NEW YORK - The city's ultra-Orthodox Jews took the Pennsylvania Amish on a walking tour of their world today, saying their communities are naturally drawn to each other by a commitment to simpler lifestyles.
"It's reinforcing to the Amish community to see us Jews living the way the Bible says Jews are supposed to live, and have lived since the time of Moses and Abraham," said Israel Ber Kaplan, program director for the Chassidic Discovery Center in Brooklyn. "The Amish are also living their lives as the Bible speaks to them."
Dozens of Amish residents from Lancaster County toured a Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn's Crown Heights - the second year in a row the community invited the Amish to learn more about their culture.
Rabbi Beryl Epstein called the tour "living Judaism."
The neighborhood is home to an ultra-Orthodox Lubavitcher sect born about 200 years ago in Poland.
Today's Lubavitchers wear black hats and beards of their 18th-century Russian and Polish forebears, speak Yiddish and shun amenities like electricity on the Sabbath.
The Amish also traditionally live off the land and without electricity and other modern amenities.
Residents did double-takes on the Brooklyn streets as the two groups walked side by side, touring a Jewish library and a matzo factory, where round, unleavened bread was being made for the Passover holiday.
Hasidic children in Crown Heights begin their formal schooling at age 3, and by age 5 are studying many hours a day. At the headquarters on Brooklyn's Eastern Boulevard each day, dozens of men gather to pore over religious books, with little boys dashing around as their fathers fervently debate fine points of the texts - sometimes sounding more like spirited poker players than religious faithful.
John Lapp and his wife, Priscilla, brought their three children on the tour. He said the ties to the communities might be more surface than substance.
"In some things we are alike, like our clothing and our traditional beliefs," John Lapp said. Priscilla Lapp added, "And in some things we are not. The biggest thing is that Jesus is our savior."