Of the vocal Citi Bike opposition, there is one group the DOT probably thought it appeased quite well: Williamsburg's ultra-Orthodox Jewish population. While much of the neighborhood is slated to receive docking stations, a notable Citi Bike hole has been carved out of a Hasidic enclave bordered roughly by Flushing, Kent and Division avenues— to the relief of many of the area's residents.
“They put the racks where they are going to be used,” Community Board 1 member Simon Weiser, told the Daily News in May. “Look at the Hasidic community. No one rides a bike here.”
But a new organization, Hasidim for Bikes, suggests that's just not so. Despite much evidence to the contrary, the mere existence of the group, however small it may be, indicates that some Hasidim yearn for for the "black hat black hole" to be filled by Citi Bike.
According to the mission statement posted on the group's website, Hasidim enjoy cycling for precisely the same reasons as their gentile counterparts. "Bikes keep us healthy, carry us from point A to point B, save us from high gas prices, and make our roads less congested," it says.
One such supporter, who tweets under the handle "SolaveiAgent," wrote on Saturday that he was "Going for a roll with the new #citibike." Reached for comment, the man, who said his name was Heimishe, explained that though he was an Orthodox Jew living in Williamsburg (he declined to offer his sect), he had no problem with cycling.
"I wanted to have some fun, so I took a bike," he said. "I don’t associate biking with religion."
I spoke with Heimishe about cycling for some time, though he was cagey about his views on the program and its place in the Jewish community. ("What prompted you to rent the Citi Bike?" I asked. "My great grandfather came to me in the middle of the night in a dream," he quipped. Touche, Heimishe.)
Then another man, who would identify himself only as Emanuel, took the phone. It's not cycling that Hasidim take issue with, he said. It's the aggressive manner in which cyclists conduct themselves—and moreover, the way they dress. Specifically, Emanuel went on, he doesn't want the neighborhood's children to be exposed to immodest bike attire.
"When people ride a bike they tend to expose more of their bodies," he said."Is something wrong that one would want to shelter their kids from outside influences?
While Emanuel said skimpy dressers are plenty hazardous on their own, bikes simply allow greater exposure. "I can't stop people from walking. I can ask them please that maybe they should take another route," he said. "We want to keep our values."
He said the Orthodox community's fight against outside influences has been a key factor in successfully keeping its children safe.
"The result is that we have a safe community. We have children growing up to be productive citizens that don’t kill each other," he said. "We're 90 percent successful in ensuring that our youngsters don't do immoral stuff."
What does any of this have to do with riding a bike?
"I don't want to elaborate—one thing leads to another," he said. "If you expose a youngster to immoral views, they want to do more. We are very proud of how we educate our children, and we want to keep it that way. We want to shield them."
Emails to the mysterious Hasidim for Bikes have not been returned, though a member of the group did speak to the Jewish Daily Forward on May 31st, on the condition of anonymity for fear of backlash.
"A few extreme fringe activists are against bikes claiming it’s a non-Jewish thing, but they are also against a lot of things," the representative said, listing examples such as smart phones, DVDs and exercise for women. "The media just quotes a few extreme leaders. If the community will be polled directly on those issues, you will hear a total different opinion."
Emanuel agrees with that.
"There's no law in the bible that says whether you should bike or not," he said. "I checked cover to cover."