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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Wal-Mart Jews

There's an interesting story in today's NY Times about how the Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas has brought Jews to the area for jobs, changing the demographics of the town significantly.

When many of these Jews, called "Wal-Mart Jews" in the article, first moved to Bentonville, they were not affiliated at all, but moving to a city bereft of Jews changed that:
There were, for example, Betsy and Marc Rosen, who moved to Benton County from Chicago in 2000 after Mr. Rosen was offered a job in Wal-Mart's technology department. The family did not attend a synagogue in Chicago because, Mrs. Rosen said, "you didn't need a synagogue to have a Jewish identity." There were Jewish neighbors, Jewish friends, Jewish family.

But not in Bentonville, where her daughter brought home from day care a picture of Jesus to color in. Suddenly, a synagogue did not seem like a luxury anymore, but a necessity to preserve her family's Jewish heritage.
Bentonville, where, according to the article, natives knew next to nothing about Jews and Jewish life, are slowly being introduced to the details of Judaism that most non-Jewish residents of more diverse cities have always been familiar with.
Recruited from around the country as workers for Wal-Mart or one of its suppliers, hundreds of which have opened offices near the retailer's headquarters here, a growing number of Jewish families have become increasingly vocal proponents of religious neutrality in the county. They have asked school principals to rename Christmas vacation as winter break (many have) and lobbied the mayor's office to put a menorah on the town square (it did).

...Not everyone is ordering the knishes, but Christians throughout Benton County are slowly learning the complexities of Jewish life. Gary Compton, the superintendent of schools in Bentonville and a member of a Methodist church in town, has learned not to schedule PTA meetings the night before Jewish holidays, which begin at sundown, and has encouraged the high school choir to incorporate Jewish songs into a largely Christian lineup.
The piece talks about some challenges the new synagogue faces, one being the fact that the members are all from different denominations and at different observance levels, which has led to differences over questions such as whether to allow photography during services (yes). Another challenge the synagogue is facing is competition, from a Chabad Rabbi who headed over to Bentonville to hang up his shingle as soon as the Jewish community started to grow, offering Orthodox services and kosher meals - apparently an almost impossible-to-get amenity in Bentonville. high turnover also seems to be an issue.

The piece highlights how when Jews move to a town with no Jewish identity, it can bring changes to the town, as well as to the Jews themselves.

20 Comments:

Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der ┼íteg) said...

What is this? The middle ages? Inviting Jews to town to boost the economy? Bleah.. i feel used.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Still Wonderin' said...

What a a remarkable case study in the competitiveness of Jewish people: a town with practically three Jews and two shuls.

9:41 AM  
Blogger Chana said...

If that were the case, it would be two Jews and three shuls!

And then there's Postville, Iowa...

10:37 AM  
Blogger kollel mama said...

cute..my grandmother sent me the link to that today ;)

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's with the stupid membership fees? The shul is going to charge even visiting business people, some sort of fee? I bet Chabad doesn't charge a dime. And don't tell me it's because they are loaded...one thing about right wing congregations is that all is welcome - with our without money.

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes, interesting story. but im surprised that you havent picked up on the forward rubashkin thing. (sorry for the digression!) seems like a story calling out for the orthomom treatment. dont you think the way that labor is treated should affect our morality, if not ALSO whether something is labeled kosher? i'm bothered by the community's silence on this.

6:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This has nothing to do with the Wal-mart Jews, but I know what it is like being in a completely non-Jewish environment.First of all, I am a Jew from Minnesota(anybody ever heard of Robert Zimmerman?). Seriuosly,( this is a true story) I was in the army at Ft. Polk, La in 1971.The first day on the firing range, the Captain said to me and about 1,000 other raw trainees "who has never shot any kind of gun?"-me and 3 other Jews raised our hands!

6:21 PM  
Anonymous Fox said...

My cousin is a sales rep for a large company and must travel at least twice monthly to Wal-Mart headquarters. He's building a new bungalow, and I suggested he start a colony in Bentonville rather than build in the Catskills. He'd see his wife more often!

7:59 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

Heh - haven't had time to read other blogs today, but funny that my mother sent me the same link...

It's the NYTimes most e-mailed of the day, which tells you something about Jews. :)

4:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everybody thinks this is a nice article?

Nobody feels weird about it?

