An eruv is a ritual enclosure that allows religious Jews to negate rules against carrying certain objects (like housekeys or strollers) during the Sabbath. This conversation is not about that.
Of Birds and Boundaries is a film and an art installation by Annie Berman, which was originally developed for the collaborative studio program at UnionDocs with Kara Oehler and Laura Mayer. The subject’s name and voice have been altered. You can read more background about the piece here.
Watch the original film online at the Living Los Sure project. The interactive installation is on view through October 5th, 2014 at the Ildiko Butler Gallery in New York City. You can follow Of Birds and Boundaries here.
Artist – Title – Album
Zammuto – Don’t Be a Tool – Anchor
Ensemble Enconomique – Fade for Miles – Melt into Nothing
Roly Porter – Caladan – Aftertime
Red Stars Over Tokyo – From a Distant Shore – Helen In The Mirror
Tim Hecker & Daniel Lopatin – Ritual for Consumption – Intrusions
Zammuto – Good Graces – Good Graces
Zammuto – Don’t Be a Tool – Anchor
Hi. Is this Marty?
Yes, Marty speaking.
This is Annie. We’d exchanged e-mails about the Craigslist ad.
I’m gonna ask you, are you recording me right now?
Yes, is that okay? I won’t use your name or anything, where you work or what you do…
And I can also change your voice a little, if you prefer.
Yeah, that would be even better. I don’t know who might be listening to it after this when it comes out, so better to be safe.
So I’m trying to find out more about the eruv in Williamsburg.
I heard that it’s a string that marks the boundary of a Hasidic Williamsburg. Is that accurate, is that how you would describe it?
Okay. Well, there are some things that you’re not allowed to do… for example like walking on the street with a baby stroller, or walking around with bags or having anything in your pocket. The eruv gives you the opportunity to do a lot of things that you’re not allowed to do without, according to the Jewish Halakha.
Okay, so I’m having a really hard time finding the string, the eruv, or anyone who’s Hasidic who can speak with me, and that’s why I put the ad on Craigslist. Would know off-hand what streets the eruv is on? Do you just know this, or…?
Actually, the guys who put up the eruv, they did it in a confidential way, because the other guys said that they’re gonna tear it down if they find it. So just a few, very few people know exactly where it is. That’s why you’re gonna have a hard time finding it, even myself. The rabbis came out and said that they saw it, and that everybody can be assured that it’s perfectly fine.
So you’ve never actually seen it.
No, I’ve never actually seen it. I just know that the rabbis said that it’s okay, and that’s it.
* * *
You put this ad on the Strictly… Which section of that?
Yeah, Strictly Platonic.
Yeah, Strictly Platonic. When I go on Craigslist and I look… I mean, I look at all the posts, but if I see something on Strictly Platonic, that gets my attention, sometimes I reply to that.
What other things have you found on Craigslist?
Oh, you can see over there… On Craigslist you have other sections, like Man for Woman, Woman for Man, most of that is like probably hookers or whores; I don’t even bother touching that ad. I mean, I’m gonna look it through, but I’m not gonna call them, or something. Sometimes it’s interesting. Sometimes I just wanna see what’s out there. What is your point of view about Hasidic people? Have you ever been close to Hasidic people? Did you ever look into it?
No. You know, I was raised Jewish, but I don’t know anything about Hasidism, and…
You were raised Jewish, right. So what – conservative, modern?
Oh, reformed. So you never looked into this Hasidic lifestyle before, you never checked it out online, you never speak to Hasidic people on the street?
Well, I have walked a little bit in Williamsburg and did see it, but I felt really uncomfortable being there. I felt like I was the only outsider and people didn’t really look at me. I felt like just by being there, and not even doing anything, I got the sense some people maybe crossed the street, or…
Listen, you don’t have to feel uncomfortable. The street is open for everybody, just walk by and… But you, when you come in the community you see people with big beards, and hats, and coats… I mean, you’re just like, “Oh, what’s going on over here? I’m in an Amish town, or… I don’t know where I am right now.” For outsider who’ve never been over here, to see so many people this way, maybe it’s kind of just like you felt… “Maybe I’m an outsider here, I don’t belong here.” But they can’t say, “Hey, Williamsburg is only for Jewish people.” I go on the street daily, and I see a lot of non-Jewish people walking around. There’s a lot of non-Jewish people who live here in the area, as well, so I’m not sure what you’re trying to understand. Are you trying to get to know just the whole concept of the area, or are you trying to get to know the whole issue of the eruv and what’s going on in Williamsburg?
I see. Are you currently in Williamsburg?
No, I’m moving to Williamsburg.
Well, that’s nice. So you’re gonna be staying here.
