extremely readable and fascinating look at two vastly different cultures attempting to co-exist in the same small community
This is a very interesting, and troubling, book. Outsiders moving into communities, bringing their alien ideas, could and does happen everywhere in the world where there are human communities. This takes place in Iowa. I wish there were a follow-up book because I want to know more. This is a book for those interested in the evolution of American society. It's the first of Bloom's books I've read. I'll definitely read more.
Postville, Iowa (population 1,478), seems an unlikely place to find a sizable Jewish population, let alone an ultra-Orthodox Lubavitcher population. It is, after all, in the heart of pork country, and the world headquarters of the Lubavitchers is far away in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. But when the Hygrade meat processing plant, just outside Postville, went belly-up, threatening the town with decline, Sholom Rubashkin bought it and turned it into a glatt kosher processing plant, complete with shochtim and a rabbinical inspectorate. By the late 1980s, "Postville had more rabbis per capita than any other city in the United States, perhaps the world."
The enterprise was a huge international success, with its kosher meats exported even to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The Jewish population grew to 150, and they were rich. The town was saved, and the people were grateful. All's well that ends well? Not quite. The Hasidim kept to themselves, did things their own way, and basically had no interest in integrating into Postville. And why would they? Their laws are strict, their mission clear, their community defined by race and religion. They are not interested in watermelon socials or coffee klatches at the diner. Their little boys do not swim with their little girls, are not educated together, and do not go on play dates with goyim. Small-town Iowans, on the other hand, are very friendly. They know each other's news, they support each other's businesses, they wish each other Merry Christmas, they want you to feel at home. They don't like that the new townspeople stomp up the street hunched over, talking in a foreign language and looking straight through them when greeted. They really don't like it when one of the newcomers drives around town with a 10-foot candelabra strapped to his car playing music at full volume for eight consecutive winter nights. They don't actually know about menorahs or Hanukkah.
Into this comes secular Jew Stephen Bloom, a professor at the University of Iowa. By the time he arrived in Postville, the town was riven along religious lines. One of the townspeople was running for mayor on the sole platform of annexation of the land on which the plant stood. Rubashkin was threatening that he'd shut the plant and leave if that came to pass. Bloom closely considers both sides, and the result is a wonderful book. It is a fascinating tale of culture clash in the American heartland: the John Deere cap meets the black fur hat. It is a book about identity and community and what it means to be American. It covers all the things you aren't supposed to talk about at the dinner table--religion, politics, and even sex. It is full of suspense: Will the plant be annexed? Will the Jews leave? And it is also Bloom's exploration of his own sense of belonging. --J. Riches
I thought this book was very interesting. I learned a LOT about ultra conservative Judaism. The book reads like fiction and is just fascinating. You could tell the author really wanted to show both sides of the controversy with compassion. I do wish that I had written some of the Hebrew words down with their definitions because while the author is great about defining them the first time around, he doesn't always redefine them later and sometimes I found myself trying to remember what a word meant. Overall, a really interesting look into a fascinating clash of cultures in rural Iowa.
a book I had to read for a "Religions" class in college. A good book to use as a reference if you're writing a paper or something. I thought it was a good story.