West-Side Story, Hasidic-style: The conflict among the two opposing camps in the Viznits Hasidic community in Bnei Brak doesn’t include stealing money or ideological arguments; instead, the Hasidic way of quarreling entails “swiping” shtreimels and bartering their return.
The shtreimel is a fur hat worn by many married haredi Jewish men belonging to the one of the various Hasidic sects on Saturdays and holidays. The hat is usually made out of a young fox’s fur, and a single hat requires 30 of them. A Hasidic man buys one or two expensive shterimels throughout his life for a price range of $2,000 to $4,000.
The shtreimel is worn without fastening, a significant factor in the latest street fights in the Viznits neighborhood. Those looking to humiliate a Hasid snatch his shterimel, forcing him to return home with a lowered head sporting on his yarmulke.
In recent weeks, the brawls between the camps have intensified, with both sides snatching each other’s shtreimels. During the peacemaking, each camp returns the other’s goods stolen in the last strife.
The barters, one of which took place two weeks ago, also include returning torn shterimels that were intentionally spoiled and torn in the heat of battle in exchange for ones in mint condition.
In each fight, the Viznits Hassids try to snatch as many shterimels off their opponents’ heads, so as to have as many bargaining chips as possible ahead of the next barter.
An entire book can be written about the background leading to these street fights in the Viznits community. When Hasidic leader Rabbi Yehoshua Moshe Hagar fell ill, a world war was ignited between his sons – the elder Yisrael and the younger Menachem Mendel – on who will succeed him.