The Shomrim and the Shmira of Brooklyn, whose names derive from the Hebrew word meaning “to guard,” operate independently from one another but with the same goal: keeping watch over Hasidic neighborhoods. The groups, which are staffed by volunteers, intervene in thefts, respond to house calls for everything from flooded basements to domestic disputes, and help families locate loved-ones who have gone missing. They are unarmed and operate mostly with the help of donations, though both the Shomrim and the Shmira also receive money from the City Council. In 2022, the Council allocated at least $42,500 to the Shomrim and $22,000 to the Shmira.
Both groups also maintain close political ties with the New York City Police Department, which lauds their efforts as those of concerned citizens committed to keeping their neighborhoods safe.
But, both groups have been embroiled in significant controversy, too. Since the formation of the first Hasidic neighborhood watch in the 1960s, they have been accused of entrenching racial divides. In 2013, the Shmira received public scrutiny after physically assaulting Taj Patterson, a non-Hasidic resident of Williamsburg. Patterson was left with permanent vision loss after the incident.
And some critics say the Shomrim and the Shmira serve another purpose: helping enforce a traditional way of life by insulating the ultra-orthodox from interference by the secular authorities.