National Geographic : 2005 Jun
POSTVILLE, IOWA laws, such as not eating pork or shellfish and not mixing meat and dairy. When they first arrived, the Hasidim didn't return the greetings of the townspeople. "They brought their New York habits with them," says one resident. Their lawns went unmowed. They drove erratically-a U-turn became known as a Jew-turn. "People accused them of being standoffish," says Ron Taylor, a city councilman. Hasidic Jews see assimilation as a threat to their very existence. Wherever they live, they create a close-knit community and start their own schools. Food often brings people together, but because of their dietary restrictions, the Hasidim can't eat at their neighbors' homes or restaurants or even accept a welcome food basket. "Our dietary laws are different. That's why we're here," Rubashkin says. With its streets of tidy houses that peter out into endless farmland, Postville offers a classic story of small-town America transformed by newcomers. The image of black-hatted men and their modestly dressed wives emerging from the cornfields on their weekly walk to the synagogue has been irresistible to the media. CNN has been by, as has PBS. In 2000, journalist Stephen Bloom published a book depicting Postville as a town irrevocably riven by cultural misunderstanding. It doesn't feel that way today. "We learned from the book," says Cheryl Waters, owner of the Beauty Hut hair salon off the town's main street. She insists Postville was never as divided as in Bloom's portrait, but believes the book broke down barriers on both sides. Take Leigh Rekow, a semi-retired farmer, member of the city council, and a regular at The Bakery, a piece of old Postville where farmers, bankers, and housewives gather each morning-men at one table and women at another-to drink coffee and catch up on the news. Rekow wryly mentions that he's the man in Bloom's book encouraging the Hasidim to depart ("Just don't let the screen door hit you in the butt when you leave") during a zoning dispute a few years ago. So bitter had feelings At Taste of Postville, the town's annual food festival, Getzel (left, at left) and Mendel Rubashkin show off the kazachok, a Russian Cossack dance. But the cousins won't be queuing up to sample the hot dogs and tacos. They eat only meat Inspected by a rabbi, like this turkey at AgriProcessors, Post ville's meatpacking plant (below), and then declared kosher ("fit"in Hebrew). The slaughterhouse, which jump-started the town's tired economy, has come under fire from an animal rights group.