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Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  823 ratings  ·  141 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published September 10th 2001 by Mariner Books (first published 2000)
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Genia Lukin
Mar 25, 2017 rated it did not like it
This is a story of intolerance. Intolerance by the Chabad community, yes, and also intolerance from the Postville townsfolk, certainly, but above and beyond it all, the author’s own. He says he walked into the world of Chabad in an attempt to search for his own Jewish identity, but in reality what he seems to have wanted was a confirmation, or an affirmation, of the way he saw the world. And when he failed to get it, he passed harsh judgment over everything in sight.

The author is wha
Elliot Ratzman
Oct 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
A jaunty Jewish journalist paints a disturbing portrait of small town locals/yokels and out-of-town ultra-orthodox who open a kosher butchering plant in rural Iowa. The locals are rendered as somewhat ignorant and a tad xenophobic. The author’s descriptions of the Jews are a white supremacists’ dream: rude, unfriendly, haughty, obnoxious, pushy and disrespectful. The owners’ obsession with money, and the serial swindling and haggling with the gentiles is embarrassing. The rest of us—the vast maj ...more
Dec 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America looks at how tensions gradually erupt between locals and hasidic Jews who opened a kosher slaughterhouse in a rural farming community. This book was written by a secular Jew from the west coast who had moved to Iowa to take a job as a university professor.

While the author certainly has issues of his own (he actually cites the scoutmaster mentioning Jesus Christ at his sons Boy Scouts meeting as an example of anti-semitism he has experienced in
Oct 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Having spent some time in Postville, pre-Hasidic Jew period, it was shocking to see how the town of working farmers was turned upside down and at complete odds with their new neighbors.

Now, after the fall of Agri-Processors (kosher meat plant), it gives even more perspective as to why the town was so angry about the influx of the Jewish sect that refused to interact with the 'natives'. Not only did they end up changing the landscape of the town, they have forever left a stain on the community m
Mar 26, 2009 rated it liked it
Having covered the fallout from the 2008 immigration raid in Postville as a reporter, this book was required reading - but it was published in 2001 so it was outdated in many ways. It did provide still-useful background about the Lubavitchers' early years in town and their eccentric way of life. But I was irritated that the book was as much about the author and his urban-Jew-out-of-water struggle to get used to living in Iowa after moving here from San Francisco (poor bubbala.) Bloom made Iowa C ...more
Every so often I go through my to-read list to harvest something I've forgotten about. This book was the latest. And I guess for me separating out the sides was too personal than it was for my friend Jake. And in the end the world described was just plain distasteful. Interesting sure, intriguing not really. I'm glad I read it, I'm glad I didn't live it. 3.5 of 5.
May 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
“Postville” is fascinating…especially if you have roots in the Midwest and any experience with the customs of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Published in 2000, four newspapers listed it on their best book of the year lists. Bloom is a reporter turned journalism professor at the University of Iowa making Iowa the “heartland America” setting for this piece of personal experience nonfiction that was hard to put down.

In the late 1980s a group of Hasidic Jews from New York opens a kosher
Oct 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
This was an intriguing book on a subject that I've read about in the past and found interesting, the presence of a Chasidic community in Iowa that manages the large meatpacking plant (which has now become famous of late for its employment controversy, but has been troubled long before that). At times, the book seemed unfair to Jews, and it does definitely have an anti-religion bias, but at times the Chasidic Jews also behaved in embarrassing ways. Overall, whether you agree with the author's con ...more
Jun 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
I was fascinated by this book. Having made the reverse trek, from Iowa to Brooklyn, I was totally engrossed in this book. Totally fascinating, I didn't want to stop reading once I began.

