Last Saturday, at the start of the Jewish holiday of Purim, Rabbi Shmuel Lein read from a ceremonial scroll at the Chabad of North Brooklyn, a center of Hasidic Jewish culture on Bedford Avenue and North Fifth Street in Williamsburg.
Then Rabbi Lein, a slight 28-year-old with a wild beard and, on this festive day, a crazy-colored tie, shouted out an order — “Party!”— and things began to get a little, well, funky. An Israeli man in a faded Union Jack T-shirt picked up an electric bass and unleashed a stream of psychedelic sounds. A rapper raised a microphone to his lips and lauded the Jewish cornerstones of “Torah and mitzvah, kid.” Standing in the 50-strong audience was a man with a tattoo of a Hebrew prayer on his forehead.
In New York and around the world, members of the Lubavitch sect of Hasidic Judaism run Chabad Houses, or outreach and education centers, as a way of spreading Orthodox beliefs to people of Jewish ancestry whom they consider less devout. Since Rabbi Lein and his wife, Leah, moved into the Chabad of North Brooklyn two years ago, they have made an effort to generate excitement in a part of Williamsburg where indie rockers in tight jeans outnumber yeshiva boys in black fedoras.
The Leins have commissioned menorahs from local artists. They serve organic foods at women’s meetings and teach classes in kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism that has enjoyed a surge of enthusiasm among celebrities like Madonna. Because many singles live in the neighborhood, the Leins hold plenty of rollicking parties in their crowd-friendly loft space.
“There’s always a holiday to blame it on,” said Rabbi Lein, “Purim, Tu Bishvat, Lag Ba’omer.”
At Purim, a holiday on which getting drunk is considered a good deed, a makeshift pulpit at the front of the room doubled as a bar. Throughout the night, guests poured themselves cups of whiskey and vodka from Costco-size bottles. The guests represented an eclectic mix: an Israeli hip-hop producer with his ponytail in a pink scrunchy, a music-video director in jeans and a blazer, a resident of the Hasidic section of Williamsburg in a satiny frock coat and a black Yankees cap.
“Some people just come here for the big parties,” said Michelle Shapiro, a freelance make-up artist. “Some people come just for the prayers.”
Whatever their reasons for coming, the guests roundly applauded Nosson Zand, a 25-year-old Orthodox Jewish rapper who lists the Lubavitch sect as a “friend” on his MySpace page.
“Let’s get high,” chanted Mr. Zand, also known as NIZ.
“High on Hasidis,” he added, referring to the philosophy at the heart of the Hasidic movement.