Yesterday a video was posted online of an NYPD van informing Crown Heights residents of Mayor Bill De Blasio’s new “Vision Zero” plan, which seeks to reduce traffic fatalities. The loudspeaker blares the message first in English, then in Yiddish, in what is no doubt part of the mayor’s efforts to reach wider communities.
But Crown Heights is a funny place to reach out to in Yiddish. Though the Brooklyn neighborhood is home to a large Orthodox Jewish community, for most of the residents English, and not Yiddish, is in fact their primary language. According to census data, a total of 3,109 Crown Heights residents reported speaking Yiddish at home, with only 386 of those respondents reporting that they speak English less than ‘very well.’
Compare this to census data from the nearby Williamsburg neighborhood, which boasts 18,755 Yiddish speakers, of whom 6,621 reported speaking English less than very well, or Borough Park, which takes the cake with 32,314 Yiddish speakers, of whom 9,036 reported speaking English less than very well, and someone should probably tell the mayor his vans may be more useful elsewhere.
Batya Ungar-Sargon is a freelance writer who lives in New York. Her Twitter feed is @bungarsargon.