides Infants & Children’s Hospital of Brooklyn is fully accredited as a “children’s hospital within a hospital”; it is just one of only three such facilities in New York City.[7] Here, at the The Stella and Joseph Payson Birthing Center, Maimonides handles more births than any other hospital in New York State.[8]

Business development

Local stores and businesses are currently gaining economically. The 13th Avenue shopping district, a shopping strip roughly one mile in length from 39th street to about 55th street, is packed storefronts supplying Jewish households. Many Hasidic Jews shop loyally at these stores, coming from all parts of the city, other states, and even other countries to buy kosher items. Businesses have benefited from the growing Jewish population, the increasing density of the neighborhood, and the use of entrepreneurial spirit on the Internet.[9]

The community has achieved global recognition, especially among Israeli expatriates and tourists. In 1999, a kosher hotel called “The Avenue Plaza Hotel” opened on 13th Avenue, becoming the first hotel to appear in the neighborhood in more than a decade. It is a popular attraction for visitors to New York City, and it is among the few hotels that can accommodate the needs of many Hasidim.

Banks include HSBC formerly Republic National Bank formerly Bank Leumi, Washington Mutual formerly Dime Bancorp now part of JPMorgan Chase, and Citibank have had local branches for decades. A booming economy has brought in others including Apple, North Fork now Capital One, Park Avenue, Sovereign Bank formerly Independence Community now part of Santander, JP Morgan Chase, Berkshire, Liberty Pointe, Astoria, TD Bank formerly Commerce Bank, Dime Savings Bank of Williamsburgh and Metropolitan National Bank, new banks opening in 2009 Valley National Bank and Bank of America.

Public education

The New York City Department of Education operates Borough Park’s public schools.

Virtually all the large population of school-children born into Borough Park’s Hasidic families attend local yeshivas for boys and Beis Yaakov-type schools for girls. This has diminished the student population of local schools, such as Montauk Intermediate School. The New York City Department of Education hoped to take advantage of the empty space and construct a small school, called the Kingsborough Early College School, inside Montauk.[10] The Hasidic community was not pleased by the prospect of a new public school because it would bring “a bad element” (scantily clad girls) and protested the decision. The Community Educational Council heard these complaints and decided against expanding its public school system.

Many elementary schools have had mixed results from this student drain. For example, in 2004 Joyce Purnick of The New York Times stated that Public School 164 in Borough Park “…is at only 89 percent of capacity because many children in the community attend yeshivas. Classes are small, the hallways quiet, the principal and assistant principal know every student by name.”[11] Subsequently, the percentage of children reading at or above the grade level has increased to 55% in 2004 from 40% in 1998 in an otherwise unchanged school.

District 20 covers Borough Park.[12] P.S./I.S. 180 Homewood School, a zoned public K-8 school, receives many bussed-in students from other neighborhoods, including Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst, as most Borough Park neighborhood parents send children to Jewish private schools (called yeshivot).[13]

Police and security

The Hasidic community has developed a network of residents to handle emergencies in the neighborhood. Hatzolah is a volunteer ambulance group composed of emergency medical technicians and paramedics.[1] Shomrim/BSSP/Brooklyn South Safety Patrol Shomrim is a citizens watch group that is sanctioned by the NYPD community affairs division. They respond to security related calls in the area, and are called upon by the NYPD to assist in searches for missing persons. The Hasidic community has been able to form close, but often fragile, ties with the local authorities.

Religion and politics

Borough Park is home to many Hasidic groups, the largest being the Hasidic Bobov sect; the Belz, Ger, Satmar, Stolin, Vizhnitz, Munkacz, Spinka, Klausenburg, Skver, and Puppa communities also reside here, among others. There is a minority of Hareidi non-Hasidic Lithuanian Jews (typically called Litvish or Yeshivish), with a smaller number of Modern Orthodox Jews. There is also a large population of Yemenite Jews, many of whom immigrated in the early 1920’s.

In Brooklyn, about 37% of Jews consider themselves Orthodox,[14] and Borough Park is often referred to as the “heartland” or “home” for New York’s Orthodox Jewish population[citation needed]. The neighborhood became largely Orthodox in the last 40 years, making a transformation sometimes referred to as “suburb to shtetl”.

During much of the early 1900s, the Jewish population in Borough Park, and Brooklyn as a whole, was part of a much more liberal-leaning voting block. However, many of these early Jewish families moved to the suburbs or other places around the city while more conservative Hasidic Jews (many of them survivors of the Holocaust and immigrant families from Eastern Europe) joined their neighborhoods. As a result, the overwhelming majority of the Hasidic population in Borough Park and Brooklyn introduced a more traditional Jewish religious lifestyle. A 2002 study by the UJA Federation-New York revealed that only 2% of Borough Park’s Jews identified themselves as Reform Jews and nearly three-fourths identified themselves as Orthodox Jews.[15]

Religious observances

The Hasidic population adheres strongly to halakha (Jewish law) and the Shulkhan Arukh (halakhic code), following many Judaic laws in their daily lives. Saturday is the Shabbos (Yiddish pronunciation of Hebrew shabbat, Jewish Sabbath), a day of rest, which is strictly observed, by most members of the community. In some areas a siren is sounded on Friday before sundown to indicate the arrival of the Shabbos.

Culturally and religiously, the neighborhood is considered one of the most Orthodox in the world. “Many families do not own televisions or attend movies. The children attend yeshivas instead of public schools. Adolescent girls do not leave the house without making certain that their knees and elbows are covered, and at weddings and funerals alike, women and men sit separately to avoid physical contact, as required by religious law.”[16]

Most stores in Borough Park sell or prepare only kosher food made under rabbinical supervision.

There was a large controversy surrounding the erection of an eruv in Borough Park, because of differing interpretations of the application of Jewish law. An eruv was built in 1999-2000 and encompasses about 225 blocks in Borough Park. Its use is still the subject of controversy.


Main article: Bobov (Hasidic dynasty)

Borough Park is home to the headquarters of Hasidic Judaism’s large Bobov community, numbering several thousand families (exact number unknown),[17] It is one of Brooklyn’s largest Hasidic communities and has followers in Canada, England, Belgium and Israel.

In 2005, the Bobover Rebbe, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Halberstam died, and Bobov split between his son-in-law, Rabbi Mordechai Dovid Unger, and his Brother Rabbi Ben Zion Aryeh Leibish Halberstam. Rabbi Ben Zion is presently Rabbi in the main synagogue on 48 Street and is referred to as “Bobov 48”, while Rabbi Mordechai Dovid’s temporary synagogue is located in the Beis Yaakov building on 45th Street and is referred to as “Bobov 45th”. The final resolution of this dispute lies in the hands of the “Beth Din” (Jewish Court). The two sects are still awaiting a verdict.[18]

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