Face of Change



How many people can say that, while perusing a college alumni periodical, they ran across a photo of an Orthodox Jew? I'm not speaking about those people who may have gone to school in a great metropolis like New York or went to a religious institution, like Yeshiva University. I'm thinking of people who went to traditional state schools or to small colleges generally far from either the West or the East Coast.

Well, I can say that this happened to me, and I went to school at the University of Iowa, which probably makes the possibility of such an occurrence rarer still. But it did happen as I was making my way through the Spectator, a quarterly publication sent out to graduates that, unlike the more glossy alumni magazines, takes the form of a tabloid, with mostly black-and-white illustrations accompanied by touches of color here and there.

In the recent issue, right smack on Page 4 of this 12-page edition, was a photo of a bearded, kipah-wearing man named Aaron Goldsmith, who was identified "as the first Jew to win a city council seat in Postville, Ia."

Some readers may recognize the town name, as it's been in the news with some regularity, while also being the subject of a well- reviewed book. Postville is home to one of the largest meat-processing plants in the country, where a great deal of kosher meat is prepared. During the 1990s, the town saw an influx of Orthodox Jews settle there after the plant opened, followed by friction between the more staid old-time Iowa residents and the new arrivals, who didn't quite resemble their neighbors.

Now, it seems, according to the Spectator, that Postville may just be Iowa's most diverse community, "with at least 24 nationalities among its estimated population of 2,400." These different peoples — many Hispanic and others from Eastern Europe — have also come because of the employment opportunities provided by the meat-packing plants (multiple ones operate there now) that helped bring the town back to life, economically speaking, over the last decade or so.

The reason the Spectator article was written was because members of the University of Iowa's Engagement Corps visited Postville to try to identify the social issues, like stresses caused by immigration, that face northeast Iowa communities, and to suggest remedies, when necessary. According to the article, written by Gary Kuhlman, this annual visit "is about building relations between U.I. faculty and the citizens of Iowa, sharing expertise and knowledge, and meeting colleagues from other departments in the University, according to Downing Thomas, professor in the French and Italian department of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and associate dean of International Programs."

According to David Redlawsk, associate professor of political science in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, he learned "a great deal about the dynamics of this multicultural town while sharing lunch with Aaron Goldsmith, the Jewish city councilman." 



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