While the character of Bedford-Stuyvesant remains largely African-American, there has also been a large and growing influx of Hasidic Jews from the Satmar sect in Williamsburg.
In particular, this Jewish sect has been moving in and around Skillman Street from Flushing to Lafayette Avenues. (Skillman is couched between Bedford and Franklin avenues.)
We spoke with a few members of both the black and Jewish community around the strip to get a read on the changing neighborhood. All the following people questioned would only give their first name, and some refused to even give that.
Lilly, who has been in the neighborhood for over 40 years, said she has been deluged by religious Jews offering to buy her house, but she refuses to sell.
“The Jews came and wanted to rent from me, but they have too many kids,” said Lilly, a retired nurse who lives and owns a brownstone along Bedford Avenue, and whose backyard faces Skillman Street. “They don’t bother anyone even when they are in white neighborhoods. They stick to themselves.”
“I understand with all the kids they need more room, but I worked hard my whole life and no one is pushing me out,” she said, adding that it’s a shame that increasing numbers of black families are leaving the neighborhood, but it’s hard for longtime residents to afford the rent.
Yakov, a member of the Satmar sect, said he moved to Bed-Stuy from Williamsburg about five years ago with his wife and children.
“We are welcome here and are good neighbors. We shop at all the local stores and support black-owned businesses,” he said.
Yakov said it is only natural that the community is on Skillman as it is close to the Jewish community in Williamsburg.
The sect tends to have a lot of kids; a lot of families are on Section 8, but there are also a lot of Jewish charity organizations that help with paying rent, he said.
Joel, another Satmar who has lived in the neighborhood a few years, noted that the sect is not Zionist – meaning they do not believe in the current State of Israel. That Israel can only be established when the Messiah comes.
“When we are in exile we are obligated to get along with all our neighbors,” he said.
But Tawana, who has lived on Skillman Street her entire life, said the Jewish kids often block the sidewalk and make comments to her as if she is inhuman.
Devine, who also lives on Skillman, said a Jewish man asked him where he could get a black girlfriend and he replied he didn’t know because he was married.
“As far as their mannerisms go, it would be nice if they said ‘Thank you’,” Devine said.
Another black woman on the block, who did not give her name, noted that Jews, like blacks, have a long history of being oppressed and persecuted.
“We’ve both been through a lot and we should all get along,” the woman said.
Several African-Americans sitting on stoops alleged that the religious Jews got special treatment when applying for public assistance, including getting served in a different area of the building and having less of a wait.
But a city Department of Social Services spokesperson denied the accusation.
“Everyone who goes to the job centers get treated the same. They fill out the same forms and are in the same waiting area,” the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, one black family enjoying the pleasant weather on their Skillman Street stoop, said they recently sold their house to the Jews and will be moving in two months.
“We’re moving to East New York,” said one of the women.