For decades, Russian has been the language most spoken in Brighton Beach. Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union found in the beachfront community of south Brooklyn – already populated by some 55,000 Holocaust survivors – a safe haven to start their new lives in America.
However, an influx of Pakistanis that started in the early 1990s is now poised to change the demographics of the neighborhood.
“When I came here 23 years [ago], there were very few Pakistani people and no mosques,” said Abdul R. Bhatti, 56, one of the first Pakistanis to make a home in Brighton Beach. “Now there are three mosques – a Pakistani one, a Lebanese and a Turkic.”
In the last decade, the Pakistani Sunni Muslim population in the area grew significantly and started to grow roots. The 2000 U.S. Census counted 960 Pakistanis in the neighborhood. Ten years later, the population had almost doubled to 1,901, a 98% increase.
According to the Faiths and Freedom Project for Religious Diversity of CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College, “Within 20 to 30 years the Russian Jewish – or WWII generation – will have lost its dominant status as a majority in Brighton Beach.”
Yet, although such demographic changes can sometimes lead to tension between groups, there doesn’t seem to be any in post-Sandy Brighton Beach. The Jewish and Pakistani communities have joined forces in an attempt to overcome the destruction left by the hurricane.
“We have worked hard to develop stronger relations with the other communities of Brighton Beach,” said Susan Fox, executive director of the Shorefront YM-YWHA, a Jewish community center, which sustained no water damaged and now has been turned into the local outpost of FEMA.
Fox said the Shorefront YM-YWHA had a lot of connection to the Russian-speaking community and knew how to reach out to the Latino population, but had little experience with the Pakistani community, which is concentrated around Neptune Avenue. Thus one of the organization’s main priorities is to establish relations with the Muslim population and help as many people as possible.
“We have looked to be a resource to the full community here on this peninsula,” said Fox. “We want to share our good fortune.”
Muslim organizations have too tried to look beyond religious borders, offering relief efforts to the entire population of Brighton Beach.
A team of medical volunteers from ICNA Relief, a Muslim relief and social services organization, set up an emergency clinic in the neighborhood last Sunday to offer check-ups and provide free medicines.
“We have no problems with the other people here,” said Rasid Tauquir, a Pakistani who received help from ICNA Relief. “We all live here – together.”