Samuel Lipschitz, 27, grinned as a pint-sized red smart car pulled up next to the curb outside his toy store on Lee Avenue in Brooklyn. Lacquered onto the side of the car was a children’s cartoon character: a freckled, round-faced boy with curly brown peyes, or sidelocks, and a yarmulke.
“What Walt Disney did to Mickey Mouse — that’s what I’m trying to do here,” said Lipschitz, who designed the character.
Wise Buys, his South Williamsburg toyshop, caters to children in Hasidic Brooklyn. The Wise Buys Boy is the store’s mascot, and — if Lipschitz has anything to say about it — he’ll one day be America’s first ultra-Orthodox household name. Lipschitz has plans for Wise Buys Boy puzzles and dolls, and is talking with suppliers in China.
Hasidic children don’t watch television, Lipschitz explained, so the store’s mascot fills a big gap — as does his uniquely Jewish toy selection. “Sponge Bob,” he said, “is not an item here.”
The shop’s jam-packed walls boast a rainbow assortment of dreidel-shaped crayons, strings of silly felt hats for Purim and even a Monopoloy-like game called Deal Spiel. Mitzvah Kinder Totty Mentchees action figures — dressed for synagogue — are hot sellers here, along with the Hatzalah toy ambulance.
“I never dreamed of working with toys. But basically it became a passion,” Lipschitz said.
Small businesses like Wise Buys have traditionally been one of the few avenues for financial success in a community that carefully restricts its contact with the secular world. Observance of the Sabbath and religious holidays, for example, can put Orthodox Jews at a disadvantage in looking for work in the larger community, says Rabbi David Niederman, executive director and president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg.
He added that rigorous study of the Talmud could come at the expense of secular education.
“College and doctors and lawyers — that’s a profession that we have not been involved in,” Niederman said.