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Author Talk: Michael Hoberman, Ph.D. How Strange It Seems: The Cultural Life of Jews in Small-Town New England

by on September 13, 2014

Sunday, October 19, 2:00 PM
Temple Beth Israel
74 Park Place East, Winsted, CT

Jews have lived in small-town New England since the colonial era, but during the last hundred years they have been especially active contributors to the region’s cultural life. Part oral history, part ethnography, and part literary portrait, How Strange It Seems tells the story of this often overlooked group, tracing its patterns of settlement, economic activity, civic involvement, and religious life since the late 1800s. Based on more than fifty interviews with men and women of all ages from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, it seeks to understand what is distinctive—and not so distinctive—about contemporary Jewish communities outside the larger urban centers of the Northeast. Michael Hoberman weaves the personal stories of these individuals and families into a collective narrative that offers as much folklore as history and is equal parts Jewish and Yankee. He introduces us to Hiram Adelman, a Russian immigrant peddler and potato farmer who settled in northernmost Maine because its climate was comparable to his native Siberia, and to Shmuel Simenowitz, an urban transplant who produces kosher maple syrup in southern Vermont. We also meet Suzie Laskin, who moved to the White Mountains region of New Hampshire in the 1900s and soon established a local havurah, and Bob August of Whately, Massachusetts, who once ran what may have been the world’s only Christmas tree farm owned by a Jewish family. Each section of the book explores how small-town New England Jews have both departed from and mimicked the broader patterns of Jewish American experience, while also illustrating how they have acclimated themselves to local practices without relinquishing a strong sense of Jewish identity. Winsted’s own Ruben Toplitz was one of the people interviewed for this book.

This event is free of charge and open to the public. A reception will follow the talk. To register or for more information, please contact Karel Rubinstein at or 860-490-3921.
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Michael Hoberman is Associate Professor of English and folklore at Fitchburg State University. He is the author of three books on New England history and culture and has a particular interest in the earliest phases of Jewish cultural life in North America. In 2008-2009, he was an NEH Long-Term Fellow at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, and in 2010 he was the recipient of a Fulbright Senior Lectureship in American Studies at Utrecht University, in the Netherlands. He is currently a Sid and Ruth Lapidus Fellow at the American Jewish Historical Society.


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