The Witnesses next door

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Jehovah’s Witnesses believe there is room for only 144,000 people in heaven. They don’t celebrate birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter. They don’t vote, participate in political discussions or join the military. And they’ve already miscalculated the end of the world at least once. Armageddon, they said, would be in 1975.


The population of Brooklyn Heights is about 22,500. We celebrate almost every possible holiday, especially the Fourth of July, and even host a canine costume parade for Halloween. We think the end of the world will probably be the result of global warming, or at the hands of George W. Bush. Whichever comes first.

Both groups love their real estate, but besides that, do we have anything else in common? The majority of Heights residents know very little about Jehovah’s witnesses, despite the fact the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society has made its home in the neighborhood since 1909.

I decided it was time for a religious mission of my own.

The Witnesses typically meet for three gatherings a week and last Sunday morning was open to the public. The meeting was entitled, “Coping with Life’s Anxieties.” Perfect, let me just get a cup of coffee first.

The Sunday talk welcomes the public, and about 20 percent of worshippers at Sunday’s gatherings are not part of the regular congregation. But they are other Witnesses, people from across the globe — Venezuela, Haiti, Australia, Belgium — religion tourists to the sect’s world headquarters. It seems I was the only member of the public with a three-block commute.

Inside the Brooklyn Heights “Kingdom Hall,” which is on Willow Street near Orange Street, there were no crucifixes or images of any kind — only a simple auditorium and an unassuming pulpit for speakers. No stained glass. No relics. It hardly looked like a place of worship.

I told the woman next to me that I lived down the street and am unaffiliated with the Witnesses. She looked surprised. “That’s very brave of you,” she said.

Brother Clark, an elder, took to the front wearing a simple suit. The answer to dealing with anxiety, he said, is to put your suffering on “Jehovah,” until you can find a more permanent cure in God’s kingdom. Shoot. I’m screwed.

Clark gave several examples from the Bible, like how Noah built the arc despite ridicule from his neighbors. Just like Noah, he said, the Witnesses have been asked to carry out the word of the ministry. To go door-to-door, talk to strangers, preach and carry out Jehovah’s will.

And Jehovah’s will is clear — spread the word of the Second Coming of Jesus, which could happen at any moment.

The pressure is on to get the word out.

When the Bible study ended, several people approached me to chat — which is one of the major elements of their religious mission.

“You don’t have a Bible,” one said. “I can tell you’re not from here,” said another. “I really like your dress,” said a third.

I met Carmen, a young woman who lives on Henry Street. She invited me to tour the Witnesses’ many buildings in the area next week, gave me her phone number and smiled warmly.

I was intrigued and her sentiment was refreshing, but with Jesus’s second coming looming in the distance, it was hard not to think her approach had ulterior motives.

But then again, as New Yorkers we tend to question everyone’s authenticity. Is anyone nice just to be nice? After two hours at the Kingdom Hall, I didn’t find a major commonality between the congregation and myself. But as far as individuals go, Carmen is one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. And until she proves otherwise, I’m happy to call her my neighbor.

Juliana Bunim is a writer who lives in Brooklyn Heights


Heights resident Paul Giamatti is hosting his own film festival entitled, “Paul Giamatti Selects,” at BAM. The six-week series will feature dark classics like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” “Dr. Strangelove” and “Dawn of the Dead.” … Does your favorite coffee joint suddenly feel empty? If so, it’s probably because the Brooklyn Law School zombies who have been studying all summer for the New York Bar Exam were set free last week. Now let’s just hope they passed. … Spotted former New York Post morning editor, now District Attorney spokesman Jerry Schmetterer, walking down Montague Street at lunchtime. He paused in front of Five Guys Burgers, but kept on

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Reasonable discourse

Russ from Wiemers says:
I enjoyed the article about Juliana Bunim's visit to the Kingdom Hall in Brooklyn. I live in a small town in North Idaho. My daughter lives in Mannhatten. The friendliness that Juliana incountered is typical of Jehovah's Witnesses world wide. It is our Bible education that makes us the way we are. It is not fake. Hopefully your readers will get to know their neighbors a little better. They are the best neighbors you could have. When they are gone, as they are selling out and moving upstate, you will miss them. Brooklyn Hieghts will never be the same. You will still have Witnesses living there though. Get to know them. They are authentically nice and genuinely good people. You will be enriched by the experience.
June 25, 2008, 2:25 pm
Mickey, Skopje, Macedonia from Skopje says:
Frankly, this types of women makes me nervous. Why? Because she came to the Kingdom hall, act as an detective Sherlock Holmes, searching for clues which can incriminate the present ones, and make a simple, boring story intented to satisfy the appetite of the suspicious neighbors. Juliana, Juliana! If i have to give you a school note, you'll get a big 2 (best note in my country is 5). You're not faraway from being a tipical Macedonian conservative journalist. I expected much more from an American journalistic school.
MUCH, MUCHO MAS, my corazon!!
Dec. 9, 2008, 7:44 am
Flacito from Across the Bridge says:
Some of them are very pleasant guys and ladies, I wish I had more friends of mine like them, but such people are rarely to meet during my turbo-life... Compliments, my friends, compliments!
Dec. 9, 2008, 8:13 am
Melba from California says:
I'm glad you got acquainted with your neighbors. However, you didn't hear correctly while you were there. The second coming of Christ was in 1914 when Jesus became King of God's Kingdom. We are now awaiting for him to come on his white horse (symbol of war) to wipe out the wicked at Armageddon. The reason I know this because we are in complete unity through out the world in our teaching. That in itself is unique. Get to know Carmen better.
March 11, 2010, 2:27 pm

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