* * *
It’s a long time ago since I spoke to you last. How’s everything about you?
Oh, not bad… It’s kind of busy just because I’m trying to move on Sunday.
That should be good. Which area in Williamsburg are you gonna be in?
It is South…
On the South part?
Yeah, South part.
Maybe I’ll get to know you up close.
Yeah, yeah, we can meet. For sure. See a movie, or something. And also, I could hand off the camera to you maybe…
But I’m not exactly sure I understand what you want me to do. Do you want me just to film around people, just like to see how the basic lifestyle goes on?
Yeah, and sort of like anything that might look like a day in your life… I mean, without being identifying.
Well, I can try to do that for you.
And how was your weekend?
I had just a regular weekend, at home. You go to the synagogue, you pray, you meet your friends… Then you go home, you have the Shabbat meal. Saturday morning you do the same thing, and that’s about it. Just sitting around, and that’s about it. Because you don’t do anything at all: you’re not working, you don’t drive…
* * *
So do you think that the internet’s making it harder to contain the Hasidic community?
Sure, sure. They’ve specifically targeted the internet very much. Now they’re trying to come out with cell phones that don’t have internet browsers on them; so they’re gonna be for talking, not even texting. They call it ‘the Kosher phone’.
Really? So what makes the internet not Kosher?
They claim the internet not Kosher because, like, the thing that I’m doing with you right now, some people would say it’s not Kosher. Hey, hold on just for a second, I’m hopping out of the car.
Okay, I’ll tell you the truth. This is the problem with the society, because they’re so close-minded, so anything that seems a little bit different, a little bit strange, they’re curious: “Oh, what is this? What is he saying? What is she saying?”
So do you find that there’s freedom within the community for you?
I don’t know. I just can’t escape from it. I even see myself trapped in it. I’m gonna hurt a lot of people if I leave; my family, my kids… It’s gonna be a lot of pain involved, it’s gonna be a lot of headaches for many different people. Let me explain to you something, and maybe you’re not gonna understand what I’m trying to say, but I hope you’ll understand. It’s very hard for a guy like me, or any Hasidic guy who comes from a real Hasidic house… All those guys who are coming from ex-Hasidic communities, let’s say they were Hasidic and they dropped out, some of them have a very hard time to be happy with themselves. Even if they go out secular world, there’s still gonna be a difference between them and, like… A real secular guy was born secular, right? Unless he is deciding he’s gonna get educated, and he’s gonna go and get a bachelor’s degree, and start to get something out of him. Most of them end up driving trucks, or working in warehouses, and this type of stuff. It’s very hard for such a guy to make the decision, and to decide, “Okay, I’m dropping out of the Hasidic community.” They are basically the same as I am.
So you think that if you’re raised with more education that you would have more freedom to do those things?
I would definitely say that, but since they don’t provide that type of education, they just give you the minimum of education that you need… Okay, I don’t mean educated completely; I mean to know to read, and to write, and everything you know… grammar, the way to talk English… Because it’s not the native, I mean, it’s not the real language. It’s the second language. They are born and raised on the Yiddish language. I’m not shy about it, because I know that this is the way I am; but I don’t have the best English, and I’m still trying to communicate with everybody.
But do you think that the education system is intentional, because it’s a way to keep…
Yes, absolutely. Intentionally they do that, because they don’t want you to mix into the secular world, they want you to stay Hasidic. Hold on one second.
Hi… That’s okay. So yeah, I’m gonna have to go soon, but I just wanted to call back.
That’s okay… So let’s talk about yourself. Let me ask you about… You probably went to college, right?
And it’s full of fun probably, no isn’t it?
Yeah, it is.
It sounds like it is fun, according to the movies and what I’ve watched, so…
I don’t know if it’s true what I see, because I used to watch a lot of porn. I used to see a lot of the college porn, they were always having sex; every night and every day, they’d get drunk, they would be dancing, and everything. I was always thinking, “How can you concentrate on the stuff that you have to learn if you have this much going on?” And generally, everybody who ended up graduating over there in college, did they end up with a good career, or something? Do they have a good job now?
People I know, who have even graduate school degrees are having trouble. It’s a very hard, competitive time.
Right. I’m just trying to see for myself like… A secular guy who ends up being in college, how far off are the Hasidic guys from the secular guys? That’s what I’m trying to understand, so that’s why I’m asking you this question. Are you currently in a relationship?
Yeah, I am.
Right. Let me ask you a thing… I always wanted to know this right from the secular part of the world: how does a man decide “I’m getting married to this woman, and I’m staying with her”? But say after two years, whatever, he finds a girl that’s much hotter than his current wife. How does it work?
That’s a good question.
It’s very hard for a man to stay with a woman for a long period of time. This is my point of view.
