Tuesday, June 20, 2006


first came the walmart, then came the jews...

a fascinating effect of walmart's ever-expanding tentacles of growth is the integration of formally homogenous bentonville, arkansas:
BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Residents of Benton County, in the northwest corner of Arkansas, are proud citizens of the Bible Belt. At last count, they filled 39 Baptist, 27 United Methodist and 20 Assembly of God churches. For decades, a local hospital has begun meetings with a reading from the New Testament and the library has featured an elaborate Christmas display.

Then the Wal-Mart Jews arrived.

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).

Wal-Mart has transformed small towns across America, but perhaps its greatest impact has been on Bentonville, where the migration of executives from cities like New York, Boston and Atlanta has turned this sedate rural community into a teeming mini-metropolis populated by Hindus, Muslims and Jews.

It is the Jews of Benton County, however, who have asserted themselves most. Two years ago, they opened the county's first synagogue and, ever since, its roughly 100 members have become eager spokesmen and women for a religion that remains a mystery to most people here.

When the synagogue celebrated its first bar mitzvah, the boy's father — Scott Winchester, whose company sells propane tanks to Wal-Mart — invited two local radio D.J.'s, who broadcast the event across the county, even though, by their own admission, they had only a vague idea of what a bar mitzvah was.

"Jesus was Jewish," one D.J. noted in a dispatch from the reception at a local hotel. The other remarked, "I love Seinfeld."
especially interesting is that one of my classmates who was just ordained as a rabbi is going to be serving as rabbi at nearby fayetteville. will arkansas become the next brooklyn? only time will tell...

I have been to Bentonville many times and when I read the story it made me even more appreciative of what they did. I was lucky enough to have attended a service at the shul in late 2005. The group made me feel very much at home. While I hope not to spend another Friday night in Bentonville, I know now I have a place to go

This was a big contrast to several years back, I did the same with the group in Fayetteville (about 40 minutes from my hotel) and did not feel welcome at all. Nobody even said shabbat shalom after the service and the ones that spoke to me, did so after I addressed them. If the group has not changed by now, maybe your friends hiring will help make it a friendly place.
I think Hillary Clinton went there.
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