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During the past five years or so of living in the Crown Heights/Prospect Heights area of Brooklyn, I have noticed what seems to be a growing number of Orthodox women wearing very stylish clothes. Many of them look so trendy, in fact, that despite their sheitl (wig), wrist-length tops and knee- or even ankle-length skirts, it can be almost impossible to tell whether they are Orthodox or not. (Usually, the giveaway is that they are hanging out with similarly stylish yet modestly dressed women.)
Orthodox women are supposed to follow the laws of tznius, which means “modesty.” But a few years ago, when I asked a friend about the phenomenon of Orthodox women who wear stylish clothes, he told me it is sometimes referred to as “tznius sexy.”
I first used the term “tznius sexy” in print in a story I wrote for the New York Times earlier this year about a flower shop in the Lubavitch community of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. But I didn’t get to really explore the subject until this week’s story in the Forward, “Orthodox Women Push Limits of Modesty.”
On a recent Sunday, Nechama Silverberg slipped into a vintage skirt at a pop-up consignment store in Brooklyn, trying on clothes as any other hip 20-year-old might, but for one difference: She carefully measured whether the skirt revealed her knees.
Around her in the Frock Swap, an Orthodox clothing business celebrating its first anniversary, were other women pushing the boundaries of modesty: an exposed elbow here, a bare collarbone there, a skirt that ended at just the wrong side of a pair of knees. Many were on the lookout for unique outfits for the coming High Holy Days. Some were engaged in angst-ridden mental calculations about whether an item was tznius — modest according to Jewish law — and if not, how it could be altered.
Orthodox Women Push Limits of Modesty (The Forward)
Makers of electronic instruments, tapped by Hollywood, unveil their latest : The hymnotron
You might never have heard of Brian and Leon Dewan or their oddball musical creations, such as the melody gin or the folk synthesizer. But, chances are, you have heard the swarmatron play.
Its haunting, discordant sound lurked within the shadows of this year’s “Little Red Riding Hood” movie and punctuated large parts of Trent Reznor’s soundtrack to last year’s “The Social Network.”
Since Reznor bought a swarmatron in 2010, and since he won last year’s Oscar for Best Original Score, the Dewan cousins have scrambled to meet demand, following what Brian recently described as “the surge.”
“I’ve been busting my a** doing woodwork all the time,” said Brian, 48, who builds the wooden shells for Dewanatron instruments at his home in Catskill, N.Y., and then lugs them to his cousin Leon, in nearby New Rochelle, to be filled with homemade electric circuitry.
The Dewans have sold almost 30 handmade instruments over the past 18 months, “mostly to people in Hollywood, if not in the movie business then in show business,” Brian said.
Now, they are preparing for the release of their newest creation: the hymnotron.
Cousins of invention (The Daily)
If my wife and I are at Brighton Beach for the day, we usually end up spending an hour or two at one of the boardwalk restaurants like Tatiana. But a friend recently told me that if I want to try a more authentic former Soviet food experience, then International was the place to be.
I stopped by earlier this summer to write this piece for the New York Times. Although I was first hooked by the enormous selection of food, from every type of kielbasa you can imagine to pre-cooked dishes like lagman soup, what caught my attention most was the huffy way the servers treated everyone. For most of the four hours or so I was there, there was barely a smile in sight. And yet, almost all the regulars I spoke to told me that one of the things they liked best about the place was the fact that the store felt like family.
When I lived in Russia during the 1990′s there was no such thing as service with a smile. Reporting this story reminded me that for this first generation of immigrants, American-style customer service is still a foreign concept.
M & I International Food breaks all the rules of American retailing. It doesn’t have a catchy name. Its sales clerks don’t immediately smile at customers or make small talk.
And yet this supermarket and cafe on Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn has inspired fierce loyalty from regulars — most of whom seemed, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, to be as surly as the people serving them.
The lone smile in this sea of grumpiness, radiating from beneath a large straw sun hat, belonged to a woman who offered only her first name, Raya. She said she had been a customer for 10 years because of the store’s excellent food, its low prices and, yes, its employees. “I am very thankful for such wonderful people,” she said in Russian.
Tasty Knishes, and Service With a Scowl (New York Times)
A Chasidic goy speaks up.