Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America

Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America

by Stephen G. Bloom

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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780156013369
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/10/2001
Series: Harvest Book
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 789,620
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.87(d)

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.

Table of Contents

Prologue: The Threat ix
Can of Worms
First Supper
The Storm
Tied Up
Coon on a Hound's Back
Between the Cracks
Kosher Hill
Moishe and Shlomo
Shikker at the Shul
The Crime
Sticks in Spokes
Doc Wolf
The Derailment
Epilogue: Home 331(6)
Acknowledgments 337

What People are Saying About This

Frank Conroy

Intelligent and absorbing. The book goes beyond politics and reads like a novel, nevertheless it should be mandatory for those who go on about diversity and multiculturalism without having thought things through. A fine and courageous piece of work.
— (Frank Conroy, author of Stop-Time)

Madeline Blais

Postville documents what were, culturally speaking, the ultimate odd couple: Iowa farmers and a community of strictly observant Hasidic Jews who set up a Kosher meat plant in their midst. There is only one clear cut winner in the resulting collision of values and customs and bedrock beliefs, and that is the author whose book is a blissful marriage of lively writing and insightful reporting.
— (Madeline Blais, author of In These Girls Hope Is a Muscle)

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Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a Jew fighting assimiliation in America, I was compelled to read this book. This is well-written. It defines the cultural differences and draws a portrait of how alike the two sides really are. They all want the same things out of life but learned perceptions keep both sides from seeing it. I continue to be amazed at how any orthodox group alienates themselves from the mainstream and then complains about it. This book portrays that well. READ!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The main characters in this well-written book are Hasidic Jews and Iowa farm people, but you hardly have to be either to enjoy it immensely. Stephen G. Bloom tells the incredible true story of this Iowa community's struggle with its Jewish newcomers -- and the story is simultaneously unique and universal. An unusual and satisfying book!
mcelhra on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
Talbin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought that the author did a great job of researching, writing, and painting a picture of a small Iowa town with a new group of people moving into their community. Bloom shows how this group of Jews were accepted and defined by the social, political and ecomomic forces of a small community of famers. Who won? You decide and read the book to draw your own interpretation.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I appreciated Bloom's book--I found it both truthful and ironic. I grew up 20 miles from Postville and have witnessed it's changes. I think Bloom accurately described the accounts, albeit with a hint of entertainment.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure which Iowa Steven Bloom moved to in 1997, but it's not the same one I moved to in 1987. Bloom deliberately selects every sterotype of Iowa and greatly exargerates it -which makes his book difficult to read with any credibility.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bloom does the remarkable feat of taking a fasninating situation and rendering it utterly simplistic and almost embarrasingly cliche. His notions of Jewish identity are so stock, he cannot go a few pages without mentioning corned beef. he even invokes Fiddler on the Roof, which is the only experience of Jewish culure he can reference. When he describes the Iowans he is almost as bad: Field of Dreams, countless images of corn and John Deere hats all around. Nonetheless, he romaticizes the farmers and blatantly, perhaps naievely, mistakes their outrageoulsy, explicitly anti-Semitic comments (all THE JEWS care about is money etc) as what small town America is about. I think Bloom is the one who needs to do some long hard thinking about America and diversity. As an avid reader and a writer myself, I can honestly say this is one of the few books I have ever read that made me scoff, page after pa
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is well written and full of wonderfully accurate descriptions of Iowa's people and culture and much thought-provoking material regarding cultural and religious diversity. When I picked up this book, I couldn't imagine how anyone could find much of interest to write about a place like Postville and expected to be thoroughly bored. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised and challenged to think in new ways.