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We were part ofJewish history. We were part of the magical
world of Hasidism. We were privileged to be in the hallowed
scene at 770 Eastern Parkway on Slichos morning. The aura of
the blessed Rebbe frames every inch of the sanctuary, every
square of the renovated and venerated building.
We were part of the inaugural Hasidic Tours, that leave from
Midtown Manhattan in a modem bus with the latest of technology comforts and winds its way in less than half an hour,
unfolding the doors to the mystical world of Hasidism, in
Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York. It’s an educational experience that packs more knowledge of the Hasidic way of life in
this one 4-hour adventure, than can be culled from books and
scholastic courses.
Credit Rabbi Beryl Epstein, who heads Hasidic Discovery
Welcome Center, a 16-year-tour veteran, though only 36, with
a medium sized red, flowing beard, who was born and raised
in Tennessee, “a town that had only six Jewish families,” he
tells the eclectic group, as he tutors them not only on Hasidic
tales — history — but of the Rebbe — of the changed Crown
Heights of ’91 where riots had occurred — of the new upscale
ambiance that isoccuring with real estate soaring as 770— “the
number all of the globe knows is (was) the home ofThe Rebbe.”
And the side-by-side accommodation that has grown —exists
between the Blacks and the Jews here, today.
There were 2 Chinese, 3 Swiss young nationals, two Latinos,
8 young Americans from Middle America, and the South West,
and some dozen Jews, middle-aged and senior who said, “We
never knew much about Hasidics, only that they always wore
black Rarb and ‘stremel,’ ‘hats.'” Another said, “We thought
tYu?y were like the Pennsylvania Dutch because of their dress.”
Rabbi Epstein was quick on the response, “No, no, no we are
not!” going to explain in his flair for lively discourse and to
invite questions from the group.
In honor of the forthcoming Jewish New Year, a shofar blowing ceremony at the 42 St. Library, where the tour initiates,
greeted participants, as well as Hasidics dancing, by young
bearded students, as many New Yorkers stopped to marvel.
“This is an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at a culture that,
for the most part, has hidden itself away from the general population for over 200 years.”
Various sites were pointed out as new yeshivot in gleaming
colored brick facades, newly built condominiums that sell in
the $300,000 range, as well as aged “shetibles” that are too prayer
havens. Most interesting perhaps, to us, at least, was the Brooklyn Jewish Center, a Conservative jewel in Brooklyn, that was
dedicated in 1920, and purchased 16 years ago by Hasidic
LubavitcherJews, who converted it to The Reebe’s foresight of
the growing community of his people.
“What people who don’t know Crown Heights, are unaware
of is that it was The Rebbe that stopped the declining of the
community by some unscrupulous real estate brokers in the
60s, who had many Jews flee, sell their homes and move to
Kingston Avenue, here,” Rabbi Epstein explained. “The Rebbe
called a halt to the flight and Hasidics stayed, did not sell. That
was the beginning of a new and prosperous chapter as Hasids
wanted to live and pray at 770.”
The unfortunate chapter of the Crown Heights 1991 riots
has passed, with unity and peace now, he said, as the bus
stopped at 770, and the group ascended to the third floor, the
women’s prayer wing. (We had taken the self-service elevator
to the hallowed floor.)
Young women, with toddlers, and older females in sheitels
were scattered among the wooden pews. The tour group gathered around the first rows of benches as Rabbi Epstein pointed
to the hundreds of males wrapped in white prayer shawls and
tefillin on their foreheads “shukeled” swayed, “each in their
own manner on this morning of Slichos,” explaining the heart
and the nuances. He also pointed to the balcony where The
Rebbe would address his followers in this huge sanctuary
Continued on page 14

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