NEW YORK – The city’s ultra-Orthodox Jews took the Pennsylvania Amish on a walking tour of their world Tuesday, saying their communities are naturally drawn to each other with a commitment to simpler lifestyles.
“It’s reinforcing to the Amish community to see us Jews living the way the Bible says Jews aresupposed to live, and have lived since the time of Moses and Abraham,” said Israel Ber Kaplan,program director for the Chassidic Discovery Center in Brooklyn.
“The Amish are also living their lives as the Bible speaks to them.” Dozens of Amish residents from Lancaster County, Pa., toured a Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights — the secondyear in a row the community invited the Amish to learn more about their culture.
Rabbi Beryl Epstein called the experience “living Judaism.” The neighborhood is home to anultra-Orthodox Lubavitcher sect born about 200 years ago in Russia.
Today’s Lubavitchers wear the black hats and beards of their 18th-century forebears, speak Yiddishand refrain from turning on electricity or driving cars on the Sabbath.
Aaron Lapp, left, and Elmer Fisher, second from right, exchange looks with a Hasidic Jewish man while taking a tour of a Hasidic neighborhood in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Photo Credit: AP Photo
The Amish get around in a horse and buggy, living off the land.
However, both groups use one modern amenity — cell phones that kept ringing as they wanderedthrough Crown Heights.
At a workshop where a young man was touching up a Torah, a scroll of the holiest Jewish writings,Epstein told the group how a Jew in wartime Germany had rescued the sacred scroll by wrapping itaround his midriff under his clothes as he fled to safety.
The Amish listened, commenting to one another in Pennsylvania Dutch, a dialect of the German oftheir ancestors.
When Epstein, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., had first greeted the Amish with the Yiddish “Zeigazunt!” — “be healthy” — they understood. After all, the expression is derived from the Germanword “sei gesund.” As the two groups walked side by side on Brooklyn streets, Crown Heightsresidents did double-takes; the Amish could be mistaken for Lubavitchers at a quick glance. Buttheir hats are more square and their ruddy complexions from working outdoors contrasts with thepale faces of the studious, urban Lubavitchers.
Hasidic children in Crown Heights begin their formal schooling at age 3, and by age 5 are studyingmany hours a day. At the headquarters on Brooklyn’s Eastern Boulevard each day, dozens of mengather to pore over religious books, with little boys dashing around as their fathers fervently debatefine points of the texts — sometimes sounding more like spirited poker players than religiousfaithful.
John Lapp and his wife, Priscilla, brought their three children on the tour. John Lapp said the tiesto the communities might be more surface than substance.
“In some things we are alike, like our clothing and our traditional beliefs,” he said. Priscilla Lappadded, “And in some things we are not. The biggest thing is that Jesus is our savior.” The groups alsotoured a Jewish library and a “matzo factory,” where round, unleavened bread was being made forthe Passover holiday.
There, a cross-cultural misunderstanding caused one of the Jewish men to look at the Amish, andask, repeatedly, “Are you from Usbekhistan?” An Amish man retorted, also confused, asked,
“Afghanistan?” Finally, as they were leaving, another Amish man announced to the matzo-makers:”We’re from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania!”