Last week I witnessed a chasidish man trying to pick up women on the platform at the Times Square-42nd Street station. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to hook up with strangers, there was something wrong with his approach.
He moved from woman to woman on the platform, always choosing women wearing skimpy party clothes. It was a Saturday night at Times Square, after all, and plenty of women were dressed for a night out.
He held his shtreimel in one hand, bekishe belt dangling loosely at his back, and used his other hand to make his intentions clear with each woman, touching them as he approached them. They all politely moved away and out of reach of his hand. Some smiled and talked to him while other just moved away and ignored him.
I recognized what was happening. I know that many chasidish men find no sexual satisfaction in their marriages and look for that elsewhere. I also know that unfortunately many chasidish men think all non-Jewish women are “loose women.” Having been taught that goyim are all immoral and have no ability for spiritual depth and meaning, some chasidish men think all goyishe women want sex with strangers all the time. And many also think that every woman can be bought for the right price.
Based on the clothing choices of the women he kept approaching, I assumed he thought he was smartly approaching prostitutes.
My brother had called me a few moments before I realized what was happening on the platform. So as I chatted with him about his upcoming graduation, I interrupted for a moment to say in Yiddish “there’s a chasidish man here trying to speak to all the woman at the station.” I’m not fluent enough in Yiddish to use the langauge I wanted to, so I improvised with the small vocabulary I do have.
The chasidish man heard Yiddish being spoken and turned around. I continued talking in Yiddish as we locked eyes, “mit bekishe ind shtreimel ind alles” (with a bekishe [long jacket] and shtreimel [tall fur hat] and all).
He turned around and walked away from me, sat down on a bench near a drag queen touching up her makeup. I moved closer to the bench and said “ich mein az er meinst az alle die frauen zennen zoinos” (I think that he thinks that all these women are hookers). He ignored me and sat in that same spot until the train came.
Aside from second-hand shame at the ignorance and misogyny displayed by someone whose background I have a vague connection with, this reminded me of my own experience a few years before.
I had gone to visit my parents, wearing pants for the first time. This had come after they kept asking me to visit more often and I explained that their idea of me just dropping by after work requires me to always carry a skirt with me. If they let me come home in pants, I could honor their wishes and come home more often. They reluctantly agreed, and I tested it with a short visit one evening, when I had plans for later that night in another part of Brooklyn.
As I stood at the bus stop on 39th Street and 12th Avenue, one block away from the warehouse-like Kollel Store (KRM Supermarket) which was now closed and dark, a minivan pulled up. A chasidish man, with a long white beard and wearing a bekishe, leaned over from the driver’s seat to peer out the window at me. I saw his lips moving but didn’t hear because I had headphones on. But then he rolled the window down further, inched his van a little closer, and motioned for me to get in the car. I couldn’t help the sneer that twisted my face, and I turned away.
When I glanced back in his direction, he was still staring at me, one hand on the wheel and the other in his lap. He lifted the hand from his lap and beckoned to me again, smiling in what he must have thought was a seductive manner but was just terrifyingly creepy. I wasn’t too scared because another woman standing nearby was watching with great fascination. He barely paid any attention to her, which I assumed was because she was black.
Eventually, after I ignored him for a good few minutes, he drove off.
I marveled at the idiocy – he obviously drove to a street on the outskirts of Jewish Boro Park and made a pass at me only when no frum people were around. But he didn’t even recognize the risk he was taking when he assumed that a girl in pants was not Jewish and would be down for sex with a stranger. He had no idea that the girl he chose grew up in his world and rejected it.
I had heard anecdotally about chasidish men who look for sex, who aggressively offer money to random women and ask them for a fuck. I hadn’t quite believed that it was a phenomenon until it happened to me.
On one hand, I felt like screaming at him that I’m Jewish and OTD and “I know what you’re doing and I am judging you.” On the other hand, I felt bad for him because he has so little knowledge about how to effectively have consensual one night stands. And on a third hand, I felt triumphant that I could apparently pass as completely secular and not be recognizable as having come from this community.