I have read reviews talking about it being dated material, too much memoir not enough journalistic rigour,and other critiques regarding its status as past tense. I can accept that, but I enjoyed the personal quality to the book and thought that was what made it timeless as one person's experience, versus the exp
Dec 29, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: food, religion
If you ever wanted evidence that religion does not necessarily lead to ethical and considerate behaviour, that the details can overwhelm the spirit, this book provides it in spades. The sins of blindness committed by the owners of this kosher slaughterhouse caused them to go out of business because their customers refused to support those who treated animals, employees, and neighbours so badly. They might have followed Jewish law to the letter, but they forgot to maintain a sense of why the rule ...more
Jun 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Stephen Bloom delivers an even-handed account of a small Iowa town upended by the arrival of Hasidic Jews. My father grew up in this town and Bloom captures it well - both the narrow-mindedness of some of the residents, but also the generosity and purity of spirit. He gives a fair shake to all, and causes one to reflect on the nature of culture, tradition and change.
Margaret Jenkins Colangelo
Jul 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Wow. So many things to say:

1. Although the book was written in the 90s it’s still an important story. Especially given the more recent ICE raid that threw the tiny town into another tailspin.

2. The author truly stuck his neck out to write this. Could not have been easy and I’m sure led to many sleepless nights.

3. I took umbrage at the portrayal of Iowa City. It’s hardly a bleak dot in flyover country. No you can’t get fresh seafood often because the cost is pr
Nov 10, 2018 rated it liked it
I remember reading at least one article about Postville--perhaps in the NY Times Magazine?--years ago, and this book was in a TBR pile for a long time. The story itself is interesting, and I wonder what's happening in this Iowa town these days; even though my trade paperback was updated with an afterword, it's still over 15 years old. I also wonder how far away Postville is from Steve King's Iowa. Because as much as the folks in Postville insist--and no matter how much I myself don't always have ...more
Elliot Ratzman
A jaunty Jewish journalist paints a disturbing portrait of small town locals/yokels and out-of-town ultra-orthodox who open a kosher butchering plant in rural Iowa. The locals are rendered as somewhat ignorant and a tad xenophobic. The author’s descriptions of the Jews are a white supremacists’ dream: rude, unfriendly, haughty, obnoxious, pushy and disrespectful. The owners’ obsession with money, and the serial swindling and haggling with the gentiles is embarrassing. The rest of us—the vast maj ...more
Sarah Costello
May 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was very interesting. I am originally from NE Iowa, not far from Postville, and found the story to hit close to home. I knew nothing of Hasidic Jews, but they are a fascinating people. However, I found the author's writing to almost make fun of Iowans and made it sound as if anyone who lives in Iowa is not enlightened to knowing anything else in the world. He is originally from California. Overall a good read.
Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Great book-I enjoyed the author's perspective of moving from San Francisco to Iowa City. Great look at small town Iowa with an interesting viewpoint from a Jewish man studying Hasidic Jewish men...I got a little lost in the last third of the book when we took a tangent...but overall, I enjoyed Stephen Bloom's writing.
Katrin V
Feb 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was really impressed with Bloom’s honesty in digging into this story. It was fascinating, stuff you couldn’t put into fiction and get people to think it credible. He did a great job being fair with all sides.
Nov 02, 2017 rated it liked it
I found this to be interesting yet a bit depressing. The Orthodox Jewish community who runs the slaughter house that brings back the economy of Postville isn't able -- or doesn't want to --to be involved at all in the culture of the town resulting in many conflicts of interest.
Balloon Bruce
Jul 08, 2017 rated it liked it
The book is a fascinating read but there are some errors about Judaism in it that make me question how accurate his reporting is.
Feb 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kathy-s-shelf
I liked the way the author not only told you the differences between the Hasidim Jews & the people of Postville, but also how they were the same.
Jun 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Like the clumsily airbrushed photograph on the cover, this is two different books pasted together: a serious journalistic inquiry into Postville, and Bloom's attempt to write a Jewish version of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance about his coastal family's difficulties adapting to life in Iowa. Unfortunately, Bloom's constant pushing of the Pirsig-echoing themes of "Look at how great and introspective I am" and "look at how much time I spend with my son" really makes it obvious which of ...more
Elaine Meszaros
Dec 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
People are weird. Society just amplifies our weirdness. Take us out of our normal microcosm and dump us elsewhere, and we can be aliens to our own race of humankind. Postville is, or was, a sleepy little farming town in Iowa. A dinky, inbred but friendly burg, much like the one I grew up in. In 1987, this all changed. A group of Lubavitcher Hassidic Jews bought the rendering plant outside the town and set up shop to become on of the largest kosher slaughterhouses in the world. And all hell broke ...more
Dec 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
Part memoir, part literary journalism, Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America is written by Stephen Bloom, a college professor from San Francisco who takes a teaching position at the University of Iowa, his wife and young son in tow. As a Jewish family amongst the strong Norwegian population, the Blooms immediately feel like outsiders. Bloom, a non-practicing Jew, yearns for some sort of connection with other Jews in Iowa. That’s when he decides to travel to Postville, Iowa, home to ...more
Feb 09, 2011 rated it did not like it
As somebody who lived in Iowa for years and knows many Lubavitchers, of course I had to read this book. It's a fascinating and important subject. Even before reading it, I knew enough to boycott the meat producer in question, and the information Bloom revealed (assuming that it's all true) only deepened my conviction.

