On October 2nd, 2023, just days before the October 7th pogrom in Israel, I had a sweet, enjoyable day in Bnei Brak’s Hasidic enclave. Bnei Brak is on the outskirts of the great secular Israeli city of Tel Aviv, and yet it’s an insular world of orthodox Jews, or as my guide calls it: a factory. A factory of prayers, of babies, of religion. (of rugalech and tabik)

My tour guide was Eli Benedict, who grew up in Bnei Brak. Although Eli left the fold, he continues to nurse deep connections with this world through his work as a Yiddish researcher, the CEO at YungYidish (see https://www.facebook.com/yiddish.telaviv?mibextid=ZbWKwL), the program director of @LeagueforYiddish and through his close connection to his family. When we visited Eli’s childhood home, Eli’s parents welcomed us (although they asked not to be filmed) and his wife and child were also there. In my discussion with Eli and his wife, they shared that they come respectfully, that is, they dress modestly, and feel very welcome.

I too felt welcome as we visited all sorts of places in Bnei Brak; the main thoroughfare, the synagogue, a mountaintop, shops, sukkahs, and more. The sun was ruthlessly bright and the neighborhood was quite shabby. I was struck by how much more open people seemed to us than in Hasidic New York. Several people were eager to get in front of the camera to give this or that opinion on whatever topic they cared about. As a ‘student’ of the Hasidic world of New York, the Israeli Hasidic community felt feisty, audacious, open, colorful and, shall I say, much poorer than the community in New York. Our videographer, Geert, who had worked in Bnei Brak many times before, said he loved filming there because of how real it is. That stuck with me. It did feel like Bnei Brak put on no airs, and the setting was maybe not pretty but certainly very authentic. I hope that this came through in this video.

Join me for a walk-through of this neighborhood during the lovely holiday Sukkos. Please upvote, leave a comment and share with friends!

Filmed by Geert Van Kesteren @ https://www.geertvankesteren.net/
Edited by Noa ben Shalom @ https://aicf.org/artist/noa-ben-shalom/