“RABBI BERYL EPSTEIN’S Tennessee-bred charm has been his greatest asset in conducting tours through the Hasidic heart of Crown Heights for the past 14 years. But he thinks that the 24-seat bus he recently added might help him just as much. “Until now, people have had to go out of their way to go on the tour,” Epstein said. Although larger touring companies, such as Red Apple Tours, have started making incursions into Brooklyn, they pretty much stick to downtown, missing most of the borough’s ethnic enclaves. “I contacted Big Apple and Grey Line to see if they would be interested in swinging by this way,” said Epstein. “But they did not seem interested, so I just decided to do it myself.
” Those who are interested are large numbers of students, foreign visitors and curious locals who flock to Epstein for a closeup peek at a community that many perceive to be withdrawn from the rest of the world. “[Lubavitchers] are not like some Jewish version of the Amish,” said Epstein. “We are not only extroverted, but we like to take technology and use it for our own purposes.
” Epstein promotes his tours through listings in guidebooks, with the New York Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, through a Web site (www.
com) as well as old-fashioned word of mouth. For a growing number of people interested in New York attractions off the beaten path, but not so keen on a hike out of Manhattan, the addition of a bus is a great help. Rainer Ulfers, who went on an inaugural run of the bus tour Sept. 13 with a group of reporters and other tourists, said that when he asked tourism agents about visiting New York Jewish communities such as Williamsburg, Epstein’s tour was the only one he found. “I have read many things about Jewish people, but we do not have these communities in my country,” said Ulfers, a social worker on a 10-day visit from Hamburg, Germany. “I find the communities in Brooklyn are like little cities in themselves,” said Sara Keel, 26, a native of Freibourg, Switzerland, who is working as an intern at the Brooklyn Museum for the year. “Going on tours like this one is an easy way to get to know them a little bit.
” Regular weekly four-hour tours begin today, leaving from the New York Public Library in midtown Manhattan. The only downside to the convenience of the bus service is that it has more than doubled the price of the tour from $15 to $36 per person. The Crown Heights tours promise visitors privileged access to the community to take them “behind closed doors.
” And to a great extent, they deliver. As the bus cruised over the Manhattan Bridge and east of Grand Army Plaza onto Eastern Parkway, Epstein talked nonstop about Hasidic life. Whether the subject was the origin of various sects, his teenage days as the only Jew on his Knoxville high school football team, or Hasidic courtship, Epstein’s remarks were both thorough and leavened with a heaping dose of self-deprecating humor. “Even with matchmaking, it’s still up to the individual,” he said. “There are a lot of first dates, but the second dates are the serious ones.
” At 770 Eastern Parkway, world Lubavitcher headquarters, the visitors stood in the women’s section of the synagogue watching minyans of worshipers tefillin wrapped around their foreheads and left arms swaying as they prayed in the men’s section below. As Epstein leads tour groups down the community’s commercial strip along Kingston Ave., he is constantly greeted by passersby. The sights on the tour point both to the past of the community and its future. At the rebbe’s library next to Lubavitcher headquarters, there are rare books reflecting on Torahs smuggled out of Nazi Germany and an 1890 grandfather clock set to the lunar calendar. At Lefferts and Brooklyn Aves., there is a brand-new, block-long school for girls, which is already filled to capacity. At Kingston Ave. and Montgomery St., visitors can see the Shabbas alarm a siren 30 feet above the street that wails 18 minutes before sunset on Friday nights to alert the faithful to the start of the Sabbath. As visitors file into the Montgomery St. home of Yehuda Clapman, a Torah scribe, they crowd into the parlor which serves as his office, and watch as he silently and painstakingly details each letter with a quill made from a kosher turkey feather onto parchment made from the skin of a kosher calf. The scribe’s tools are all homemade, even down to the ink, composed of gum acacia, gall nuts and iron ore. “Every scribe has his own ink recipe,” said Epstein. “Some people can even tell which scribe did which Torah by looking at the parchment and the ink.
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