A group of Hasidic Jews, known for their beards, wide-brimmed hats and long black coats, have asked the Small Business Administration to declare them a socially disadvantaged group so they can participate in special business development programs that until recently were restricted to blacks, Hispanics and native American Indians.
"Our community feels that we are socially and otherwise disadvantaged because of dress and other cultural barriers," said Philip Klein of Brooklyn. "The bulk of the Hasidic community came over here after World War II and were unprepared for that migration. They've struggled against great odds to make ends meet."
Like blacks, Hispanics, native American Indians and recently Asian Pacific Americans, who last July were deemed socially disadvantaged by the SBA, the Hasidic Jews feel that because of their culture they are discriminated against in business opportunities, Klein said.
"Banks won't give us loans," Klein said. "You'd much sooner find a black or Hispanic bank teller than an Hasidic bank teller. If an Hasidic walks in (a business) and a non-Hasidic walks in, the non-Hasidic will get the job."
In a petition filed with the SBA, the Hasidic group said that their businessmen are often shunned by outsiders because they "speak halting and broken English compounded by a thick accent," and have unusal dress, including side locks, beards, black frock coats, broad-brimmed hats, prayer shawls and white collarless shirts that are worn by the men and unique hair styles for male chidren. Married women must wear "artificial hairpieces," the petition said.
In addition, the ultra-orthodox Jews have special dietary restrictions and follow strict religious customs "contribute to an overall image of strangeness and complement the other visible differences that set them apart from the rest of the population."
In business matters, the Hasidics said they are shunned by suppliers and possible customers who evade them and appear uncomfortable in their presence. Their restrictions against some forms of entertainment preclude them from "expense account competition. Similarly, Hasidic men and women not mix freely with members of the opposite sex."
In addition, they suffer from "widespread and chronic" antisemitism.
The SBA 8-a program, which supplies millions of dollars in loan, noncompetitive government contracts and other benefits, is reserved for those groups that have "suffered the effects of discriminatory practices or similar invidious circumstances over which its members have no control," generally suffered from prejudice or bias which resulted in economic deprivation and suffer impediments in the business world over which are not common to small-business people. The Hasidim feel they fit the description.
Some blacks familiar with the SBA program, however, are already grumbling because they feel the progam ws meant for them and is now spread thinly. And some minority groups claim the Hasidim aren't disadvantaged and shouldn't be eligible.