Climbing aboard the Monsey bus I hand over my $9 to a lifeless looking driver. I am adorning a long skirt below my knees, thick tights and a polo neck jumper. It’s 26 degrees Celsius. I brush past the dark woollen dividing curtain to sit amongst the women and prepare myself for the long haul drive in total silence. This will be my first visit to Monsey and I’m excited to see what it will bring. I am visiting a family I met through one of the women I am working with in Stamford Hill and we’ve agreed to meet at her house for a family portrait. She is young with 3 young children.
2 hours later I climb out to find myself in suburban wilderness. As I follow my map to her house I stumble across an almost perfect picture waiting to be taken. A Hassidic woman is resting on a bench in her front garden. She is cradling a baby with one arm and rocking an old pram with another. A rug is splayed out in front of her with another child and some toys and snacks. Arching around her is a beautiful tree and large old wooden house. Hanging over a large branch to her left she has constructed a seesaw out of two plastic toy cars. Each contains sleeping children. The afternoon light has softened and she is warmly lit. I stop. I think. I approach. I open with a quest for innocent directions, which instantly to my joy, flows onto small talk. She asks me about London, about my local connection. I go in for the killer question wrapped in flattery. It fails. I’m heartbroken. I persist. She refuses. I accept rejection; I leave her with warm wishes and trot on hoping Ill see more.
Instead as I arrive at the address I see a group of women with babies sitting outside in the sun. They stare at me coldly. They judge me. I ask them for help. They do not provide it. Irritated I continue searching for the house and luckily finally find my host. She greets me with utter warmth and welcomes me inside. I spend the rest of the afternoon taking pictures of her beautiful children. Monsey is place I am sure to revisit (I have returned one more time) but it will need to be in the summer. The days are too short in the winter and there s a lot of ground to cover. It’s a hidden and protected community, but it has definitely caught my eye and I look forward to staying longer.
Back on the now absolutely rammed bus there is an over riding stench of packed lunches. I strike up a conversation with an elderly Hassidic women on her way to Manhattan to visit one of her sons. For the following two hours we talk deeply about Jewish life and Monsey. She is kind and eager for me to connect with my roots. I thank her and wish her a good visit as I finally arrive back to the hustle of Brooklyn. OAO x