Some folks have contacted me to say, yes, well, we enjoy your pictures but please get back to writing some stories. *Sigh* I cannot promise I will, as time is scarce, but I will offer this today.
I recently made a trip back East to visit some relatives. On October 11th, I met up with my cousin, Peter Koretzky, who works as an EMT for FDNY. Like many firemen, cops, and paramedics, he lives in Orange County, New York. A beautiful autumn day, he offered to drive me around his area.
"I want to show you something, Steph," he said, and told me we were going to visit the "town" of Kiryas Joel. Kiryas Joel is not an official town, but rather a very tight enclave of Hasidic Satmar Jews living within the town of Monroe. I had heard about them when they tried unsuccessfully to have public monies fund their religious school and more recently when they erected the sign you see at the bottom of the photographs above.
Now, the dress code and such are merely a request to act accordingly, since there cannot be a law requiring it, as it would not pass constitutional muster. However, simply driving through the town, it is easy to feel unwanted and an outcast. Not that there was open hostility. Indeed, most people would glance at our car, see that we were not "one of them," and quickly look away, usually with a frown. My cousin explained that despite the roads being public, they do not want outsiders driving through their area.
I was more taken aback by the shabbiness of the community. If you look at the pictures I grabbed from the car, the housing appears cheap and crowded. The common green areas usually had trash and tricycles strewn about - in fact, that is what struckl me the most, literally hundreds or tricycles but no young children were about, except for some babies being pushed in strollers. There was hardly anyone outside. The streets were mostly empty and while I can expect that midday on a Monday there would not be many men or school children about, I expected to see more women and smaller children present; given the birth rate of the Hasidic Jews, I figured if there was one thing I would see in abundance, it would be children.
If you look at the stats behind Kiryas Joel, it has the highest poverty rate in the nation, according to the 2008 census. More than 2/3 live below the poverty line and 40% receive food stamps.
I found it bizarre. It seemed to fit the historical definition of a ghetto and for those united by faith, a rather joyless place.