A gang of overbearing religious scolds is targeting Jewish store owners who open shops in Williamsburg’s Satmar Hasidic enclave, ordering them to comply with a shadowy but strict set of standards or face sinful consequences.
Residents said the Va’ad Hatznius — known as the modesty patrol — struck again Thursday, blanketing lightposts and car windshields with flyers calling for the boycott of a new women’s clothing shop at 100 Lee Ave. and trumpeting an afternoon protest.
The store’s offense? Having big windows, through which the sight of women holding up dresses and picking through clothes are too easily observed from the street.
“It is not right,” said Moshe Spira, the manager of Grill on Lee, a sandwich shop down the block from the dress shop, explaining that the “man and his wife, trying to make a living for them and their family” opened just days ago.
“When we opened the store, they put up flyers,” Spira added. “They made a protest saying, ‘Don’t eat here.’ We were the first fast-food restaurant in the neighborhood. They were saying men and women can sit together and are on the line together. We just ignored them and they moved on.”
The manager of the dress shop declined to comment about being the modesty patrol’s newest magnet for wrath. Community affairs cops checked out the store Thursday, scouting for protestors who never showed up.
Members of the Va’ad Hatznius don’t advertise, and its leadership is unknown. During the recent sex abuse trial of Satmar counselor Nechemya Weberman, prosecutors said the 54-year-old was affiliated with the shadowy group.
But its influence is unquestionable.
“They came to me and said they don’t like this and that,” said another merchant, Victor Klein, owner of Ice Cream House on Bedford Ave.
Bearded men paid Klein a visit one month after he opened his two-story parlor, demanding that he put up signs telling customers how to dress.
Klein spoke to his lawyer, asking how to follow their orders without being sued for discrimination should he ban clothes favored by the non-religious.
“You have to respect the community,” Klein said, describing the dilemma. “I want people to send their children here. If people don’t send their children here, I am out of business.”
The Williamsburg merchants’ dress codes are being probed by New York City’s Commission on Human Rights, which filed suit against seven Lee Ave. shops last August.
“It’s a new kind of discrimination case,” said Cliff Mulqueen, the commission’s general counsel. “There is a clash between anti-discrimination laws and freedom of religion.
“If you have a business in New York, you have to treat everyone who walks in your door the same way, regardless.”
Source: The Daily News