In the hands of a less arrogant, less self-absorbed, and less narrow-minded author, this could have been a great book. Bloom might claim to be impartial, and perhaps one might say
Apr 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
A three-point narrative, the pieces assembling to form an unexpectedly personal tale of identity.

The main thread is that of the evangelical Jewish sect establishing a colony and dominant economic presence in small town Iowa. Once there they refuse to assimilate to the rites and rhythms of rural life, and instead isolate themselves. This separatism ignites a struggle with the former community leaders of Postville, whose opinions and actions form the second side of the narrative triang
Apr 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Even though I just read it and don't know if I will still be thinking about it months from now, I'm going to give this five stars. It's a smooth read, the story is arranged in a way that makes sense, and the characters and issues are extremely intriguing. It's about a culture clash divided along racial/religious and socioeconomic lines as well as culture, and when you add an author with ties to both sides who makes himself a character in the book and admits to having to choose which side he favo ...more
Mar 16, 2012 rated it liked it
3.5 stars - A very interesting book about a Brooklyn-based group of Lubavitchers moving into a small, previously struggling, Iowa town. It was very fast and entertaining reading. The author is a journalist, and the book reads like a magazine article. The reader can see the author's opinion change as he spends more and more time visiting Postville, which is also fascinating.

I felt there wasn't enough of the Hasidim's point of view in the book, but that is perfectly understandable give
Apr 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The only somewhat predictable story of what happens in isolated northeastern Iowa when Brooklyn Lubavitchers swoop in and set up shop in an abandoned meat packing plant. Absolutely engrossing, albeit slightly predictable; many old-timers in town are naturally anti-semitic, others are understandably exasperated by the hasids' insular (sometimes hostile) ways. And those haredi Jews, it's almost as if they want nothing to do with secular society!

This is a first-hand account by a transpl
Dec 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is wonderful. Stephen Bloom does a fantastic job of comparing the biases we all have based on being brought up in different cultures and with different rules of engagement. I was fascinated by the way he felt as an outsider with the Christians in Iowa and even the Jews in Iowa. It shows how there are so many facets and extremist in all religions and cultures. It is a wonder that we are able to get along at all. What I loved is how it opens your eyes to the need for each and everyone of ...more
Aug 01, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics, memoirs
Postville is in the news again, after federal raids led to the arrest of many mostly Guatemalan immigrants who worked at the kosher slaughterhouse in northeast Iowa.

Postville was a rather homogeneously German-American town when a Hasidic Jew bought a derelict building on the outskirts and turned it into a kosher slaughterhouse.

This book is partly a memoir of the author, who teaches journalism at the University of Iowa, and struggles rather long-windedly with identity issues. It is also the sto
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I teach narrative journalism at the University of Iowa. I'm the author of The Audacity of Inez Burns: Dreams, Desire, Treachery & Ruin in the City of Gold (Regan Arts, 2018); Tears of Mermaids: The Secret Story of Pearls (St. Martin's Press, 2011); The Oxford Project [with photographer Peter Feldstein] (Welcome Books, 2010); Inside the Writer's Mind (Wiley, 2002); and Postville: A Clash of Cul ...more