I don't think the Times meant us any good by it. Front page. Jump deep in the C section, so you don't get the whole perspective unless you dig.

It will be put up on muslim bulletin boards as a how-to blueprint and as a precedent to cite: "Hey, you let THEM change your culture. Why not us too? Do you know the meaning of ramadan, honey?"

And, WHY do they "eventually have to" choose a denomination? It would be so cool if they flatly refused, ever, to choose a denomination. Their unique position cries out for that.

Their photography on Shabbat solution was creative. People who insisted on doing photography on Shabbat will be discreet: no flash. That way it is between them and G-d, and not in the others' faces.

Normally, the non-Orthodox never have a conversation with the Orthodox from the cradle to the grave. Anyway, certainly not about observance. Certainly with no need to work through religious matters.

So this situation has something unique to offer in that regard.

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree they should not chose a denomination.As far as non-Orthodox not talking to Orthodox, I would have agreed until my daughter became Orthodox. Do I understand an over $1,000 wig-no, do I understand the eruv-no. Do I talk to her-yes!

5:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So THIS is America's rural/ then all-over future? No more X-mas "VACATON" is what matters?!!! AND, This all AFTER you move into OUR long lived TOWNS!??? And, ya'll consider this monkey wrench down the throat social action, WHAT?!! Just part and parcel of WHAT?! NORMAL human diversity in nomadic ACTION?!! What FOR, peeps?! And you don't think you're all bringing Hitler to the U.S. AGAIN, in WHAT do you WANT, say 2093?!! Maybe more and more UNlike the Spanish Inquisition, cuz in leadership classes, I teach: DON'T pass your problem children off to others... YOU deal with them!!! Stop yourselves before my grandkids feel the bristling neck hairs I'm presently feeling... breed in, or die, go ahead, do it with the 115 IQ nobles... ya can't kill OURS off, then take over, quite YET, eh??!!

4:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So THIS is America's rural/ then all-over future? No more X-mas "VACATON" is what matters?!!! AND, This all AFTER you move into OUR long lived TOWNS!??? And, ya'll consider this monkey wrench down the throat social action, WHAT?!! Just part and parcel of WHAT?! NORMAL human diversity in nomadic ACTION?!! What FOR, peeps?! And you don't think you're all bringing Hitler to the U.S. AGAIN, in WHAT do you WANT, say 2093?!! Maybe more and more UNlike the Spanish Inquisition, cuz in leadership classes, I teach: DON'T pass your problem children off to others... YOU deal with them!!! Stop yourselves before my grandkids feel the bristling neck hairs I'm presently feeling... breed in, or die, go ahead, do it with the 115 IQ nobles... ya can't kill OURS off, then take over, quite YET, eh??!!

4:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So THIS is America's rural/ then all-over future? No more X-mas "VACATON" is what matters?!!! AND, This all AFTER you move into OUR long lived TOWNS!??? And, ya'll consider this monkey wrench down the throat social action, WHAT?!! Just part and parcel of WHAT?! NORMAL human diversity in nomadic ACTION?!! What FOR, peeps?! And you don't think you're all bringing Hitler to the U.S. AGAIN, in WHAT do you WANT, say 2093?!! Maybe more and more UNlike the Spanish Inquisition, cuz in leadership classes, I teach: DON'T pass your problem children off to others... YOU deal with them!!! Stop yourselves before my grandkids feel the bristling neck hairs I'm presently feeling... breed in, or die, go ahead, do it with the 115 IQ nobles... ya can't kill OURS off, then take over, quite YET, eh??!!

4:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So THIS is America's rural/ then all-over future? No more X-mas "VACATON" is what matters?!!! AND, This all AFTER you move into OUR long lived TOWNS!??? And, ya'll consider this monkey wrench down the throat social action, WHAT?!! Just part and parcel of WHAT?! NORMAL human diversity in nomadic ACTION?!! What FOR, peeps?! And you don't think you're all bringing Hitler to the U.S. AGAIN, in WHAT do you WANT, say 2093?!! Maybe more and more UNlike the Spanish Inquisition, cuz in leadership classes, I teach: DON'T pass your problem children off to others... YOU deal with them!!! Stop yourselves before my grandkids feel the bristling neck hairs I'm presently feeling... breed in, or die, go ahead, do it with the 115 IQ nobles... ya can't kill OURS off, then take over, quite YET, eh??!!

4:26 PM  
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