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Black Hat Like Me

As a youngster I read a famous book called Black Like Me, I have since reread it and found it to be one hell of a book. For all you uncultured ones who would rather sit for hours in front of a TV or video games rather then read, it is a book about a white man who decides to experiment with race in the 1960s. He has a dark look already, so he tans himself and sets out for the south as a lighter skinned black man. He documents the way people treat him and then he goes back to the same places as a white man and documents how he is treated and compares. It is a profound book to say the least.

So I have started to write my own book, Black Hat Like Me. The book will document my experiences as a modern orthodox Jew and compare them with what its like to be a black hat wearing Jew. Similar to Black Like Me, Black Hat Like Me will only be possible because I have had enough experience in both the modern orthodox and yeshiva communities to be a chameleon and get along in both, without being suspected as an infiltrator.

Unlike the YU to the right crowd, I have enough knowledge to know that there are more to talking yeshivish then using words like davka and mamish, I also know how to thumb dip, clop bimas, mumble yale veyavo loudly to remind everyone to say it, follow along during laining to correct the baal koreh and where to find those weekday sneakers that look like shabbos shoes from afar.

On the other hand I can switch over to modern orthodoxy easily by talking about my experiences in camp Moshava, growing up on the upper west side, attending coed day school and through various friends stories- NCSY conventions. I am also familiar with such staples of the modern orthodox movement as JOFA(Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) Rabbi Saul Berman, Avi Weiss and Hillary Clinton. Not only do I have all of this knowledge I also have the skill to switch easily and confidently from a black velvet yarmulke and black hat to the khaki, blue shirt and kipa sruga look and can pull it off much better then any yeshiva guy off the derech could.

I have preliminary sketches for the book and plan on moving to Monsey, NY to complete the first half of the project which includes immersing myself in a city that some people refer to as Ir Hakodesh yeshivish people frequently refer to Lakewood, Monsey and Borough Park as holy cities, while places like Teanack, Lawrence and Riverdale will be forever remembered as oh those places are modern, and those will be the next part of the project.

One of the issues I have with the whole concept of Black Hat Like Me is that, while the yeshiva black hat community has stayed the same over the past 10 years or so, the modern orthodox community has drastically changed. It used to be that modern meant the women didnt dress tznius and refused to cover their hair, the children went to coed schools, and the family ate milchigs out on ski vacations. Switch ten years forward and thanks to increased flip outage during the year spent in Israel after high school, something called modern orthodox machmir has emerged out of the ruble of broken households unnerved that their children spent the year in Israel actual learning and not experiencing life as they know it.

The dynamic has changed so much that there are actual frum people that call themselves modern. Folks that follow torah and halacha, yet refuse to don the symbol of frumkeit, the black hat- and instead roam around in regular street clothes and actually know something about the secular world. Another issue is that with the invention of internet, many yeshiva people have since become more modern, creating lines that are blurred between the black hat and modern communities. This is why it is so important that I become part of real black hat and modern communities- and I cannot settle on quasi- communities like Passaic and Far Rockaway- where the people are seemingly modern or yeshivish- but are really hybrids of the two.

I suppose the project may turn out differently then I suspect, but I think the results will be somewhat like this. I will become a yeshivish person and live in a yeshiva and then a modern community. Then I will do the same thing as a modern orthodox person. I will compare treatment in terms of many things. Most importantly I am shidduch dating, but since I am an older single according to the yeshiva world, they may have reduced my net worth to that of a 22 year old modern guy- who knows how it really works. I will compare potential shidduchim and their quality in different realms.

Another thing will be peoples overall friendliness towards me, I understand completely that since it is the NY metro area I can expect people to be downright cold and unwilling to open up their hearts to the new guy who looks like everyone else, or sticks out like a sore thumb. Have you ever seen a black hatter at OZ or the Jewish Center, it is unheard of. Just like being the only kipa sruga, khaki, blue shirt guy at some random Lakewood basement shul.

I think it will be a great book and I am looking forward to the coming months as I will be documenting my findings on this here blog.

{ 35 comments… add one }
  • Ozzy February 25, 2008, 10:16 AM

    Thanks for giving me something to read as I wait in this boring jury duty room for the next 7 hours with computers that still use windows 95. Only 3 other jews spotted besides me. It’s going to be a long day.

  • Left Brooklyn and never looked back February 25, 2008, 11:11 AM

    Sounds like a great project. Have you read “Sliding to the Right” by Samuel Heilman?

  • Jersey February 25, 2008, 1:42 PM

    Have you seen the famous Eddie Murphy sketch where he whitens his skin to see how white people live?