I’ve noticed that too, and I find it very sad, as a woman. Yeah, because…
I’m not trying to scare you off, but the thing is… I mean, I would say, men are like pigs, let’s put it this way. Men, they get attracted to a lot of things, so even if it’s… Let’s say, for example, Tiger Woods – he had a beautiful wife, right? I would exchange my wife to have what he has, and still he went out with ten different women. It’s very very hard to understand how people stay together.
Yeah. So how many years have you been married?
I’ve been married for almost five years.
Yeah, that’s a long time.
And how old are you now?
I am 25. That’s pretty old in the Hasidic community, to get married at 21. A lot of guys get married at 18 or 19. Some of them get engaged at 17 even. I met my wife three times before we officially announced our engagement. Afterwards I decided, like “Oh, she’s nice, she doesn’t look bad, she’s looking good, she’s good looking,” and I decided I’ll just sign myself in this, like everybody else.
And do you think you made the right choice?
Well, this is a question that I think nobody can answer. As of now, I’m thankful that everything is going right and everything is good. Sometimes we do have some issues, which every normal couple has.
But I’ll tell you the truth… After half a year, after I got married, and before I even worked some things out with my wife, I just…at some point I got really frustrated with my wife, that she wasn’t the thing that I thought of. And I called up my mom and I said, “Listen, mom, I don’t know who this girl is. You said she’s nice – yes, she’s very nice, but she has very different tastes,” and she really didn’t dress right, she didn’t dress stylish enough. She was more dressed the way that teachers in school have to dress, more modest and more closed. And I didn’t like that, so I told my mom, “Mom, I’m very disappointed with her. I thought it would be better than that.” Then she started saying that, “You look around on other girls and you’re not supposed to do that, and that’s why you get yourself crazy about it. Those girls that dress nicely, they are the most selfish ones; they don’t care about the husband, they’re not caring, and blah-blah-blah.” So I said, “Mom, maybe you’re right about that,” but definitely that’s an issue that I’m looking into very closely. Not like she’s bad… She’s trying to do the best she can. She always asks me, “Do you like this, do you like that? Tell me, and I’m gonna do whatever you want me to do.”
If you don’t mind, let me ask you about… How about a girl in the secular world, what is their mindset about sex, and everything?
Well, you know, it is complicated, even in the secular world. There are still so many ways to be brought up, and there are so many different kinds of relationships, sexual relationships, and so I don’t even know how to answer that. But…
Sometimes after I have sex, I’m thinking to myself, “That’s not the way the way these guys have sex on the pornos. It sounds like much better than that.”
Right, it’s really unrealistic. You know, those people aren’t real, and they’re just trying to create a fantasy that doesn’t even exist in their real life. Those actors don’t have sex like that.
Right. Yep… Anyways, that’s how life goes on. I’m a big fantasizer too, I love fantasy. Sometimes I can just sit and fantasize everything.
And what do you imagine?
Well, I was always thinking what it would have been like on the other side, like the partying stuff. This is what I was always thinking about.
So what are some of your other fantasies?
Having a party, enjoying, dancing, singing, having sex, having everything. Because it’s a whole different… You see, as I look at it, and you look at it – it’s different views because you never really had any physical connection with a woman until you got married. You didn’t have pre-marital sex, you didn’t have all this stuff. For me, being married to one woman, having had sex just with one woman, I was always like fantasizing what it would have been like when I was in college; I would probably be going and banging everybody. But fantasies can’t hurt. So far it still stays a fantasy, so… It doesn’t cost money and it doesn’t hurt, so why not…
* * *
Can we talk about the eruv again, just a little bit?
Sure. Actually, I’ll tell you… I really enjoy more talking about many different things than the eruv. I mean, I can talk about the eruv as long as you want, but it’s not a thing that I like. That’s just another issue in the community, another problem, people making everybody crazy about it. But what I enjoy is, I enjoy talking about everything.
Like anything you want. Anything you wanna hear.
Yeah… Huh. I was thinking a lot also about our conversations about relationships, and how it seems like men and women can’t kind of make it on a sustained, committed way, and I remember when you told me at the time… I just thought that was really sad to know that neither of us have figured it out, like in secular, or Hasidic, or other religious societies… I guess it’s also maybe just that I’ve been personally thinking about all this because, you know, I mentioned that I was engaged, but we broke up actually, that’s why I also moved. So – and he found somebody else after we were together for so long, so I’m also going through all of that, and wondering, you know, if it is possible for people to make it.
What was he like? What happened that you broke up?
