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One non-Jewish client, noticing his yarmulke, asked him for a blessing for his shirts. Another discovered they had a mutual acquaintance, the Chabad emissary in San Diego. But Tiefenbrun is careful to note that his clothing choices are his alone and not emblematic of any Chabad-specific trend.
“It’s not like it’s a Chabad thing, it’s me,” Tiefenbrun insisted. “I love art. I love quality clothing.”
With its sprawling global network of emissaries working to inspire religious observance among secular Jews, it’s perhaps little surprise that Chabadniks are practically alone within the hasidic world in pushing the boundaries, if gently, of their community’s dress codes.
“One can make the case Chabad, more than any other hasidic group, is in direct contact with the non-hasidic world, so they have a real good feel for that world outside,” Heilman said. “They have learned how to recruit there.”
Sacho said there is little interest in his stylish kapotas from members of other hasidic communities. Chabad men are selling “a product called Judaism” to the wider world, he said, and that tradition impacts their choice of clothes.
“People will listen and appreciate you more if you dress well and look presentable,” he said.
Within the confines of the hasidic community, however, it’s often a different story. Young customers come in looking for one thing, but then their mother arrives and “chews my ear off,” Sacho said.
But still, Sacho insists the style-conscious community is growing in the Chabad world and someday kapotas like his will be the norm.
“There are quite a few of us,” Sacho said. “All my clients are younger. It’s the future.”