  • SuperRaizy February 25, 2008, 1:48 PM

    Be careful. If “the Gedolim” find out about this, they’re going to proclaim a ban on any Jew who tries to write a book.

  • mazearist February 25, 2008, 2:53 PM

    Give Shalom Auslander a run for his money! Unlike him, you are keeping the faith, while thinking freely at the same time. Good luck on this ambitious endeavor! I can’t wait to read your book.

  • Leah February 25, 2008, 3:55 PM

    So how long do you expect this to take? And will you actually go out with any shidduchim suggested to you under false pretenses? That would make for some good blog entries, I presume.

  • Hesh February 25, 2008, 4:10 PM

    The best thing would be for the gedolim to ban anything of mine- I think it may even be one of my career goals- then business will be great.

  • SuperRaizy February 25, 2008, 4:17 PM

    I knew you were gonna say that.

  • Hesh February 25, 2008, 4:27 PM

    I said it a long tie ago- but with the rash of recent bans maybe they will take another shot at the bloggers.

  • Chutznikit February 25, 2008, 4:29 PM

    Hey hesh,

    You inspired me to try to do an israeli blog. plz add me as a link. plzzzzzz…

  • Joacim Cans February 25, 2008, 4:44 PM

    I’m still waiting for them to ban oxygen. Comeon, no one needs that gashmiyus.

  • suitepotato February 25, 2008, 4:58 PM

    “And where does the newborn go from here? The net is vast and infinite. ”
    -Motoko Kusinagi, Ghost in the Shell

    That blurring of the lines brought this to mind. The blurring will only get more pronounced and the distinctions less so. No grandiose reforms, no great new movements, simply something that was born of what happens while people were making other plans.

  • Chutznikit February 25, 2008, 5:12 PM


  • miriam February 25, 2008, 7:38 PM


    Have you read the part about all the threats to his life that he got because of what he revealed?

    Also, I think would have been better if you did it without fanfare and announcement. Assuming you really are going to do something like this.

  • utubefan February 25, 2008, 7:52 PM

    “and can pull it off much better then any yeshiva guy off the derech could.” Love that. And love those Yeshiva guys off the d. Met up with one the other day at the Seforim store. Tried to get the look down, but you knew he was just a drop out. When asked for the bio of the Rav, asked “Which Rav?” Actually said “Eretz Yisroel” instead of Israel. That would be fun for you. Try using the wrong terms while wearing the hat and see how they treat you. I guess they’ll assume you’re a BT and then choose to politely dismiss you. Either way, I have two words: Hidden cameras.

  • Hesh February 25, 2008, 8:43 PM

    I was being awfully sarcastic in this post and didn’t think everyone would fall for it- its kind of like my post way back on the shidduch questions and how ridiculous they were- it was also semi-fictional.

    This would be a great thing to pull off- and now that I am moving to Monsey it may even work- but who knows. Don’t worry guys I wont judge you that you fell for my sarcasm.

    Chitznik- how can I refuse with such a flattering statement “you inspired me” wow- such an ego boost- the last guy I inspired lasted less then 2 weeks- though what he wrote was brilliant.

  • ???? February 25, 2008, 8:53 PM

    if you want to come to monsey and stay in a nice normal household where no one will judge you post a way for me to contact you privately. i think its possible for my family and i to open up your eyes; not everyone is close minded and judgmental.

  • Hesh February 25, 2008, 9:32 PM

    Haha, you know that this post was a joke right? Anyway I think most people are open minded, they just don’t reside within the orthodox community.

    email me frumsatire@gmail.com

  • Yitzchak February 25, 2008, 10:01 PM

    that would shaek up the frum world!!
    please write it, or all of your readers are going to be on tenterhooks forever. if you dont something bad will probably happen; some inrittated reader will turn up at your door and demand you write.
    or, if you do, they will impose a chumra and ban it from bookstores.

  • Hesh February 25, 2008, 10:11 PM

    If someone gave me the chizuk I woudl be able to do something. Chizuk comes in the form of money, publishers or fame. But I do need someone who is in the publishing world to talk to me about something of the sort.

  • utubefan February 25, 2008, 11:09 PM

    I would say that I’m relieved because it seemed like a weird thing to do if you were seriously interested in marriage right now, sort of, but I’m so not relieved to hear that you will be moving to Monsey. I hope that’s sarcastic too because Monsey is quite the bastion of Chumrafreakincraziness, loonytown, really. And, if I was a postal worker…but alas I am a loving Jew, I love everyone…even my neighbors.

