Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Hasidic South Williamsburg Resists the New Reality

Children play in a courtyard in a Hasidic housing complex on the East River in South Williamsburg during the COVID-19 pandemic, April 22, 2020. Photo by Leo Schwartz

My apartment in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn is right on the border of the seclusive Satmar Hasidic community. Hasidic communities throughout New York have some of the highest levels of positive COVID-19 tests in the city. As one community member told the New York Times, “There is not a single Hasidic family that has been untouched. It is a plague on a biblical scale.” 

Even so, many have resisted social distancing measures. On April 28, Mayor de Blasio denounced a large Hasidic funeral in South Williamsburg and warned the community of possible police action against future gatherings. His posts on Twitter drew criticism for warning the “Jewish community” as a whole, where many view the Hasidic communities of New York as entirely separate enclaves. 

Although more people can be seen wearing face masks as of late April, many of the residents are operating in a state of normalcy, in stark contrast to others who pass through the area. Even non-essential businesses remain open, largely staffed by Hispanic employees. As COVID tears through the city, life goes on.

Hasidic families gather in Domino Park on a sunny spring day, despite city social distancing orders. April 14, 2020. Photo by Leo Schwartz

A Hasidic man crossing the street in South Williamsburg. New York taxi displays now cycle through social distancing recommendations along with their standard advertisements. April 22, 2020. Photo by Leo Schwartz

Police presence in the Satmar community of South Williamsburg has increased over the past few weeks. A young boy stares at a police SUV on a Friday evening as Shabbat begins. May 1, 2020. Photo by Leo Schwartz

Passing by a yeshiva bus in South Williamsburg on a sunny spring day. April 22, 2020. Photo by Leo Schwartz

Although the CDC recommends that children over 2 wear face masks, many in South Williamsburg are not following the guidelines. April 22, 2020. Photo by Leo Schwartz

A woman exits a bakery in South Williamsburg. Many of the businesses in the Satmar neighborhood are operating as normal. April 22, 2020. Photo by Leo Schwartz


The shops in South Williamsburg are largely staffed by Hispanic staff, with many stores operating as normal. April 22, 2020. Photo by Leo Schwartz

In South Williamsburg, other businesses closed due to the pandemic, including this congregation. May 2, 2020. Photo by Leo Schwartz

Essential workers such as deliverymen work with gloves and masks as many Hasidic community members in South Williamsburg forgo the city guidelines. April 22, 2020. Photo by Leo Schwartz

On Shabbat, all businesses are shuttered and men wear Shtreimel hats and a shawl called a Tallit. A Hasidic man uses his Tallit as a face covering in South Williamsburg. May 2, 2020. Photo by Leo Schwartz

This is a project of  Lori Grinker’s  NYU graduate photojournalism class.

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