Jewish New York

There are many Orthodox Jews living in New York. I already had a chance to observe their customs when on a trip in Israel many years ago, so I wasn’t really surprised by anything I saw here (I already wrote on Just Like NY about Williamsburg, which has a large Jewish population). This doesn’t mean that I am not taken aback by some aspects of their culture, like childbearing. They usually have about 10 children per family. A usual sight on an NYC street is a mom with five kids (can you imagine taking 10 to the subway?).

I went to Monroe, NY, for Christmas – it’s an hour away from Manhattan. It’s a typical Jewish community, where every backyard has more kids than most of the Polish kindergartens. It’s typical for a family here to have more than 10 children. In an era when women keep wondering how to handle one kid, I couldn’t imagine having that many of them.

Of course, these women hire help, babysitters and housecleaners (from Eastern Europe, Georgia and Albania). As far as babysitting goes, the system works so that kids over three years old take care of the younger ones. It’s a norm here for a barely walking child to carry a baby, which resembles a doll in its tiny hands.

Those women’s husbands are making really good money, but that’s not all. Here’s the trick. Since those marriages are usually not recognized by the law (they only happen within religious order), many of those Jewish mothers are treated as single moms, which entitles them for $400 per kid. Do the math and see how much a “single mom” can cash in every month. That, plus the husband’s salary. I am not saying that to feed this crowd doesn’t take money, and I won’t even think about the amount of laundry detergent needed, but still, the welfare benefit is not insignificant. Kids spend a lot of time at school (it happens that the boys come back as late as 8 pm), but I can still barely imagine being a mom to such a big crowd.

My friend’s boss was married twice, so he has 26 kids by now… Don’t even ask me how that’s possible – I don’t have the answer.