  • tnspr569 February 25, 2008, 11:17 PM

    I would love to read such a book.

    Yeah, could you believe it? There are people out there who give Modern Orthodoxy a good name. Shocking, I know.

  • Yaakov February 26, 2008, 12:04 AM

    ha ha good idea

  • Anonymous February 26, 2008, 2:50 AM

    Hmmm I’m actually writing a masters thesis for an anthropology department about how the ‘classic’ boundaries of orthodoxy in the twentieth century are becoming blurred in the 21st. Where what looks like ‘modern’ can be deceptively yeshivish and what looks ‘yeshivish’ seems awfully ‘modern’.

  • mark February 26, 2008, 7:36 AM

    yep. another chofetz chaim guy who thinks he knows what yeshivish is.

  • Yochanan February 26, 2008, 10:33 AM

    You could be an ambassador between different communities.

    “Either way, I have two words: Hidden cameras.”

    You could narrate it in a Crocodile Hunter style Australian accent: “I am approaching the black-hatter in its natural habitat.”

  • heimish in bp February 26, 2008, 10:53 AM

    Hesh, yes you inspire alot of us, I think, especially me, and every time i read your blog (which which is sometimes ten times a day) I think of bloggig myself. But i cant imagine anyone ever finding it or reading it, so why put in an effort.

    Another reason why i am hestating about it, is because You have opened up your life for the world to see, which i guess you are very comfortable with, I on the other hand, cant imagine doing that, especially as long as i am living in BP, and sending my kids to cheder there.
    Hopefully one day

  • Chutznikit February 26, 2008, 3:47 PM

    Gosh, I also thought you were serious..
    I’ve always wondered if MO ppl really are friendlier, or it just seems that way.

    Ps.The diff is this time u inspired a girl hesh, hence the “it” in chutznikit 🙂

    But judging by the many first (and last) chapters of books I write, if i stick around for 2 weeks that’ll be pretty good going

  • MONKEYCHER February 26, 2008, 7:14 PM

    I seriously started doubting your sanity, so thanks for clearing things up. 😉
    But…if you were even half-willing to do such an expose, I’d have to warn you that today’s Dr. Phil episode was exactly about this: “Do you know someone whose private persona is dramatically different from the face he or she shows to the world? Dr. Phils guests say their mates lead a double life, and it’s wreaking havoc on their relationships.”
    Hesh, I so want to you as a guest on the show.

    Dr. Phil: So, Hesh, you dated a Monsey girl (who declined to appear on our show) for three whole weeks. She believed she was getting a proposal any day. But then the truth came out. What did you tell her?

    Hesh: Well, I could tell you, but then there’d be no point in you reading my book. Just published by Feldheim, and the latest addition to Oprah’s Book Club, “Black Hat Like Me” follows my journey from…well, you’ll just have to read it. Notice that the first twelve pages are actually endorsements from prominent rabbanim, several of them still living, and none speakers of the English language.

    I’d seriously consider this if I were you, Hesh. 😉

  • heshman February 26, 2008, 8:37 PM

    Wow my great lengthy comments that were posted in response to everyone yesterday never appeared- such issues with the site- my web designer did some stuff but some other stuff got messed up.

    Anyway Hemish in BP you can always become like the numerous other Charedi secret bloggers out there- some of whom are on the blogroll.

    Chutznik- you have to stick with it, most bloggers last 2 weeks if that. I didn’t start this with popularity in mind- that just happened.

    Now that I have received some emails pushing me to do a project like this I may do something of the sort. First of all Utube- Monsey will provide me with a wealth of material- and I will be having some regularly updated “my exp in Monsey” posts.

    Moneycher- interesting name- and amazing comment.

  • Jacob da Jew February 26, 2008, 9:02 PM

    Good luck yo…I might have some ideas who might publish your book, offline.

  • heimish in bp February 27, 2008, 9:46 AM

    Hesh, can you please point out which one of those on your blogroll are secret Charedi bloggers?

  • heshman February 27, 2008, 10:17 AM

    I only have three-

    The Shaigetz- his blogroll will have more- and usually names like “gay ex-chassid” should give them away.

    Nuch epes a Chussid

    And Lakewood Venter.

    If you click the link in my blogroll for the long list of orthodox Jewish blogs you will see tons in there.

    Oh and Hasid and Heretic is also on the blogroll

  • Steg (dos iz nit der teg) January 1, 2009, 2:27 AM

    i’ve seen guys in black hats at OZ

  • Frum Satire January 1, 2009, 2:29 AM

    I am sure you have as I have seen modern guys in new square

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