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Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland Americaby Stephen G. Bloom
"You have got to read this book. The clash of cultures portrayed in this small town in Iowa is illuminating and riveting. When Orthodox Jews move into Postville and open a kosher slaughterhouse, local (and non-Jewish) Iowans figure this is just another immigrant group that will be assimilated into midwestern culture. Wrong. This group is not interested in the local culture and works diligently to maintain their separateness. As Bloom painfully points out, there is no right or wrong answer to this town's schism. The author and the entire town grapple valiantly with the issues raised but fail to find easy answers. The beauty of this book is that it presents a complex situation with no good guys or bad guys, just ordinary folks trying to get through the day."
Synopses & Reviews
In 1987, a group of Lubavitcher Jews, among the most orthodox and zealous of Jewish sects, opened a kosher slaughterhouse just outside tiny Postville, Iowa (pop. 1,432). When it became a worldwide success, Postville found itself both revived and riven, as the town's initial welcome of the Jews turned to confusion, dismay, and even disgust. By 1997, the town voted on what was essentially a referendum: yes or no on whether these Jews should stay.
A laboratory of ethnic strife, Postville is at the leading edge of the new wave of immigration in the heartland. Its story digs deeply into the questions that haunt America nationwide: how to build community, how to accommodate diverse but equally powerful traditions, how small towns can compete with big money. Stephen Bloom's vibrant, dramatic portrait of Postville's troubles is a haunting metaphor for America today.
"Bloom's story of the heartland Lubavitcher meatpackers and the waves they caused to ripple across the rural Iowan landscape is an immediate, elegantly personal piece of reportage." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
In 1987, a group of Lubavitchers, one of the most orthodox and zealous of the Jewish sects, opened a kosher slaughterhouse just outside tiny Postville, Iowa (pop. 1,465). When the business became a worldwide success, Postville found itself both revived and divided. The town's initial welcome of the Jews turned into confusion, dismay, and even disgust. By 1997, the town had engineered a vote on what everyone agreed was actually a referendum: whether or not these Jews should stay.
The quiet, restrained Iowans were astonished at these brash, assertive Hasidic Jews, who ignored the unwritten laws of Iowa behavior in almost every respect. The Lubavitchers, on the other hand, could not compromise with the world of Postville; their religion and their tradition quite literally forbade it. Were the Iowans prejudiced, or were the Lubavitchers simply unbearable?
Award-winning journalist Stephen G. Bloom found himself with a bird's-eye view of this battle and gained a new perspective on questions that haunt America nationwide. What makes a community? How does one accept new and powerfully different traditions? Is money more important than history? In the dramatic and often poignant stories of the people of Postville - Jew and gentile, puzzled and puzzling, unyielding and unstoppable - lies a great swath of America today.
A conflict between two deeply rooted traditions raises the specter of anti-Semitism and provokes a struggle over a community's future of how to accommodate diverse but equally powerful traditions, and how small towns can compete with big money.
About the Author
Stephen G. Bloom is an award-winning journalist and has been a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, the San Jose Mercury News, and other major newspapers. He now teaches journalism at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where he lives with his wife and son.
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