How do you prepare for Shabbat? Maybe by kneading some challah, inviting some friends to lunch. Probably not by blacking out your windows and hiding under the bed. But on Friday afternoons in parts of Brooklyn, the vintage air raid sirens that signal the start of the Sabbath might trigger your inner Mrs. Miniver.
Located in several Hasidic communities but reaching far beyond, the air horns have been sounding since 2002, and have been the source of local tension ever since. In 2004, Yeshiva Torah Emes, where one of the sirens is housed, got slapped with five noise code violations. Although the code makes exemptions for religious practices, the sirens were sounding at nearly three times the permitted decibel level.
Since then, Brooklyn seems to have made its peace with all forms of religious amplification, and at sunset in the diverse neighborhoods of Kensington and Midwood, a veritable orchestra of summons can be heard. But the cacophony sometimes accidentally gives way to cringe-worthy reporting. One Bed-Stuy resident, describing the taxonomy of religious sounds in his neighborhood, told a reporter: Churches have bells, Muslims have call to prayer, and “Jews have horns.”