Diversity gets a lot of hype, but what’s the case for insularity?
In the overwhelmingly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Boro Park, in Brooklyn, the kosher stores operate a remarkable system known as ‘aufschraben,’ wherein customers can walk out carrying hundreds of dollars of groceries without paying a dime.
Essentially, it’s a system of credit: the store keeps track of people’s purchases and occasionally nudges them to settle their bills, which may go into the thousands. In fact, Simcha Friedman, the manager of the Super 13 supermarket, shown above, said that at any given moment his store may have “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in outstanding credit.
So why do it?
On one hand, it’s a way of luring Hasidic and Orthodox customers away from bigger, much more anonymous stores like Pathmark. But it’s also a way of maintaining an old custom that goes back to life in the shtetl, and since almost everyone in the community is related to each other, however, vaguely, there’s a sort of connectedness that is rare.
Most importantly, the system takes care of the poor. Low-income customers may find that their mounting bills have been paid off, anonymously, by a wealthier customer. Unlike other New York City neighborhoods, a high degree of economic integration exists here, so rich and poor live next to one another. If they didn’t, or if they were more dispersed, the system most likely wouldn’t work.
To learn more — about ‘aufschraben’ and the ways in which Orthodox Jews are inclusive — listen to my Micropolis story here.
And tell us: What do you think?