I have been photographing Yiddish street posters in the Hasidic section of Williamsburg since first noticing them while biking through the neighborhood in 2009. Hung mostly with masking tape in the environs around Lee Avenue (the most commercial area in Hasidic ’Burg), these posters are aimed at a neighborhood’s with a highly pedestrian culture. Varying widely in what they advertise, they pitch diverse messages: from $25,000 raffles to rabbinical meetings, sales on hats, pointed philosophical positions, even fashion admonishments for young ladies. I’m fascinated by how this developing Hasidic visual vocabulary uses graphic design to broadcast to its neighborhood audience. Gradient fades and basic Photoshop filters are wrought upon classic Hebrew typography, while the aesthetic choices conveying Hasidic prerogatives offer a glimpse into an introverted community that sits apart as a cultural island in the heart of New York City.
(Posters translated with the help of Adar Earon.)
This is one of the first posters that caught my eye as I was passing through the neighborhood in 2009. The “shtreimel” hat (the traditional hat worn by Hasidic men) is spun entirely out of Hebrew characters. The text wraps around in spirals forming the hat, creating a jocular motion and evoking the fur exterior. The headline reads, “Everybody wears a Miller shtreimel!”
Another poster from 2009. I was intrigued by the use of chess pieces. Also interesting are the small photos of “raffle” prizes in the lower right corner: a computer, a candelabra, and an airplane. The poster is an invitation to the Congregation Karli: “A privilege! We commit to the honor of your invitation to take part in our yearly party — the program: live music and Rebi Stanighgher.” Also interesting is the interjection of some English to accentuate the attractions, offering “Original Slides” and a “Renown Speaker.” This congregation even has a website.
Some amazing effects on the type here, and an eye-catching composition. I like the Torah “logo” in the bottom center. It’s an invitation to the annual dinner party of Congregation Kashi. It seems the posters help congregations compete for members. It reads: “Capture your interest: a MEETING on next Sunday.” Below the Torah logo is a list of members of the committee, perhaps well known in the community.
Another shtreimel hat ad from 2009, this one placing a hat between a blue sky and a computer generated sunburst, suggesting movement. The text is what you might expect from a hat ad: “Seeing you in the holy day with the finest and beautiful cover.” “Ready in one hour.” “Best on market, Comfortable on the head.” The use of the watch photo indicating a limited-time offer makes the poster all the more urgent.
Many of the posters are just basic type set in one or two colors, using a formal and austere Hebrew font, as in this one from 2011. It’s a strong admonishment: “Dear Jewish daughters: Now when we prepare ourselves for the summer days, we need to make sure that we dress properly.” “Do not wear bright colors cloth and the new fashionable TANK TOPS. This is the code for how a noble Jewish woman and girls need to dress.”
This gem from the Dinov Yeshiva heads for the fantastical, mixing the congregation’s extravagant logo with an eagle image over a blazing sunset and a yellow swoosh. I think the use of the eagle may be a reference to an important passage in Exodus 19:4: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I carried you (va’esa eschem) on the wings of nesharim, and brought you to Myself.” The poster reads: “Strengthens us with your maximum giving.” “The yearly dinner.” “So we can continue our holy work with steady force.”
Featuring a floating amulet resting on a book with cash pages, this poster boasts a sale at a local book seller, “The Book’s House.” Another yellow swoosh brings our eyes to a smokey blue background and the message, “Winter sale, 15%–50% off on the entire business for one week.”
The smiling little boy featured on here reappears in a few different varieties of street posters for this organization. They all ask for donations for Bonei Olem, a charity that assists Jews with funding for all aspects of infertility-related treatments. Is the shelf full of “confidential” folders meant to imply a doctor’s office? The logo on the folder is a tree made of little people, an effective iconographic symbol of fertility.
Another poster advertising a meeting at a local congregation, “Grace Abraham.” It advertises a “grand raffle” to raise money for its institutions. The “money tree” is pretty exceptional for its 3-D computer rendering, with cash leaves blowing from a tree situated on a serene seaside landscape. The $25,000 cash and coupons advertised below get a heavy use of Photoshop gradient effects, with some “lens flares” for accent.
I saw this one in February 2012. The photocopied papers feature some strong imagery of a Hasidic man being arrested, and of an Orthodox boy under assault by two dark-skinned men. It’s apparently about the difficult life that the Orthodox Jews are having in Israel and how much they suffer from decrees that were issued by the Isreali government and army. The boy says in a traditional cartoon word balloon, “Oh, oh, this is the last piece of bread!”
Robert Hult is an artist
, art dealer
, and global warming research scientist based in Brooklyn, NY. His work
on reporting protocol for quantifying carbon dioxide sequestration from urban tree stomata has yet to be recognized by the larger scientific community.
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