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Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland…

Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America (2000)

by Stephen G. Bloom

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This paperback edition was published in 2003, before all the tumultuous events which befell the kosher packing plant in Iowa after that. The author is a mostly non-observant Jew who left San Francisco to come to the University of Iowa as a journalism professor. He went to Postville, Iowa--quite a long way from Iowa City--many times and in this book he tells about his visits with the ultra-orthodox Jews who ran the kosher packing plant in Postville and with the non-Jewish (mostly Lutheran) people who lived in Postville. He details how he was treated by both groups and in the telling the Hasidic Jews he visited come out as far less likeable than do the non-Jews--leading the book to be attacked by some Jews as anti-Semitic. I found the book fascinating reading and I thought it fairly well-balanced. It is instructive to read the Wikipedia articles on the same situation, which detail all the problems found at Postville in the years after 2003, when the man Bloom had visited ended up being sentenced to many years in prison. Some of the traits that man exhibited and which the book tells of lead one not to be too surprised that he ended up in huge difficulty. ( )
1 vote Schmerguls | May 18, 2014 |
This book was about the culture clash in the small town of Postville, IA (population 1500) between the white, Christian locals and the Hasidic Jews who moved in the late 80s and turned an old slaughterhouse into a kosher slaughterhouse. The author is a Reform Jew so he brought an interesting perspective to the conflict as someone sort of in the middle of the two extremes living in Postville.

I really liked this book, it reads like a novel. The only thing that bothered me was the author throwing in Yiddish or Hebrew words without always telling me what they meant. The plant in Postville was raided in May 2008 and almost 400 undocumented immigrants, mostly from Somalia and Latin America were removed and yesterday the NYT reported that the plant is defaulting on a $35M loan. A sequel may be in order. ( )
  mcelhra | Nov 3, 2008 |
Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America, by Stephen Bloom, is a fascinating look at what happens when two completely different groups of people live in close quarters. Bloom examines this clash in Postville, a small farming community in northeastern Iowa. In the late 1980's, a group of Hasidic Jews from the Chabad-Lubavitch sect purchased a run-down meat processing plant and began producing kosher meat. At first, the white, mostly Lutheran Iowans welcomed the newcomers and the new jobs that came to the town. However, misunderstandings and clashes soon started. According to Bloom, the Lubavitchers do not believe in socializing with Gentiles, and at the same time, Iowans are generally suspicious of strangers. Eventually, Postville became a town divided strictly on religious and cultural lines. Bloom, who up until moving to Iowa City to take a job as a professor at the University of Iowa, had always lived in big cities with a sizable Jewish population. Because he found so few Jewish people in Iowa, Bloom felt drawn to explore the Hasidic community and their relationship with rural Iowans.

At the start of the book, the town is in the verge of voting to annex the land on which the meat processing plant stands. The Hasidim are threatening to pull up stakes and take all their jobs with them if the annexation vote passes. Bloom considers both sides of the issue while interweaving stories about his own experiences as a Jew in Iowa, using them as a touchstone to explore and understand the relationships in Postville.

I really enjoyed this book. As someone from the upper Midwest, I can see what the biases and prejudices of the Postville residents would probably be. I can understand their resistance to newcomers. At the same time, I live in a large, diverse city, so I also understand Bloom's feeling of being an outsider in rural Iowa. Some have criticized Bloom for being "anti-religious" because he eventually admits that he is more sympathetic to the "native" Postville residents. However, I found his exploration of his own Jewishness to be thought-provoking and honest. ( )
  Talbin | Jul 18, 2008 |
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The signboard went up early that day, at the intersection of Tilden and Lawler Streets, on the first Tuesday of August 1997, around the corner from Dr. John R. Mott High School, where the polls would be open until eight in the evening.  (Prologue)
The only time I had ever been in Iowa was when I was a fourteen-year-old Boy Scout on the way to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, and our horny troop spend the night in a dormitory at Iowa State University on the lookout all evening for sex-crazed college coeds we never found.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156013363, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:44 -0400)

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A portrait of cultural conflict in action visits a small Iowa community where Lubavitcher Jews opened a successful slaughterhouse and found themselves in conflict with gentile neighbors.

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