In the late 1980s, a Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn bought the shut-down meat packing plant in this small town in northeastern Iowa (about 20 miles from Decorah, where Jen and Brooke live). One of his sons, Sholom Rubashkin, came to run the slaughterhouse to create kosher meats. The story of this “Clash of Cultures in Heartland America,” as the subtitle puts it, is told by a secular urban Jew who had been experiencing his own culture shock in Iowa City where he began teaching two years before he started work on this book.
He was originally drawn to the Hasidim, looking for his own roots, and made uneasy by the pervading Christianity surrounding him. But eventually he found them to be different from the Hasids who stayed in Brooklyn; they were unreasonable, ugly even, in their business practices and dismissive of their goy neighbors and business partners. They seemed to be colonials, living in an alien territory, and so were more single-minded in their practice of the home culture than those at home.
Bloom recounts his interactions with Sholom, his time spent with a family of Hasidim, and various townspeople in Postville. The paperback edition of this book includes an afterward, an updating of the events in Postville, where the clash has settled down a bit, and the strong negative reaction he received from some for “betraying his own.” Interestingly, the slaughterhouse now employs many undocumented Mexicans, which brings an interesting addition to the mix. It’s quite a story.
At Thanksgiving, when we visited Jen and Brooke, we drove to Postville one day and saw the shul, the meatpacking plant, and the big water tank with the plant’s name, Agriprocessors, on it. Along with the huge Christmas decorations hung from poles on the main drag were Menorahs. And a sign with the houses of worship in town includes the Synagogue.