While attending a major Las Vegas tech conference for work a couple of years ago, I found myself following a Hasidic couple around the convention center. Their presence at the tradeshow was not completely shocking — many religious Jews work in consumer electronics sales (just look behind the counter at B&H in New York City — but I was delighted to catch a glimpse of them. We made our way slowly through the tightly packed throng gawking at the gargantuan Intel Booth — they, making casual conversation about operating systems in Yiddish, and I eavesdropping gleefully from a few paces behind. The wife doubled back for a moment and bumped into me. “Anshuldik mir,” I squeaked. Excuse me. The look of utter surprise on her face stayed with me for weeks.
Some of my cousins happen to live in a town in Orange County, NY, adjacent to the Satmar Hasidic enclave of Kiryas Joel. Whenever I stay with my (completely non-religious) cousins, I feel compelled to pay a visit to the small shopping center in Kiryas Joel. I get a thrill from the supermarket, with its Yiddish signage and patrons shopping for Cholent ingredients (packaged meat is even labeled exclusively for this purpose). I stop to browse through the rack of Yiddish children’s books outside the clothing store (only children would read for pleasure in Yiddish in this community). I can’t overstay my welcome; tourism isn’t exactly encouraged in Kiryas Joel.