Well, it was really shocking to me, and horrible and it happened just two months ago. We’ve been together for so long, and we were engaged, and we were gonna get married maybe this summer, and he wasn’t Jewish… It didn’t seem to be a problem, but it started to become… I think when we thought about children and family it became more of a thing. Then his father died just after Christmas, and then he decided we weren’t really the right people for each other, and then he ran off with another girl.
Wow… It probably was pretty heartbreaking to you…
It was awful, yeah… It was terrible. That’s why when you were talking early on, like the first time we talked, and the second time, about all men are pigs, and like, if they see a woman… That’s why I’m like, “That’s so sad,” because I would like to think that somebody could figure it out… Maybe it is by doing it like a traditional approach, like the Hasidic community maybe…
* * *
If you wanna call me back in an hour, that’s probably gonna work for me, too. I’ll tell you then if I can talk or not.
Okay, I’m actually not gonna be around then, so maybe tonight or tomorrow.
Tonight or tomorrow, I won’t do that because…
Oh, I forgot. [laughter] Of course, I know. I’m a bad…
Oh no, that’s okay. That’s really how it’s for people who never lived that way… It’s like, “Oh, you’re not talking on the phone on Saturday? What’s wrong with you? Why, what’s the problem?” But it’s okay, I’m used to it. I mean, one thing is interesting for me for sure… How many times have I been talking to you in the past? And I don’t even know to whom I’m talking to…
Yeah, it’s kind of like a pen pal, you know?
Yeah… I mean, I have no problem. If you want, I can send you a picture back.
Oh, thanks. But here is the thing – maybe we shouldn’t know what each other look like… Do you think that’s gonna change things?
If you wanna go that way… No problem. Okay, that’s no problem. But you can at least describe yourself.
Oh, sure, yeah. I have brown hair, it’s usually short-ish, but now it’s to my shoulders. And brown eyes, I’m about 5’6″.
And your body is like, thin, or…?
Well, I have small bones, I guess… I weigh like 115…
Do you have any idea of how I look?
No. I know you have blue eyes, a beard, the payoses sometimes, right? You curl them, or pull them back.
Yes, you’re right. I curl it up all the way on my ears, so… You don’t see it. I mean, what I’m saying, I may look from the outside like Hasidic, like I am not trimmed. I have a very small beard, and you’re not gonna recognize me if I walk on the street…
* * *
Hey, Marty. It’s Annie, I’m sorry I missed your calls. Thank you um for your text, I hope you had a good Shabbat. I did, too… I ate way too much challah and actually felt kind of sick. Anyway, thank you for taking images with the flip camera, and… Yeah, if you wanted to swing by today and drop it off, anytime should be fine. I was curious if you were able to try to shoot where you thought the eruv might be. But I hope you’re doing well, and I look forward to hearing from you. Talk to you soon, bye!
* * *
I think I passed your house already…
Whoops, okay… It’s basically like South 1st.
322 you said, right?
It’s 322, right.
I’m right there in the front, let me see if I can find some parking. I’m double-parked.
You’re double-parked? Okay, one sec.
Okay, no problem.
Hello? You still there?
Oh yeah, so Andre is coming out with the… Camera.
* * *
– How are you?
– Good, thank you. Did you have fun with the camera?
– Oh yeah… I have many different cameras.
– Yeah, right, right… Okay.
– I just… Actually, I just put in brand new batteries for it.
– Okay, got it. You take care.
* * *
Hey Marty. How are you?
Yes, I’m great.
Okay, good. So… How was your day?
Not bad, although towards the end of the day I got in such an awful mood… It probably has to do with the weather, I don’t know. By the way… What’s his name… Your roommate – Andre, or whatever?
He’s a very nice guy. I was kind of surprised. He has like a little beard…
I was surprised, I thought only Hasidics go out with beards…
No, I know that a lot of Jewish people have beard, but… I didn’t expect to see somebody with a beard coming down… Let me ask you one more quick question before I go for the night.
You said you went out for a date yesterday, right?
Yeah, was he Jewish?
He is Jewish. Not practicing… But yeah.
So… What can I say, probably I’ll be continuing talking to you in the future. So uh…
Okay… I really have enjoyed our conversations and I’m really appreciative for your openness. It’s more than I expected…
Yeah… No problem. Okay, take care of yourself and have a good night.
Thank you, bye…
* * *
Yes, I was looking for some pickled herring.
Oh, I love pickled herring.
Yes, you do?
Yeah, because my grandparents loved it…
You know all the stuff…
You know hummus, and challah, and Shabbat, and everything… I mean it was like, “Oh, she’s more Jewish than I thought.”
Yeah, maybe I’m more Jewish than I thought, too…
Nick van der Kolk, Host, Director & Producer
Brendan Baker, Producer
Laura Mayer, Producer
Annie Berman, Producer
Kara Oehler, Producer