Wojo (Barney Miller) Doesn't Know What A Hasidic Jew Is?

I was watching an episode of Barney Miller and they bring in a man and he is a Hasidic Jew and this greatly puzzles Wojo, or rather the manner of dress puzzles Wojo.

Dietrich comes over and explains

Now my question is this, I’ve been to NYC lots of times and I’ve seen Hasidic Jews all over. In Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, all over, to me it would seem odd that Wojo a NYC cop of who they are.

Of course I realise, it’s just a plot device so that people outside of NYC, will know about his manner of dress.

But it got me to thinking, could a person live or work in Manhattan and really not know what a Hasidic Jew is or at least looks like?

This show was in the 70s, and I didn’t start going to NYC till the late 90s, so maybe the Hasidic Jews kept out of Manhattan where Wojo worked.

I’m pretty sure it was just a plot device, but I thought I’d ask NYC people if they could live or work in NYC in the mid 70s and not know what a Hasidic Jews were or how they dress?

This deli in NYC is selling Chanukah Ham.

Wojo was portrayed as not as well educated and a little less bright than the other officers.

I’m also not sure if he was portrayed as a native New Yorker or just someone out of the service who joined that police force. That could make some difference.

I really didn’t know who or what the Hasidics were until I was well into my 20s. I had lived in two bigger cities by that time (Philly and Pittsburgh) and visited places like NYC and others; I must have seen some at least on the news. But, if I recall correctly, I associated them more with the Amish or Mennonite movements than Judaism until I was close to “Wojo’s age”.

I had a g/f in the '80s who said that she and a friend were at a party, and there was a young boy there wearing a yarmulke. The friend exclaimed, ‘That kid has a doily on his head!’ This was in L.A.

Reminds me of a Simpsons episode where Bart visits NYC, see a group of Hassidic Jews on the street, and thinks they are ZZ Top. “You guys rock!”

I forget what movie it was, but one guy says “Hasidim!” and the other guy says “Ah seed 'em, too!”

For what it’s worth, that’s a quote from something, so he may been joking.

Eh, maybe a little.

It’s not about whether Wojo knows about Hasidism - someone had to it explain for the non-New Yorkers in the audience. So the writers get the naive cop to ask, so the brainy cop can fill in the exposition.

Moved MPSIMS --> Cafe Society.

There was a Sopranos episode where Paulie Walnuts said, “Hasidim, but I don’t believe’em!”.

I was born and raised in Queens, and I can tell you… it’s NOT as implausible as it sounds. Or, at any rate, it wouldn’t be implausible for a kid who grew up in New York in an earlier era.

On one hand, New York City has EVERY ethnic group imaginable. On the other hand, those groups don’t necessarily meet, mix or mingle much. This may sound preposterous, considering how many Jews there are in New York, but it’s true: depending on the neighborhood you grew up in, it’s entirely possible you rarely or never met ANY Jews, let alone Hasidim.

I grew up in in the Sixties and Seventies in a neighborhood that was, oh, 40% Greek, 30% Italian, 20% Irish, and 10% a sprinkling of everything else. And I went to a Catholic school on my block. What that meant was, over 90% of the people I saw every day were either Irish or Italian.

People in my neighborhood, as in MANY New York neighborhoods, lived, worked, shopped, played, went to school and went to church in an area consisting of just a few blocks. Even though we lived in a huge city, we often led very insular lives.

Back to “Barney Miller.” If, for the sake of argument, Wojo grew up in a Polish neighborhood like Greenpoint (Brooklyn) and went to Catholic schools, it’s not at all hard to believe that he knew very few Jews, and no Hasidim.

For that matter, the Hasidim have long been very insular in their own right, and rarely mingle with outsiders. A Hasidic Jewish kid from Williamsburg might not have known any black, Italian or Irish kids. Or even any REFORM Jewish kids.

It’s hard to believe someone in Manhattan, spending a lot of time on the streets and not being familiar with the Hasidim, especially around midtown Manhattan. The diamond district abounds with them. But I chalk it up to TV writing – most of the audience isn’t going to be familiar, so you need to have someone to explain it to. People who live far from NYC probably won’t notice the incongruity.

Personal story – Pepper Mill used to work in the North End of Boston. One day her boss, a native New Englander, saw some Amish on vacation* coming through the North End. He’d never seen them before**, and said


  • Yes, they do go on vacations, and do travel.

** To me, it’s almost as unbelievable that anyone who watches TV or lives on the East Coast could be unfamiliar with the Amish and the style of dress, but there it is. I guess he never saw Witness.

Yea, It’s a bit dissonant and dare I say, a tad psychedelic, to see them on the beaches of Florida in full American Gothicwear- wading in the ocean with their pants rolled up to the knee and suspenders down, shirt untucked and unbuttoned. Sunbathing in their full simple dresses, and head coverings. Straw Hats, suspenders, sand, and palmtrees… I imagine it must look a bit like the way the beaches were in 1900.

I was watching an episode of Castle a few days ago. The murders were tied in with a Voodoo practioner. On the show Castle had to explain what Voodoo was to three police officers who apparently had never heard of it.

There is a band called Electric Amish that does some very funny songs. On the band’s web site they have some pics of their vacation.

http://www. electricamish.com/pix/ambutt.jpg (NSFW)

I can’t cite this but I do recall Wojciehowicz was not from NYC. He got out of whatever small town he grew up in by serving in the Marines in Vietnam.

Still the 12th was too close to areas where he should have known a Hasidic Jew so as others said, it was a writers device. As Dietrich is the one to explain it, Wojo had already been a detective for several years by then in the 12th. When the show went on Wojo and/or Harris were the newest detectives. No idea how long Wojo was an officer before making detective. Consider how long he waited to make Sgt, I would guess at least 5 years.

Wojo was the “cabbagehead” in this case…the character who subs for the viewers who might not know something the character should.

Star Trek’s later incarnations did this all the time. An officer of Starfleet who has been doing technology-related and diplomatic-related duties for years will suddenly be struck stupid about something he or she should know about so that another character can deliver a block of exposition.

Grew up in Astoria, did you?:wink:

I grew up not too far from where I’m guessing you grew up, in Jackson Heights, which at the time was heavily Catholic, especially Irish-American. Like you, 90% of the people I saw every day were either Irish or Italian. There were probably a a sprinkling of Puerto Ricans in the mix somewhere, but this was long before the big wave of South and Central Americans to Jackson Heights. There were Jews around, certainly (the neighborhood supported at least one synagogue), and I remember having some Jewish friends from the neighborhood when I was a kid, even though I went to Catholic school all the way through high school. But I don’t remember seeing an ultra-Orthodox Jew, ever, in the neighborhood, and I might well never have known there was such a thing until I was in high school and traveling around the city.

That said, it is utterly implausible that a New York City detective would be encountering a Hasidic Jew for the first time. He would have had to be a cop for something like five years, at least, before becoming a detective. Even if he joined the department immediately after getting out of the service, and had never been in New York in his life before that, after a few years as a patrolman there wouldn’t have been much that came as a surprise to him.

Well I figured it was a writer’s device but I thought I’d ask New Yorkers. I live on the NW side of Chicago and if you’re north of Fullerton and Milwaukee Ave it’d be impossible not to run across Polish speaking people.

I recall Bart from “The Simpsons,” thinking the Hasidic Jews he saw when he visited NYC were ZZ Top, but then again, Springfield isn’t NYC.