Wednesday, June 13, 2012

We're Everywhere, Part 3

First there was Lisbon and Hebron. This is Ellington, which, simply from the sound of it, seems even less likely to have any Jews. And yet! Here is Knesseth Israel, built in 1913. The congregation itself was established eight years earlier, and the first Jewish immigrant farmers, who came to start new lives working an unknown land, arrived several years before that.

Two thoughts distracted me as I stood looking at this building. The first was that, in much of the world, you can't take pictures of synagogues; or at least you can't just park right beside them, walk up to the front door unannounced, and start photographing away. This shul in Ellington (like its counterparts in Lisbon and Hebron) apparently has no such security concerns. Still, whenever I take pictures of synagogues I'm at least aware of the possibility that someone might come out and politely demand to know what I'm doing there. And when no one comes out, that feeling morphs from the anticipation of getting in trouble into something less immediate but deeper: am I - are we - safe here?

The other thought was, "OH HI I'M A TOURIST!" In small towns where everyone knows everyone, or seems to, you know you're going to stick out if you stand on the very busy road where residential neighborhood blends into farmland taking pictures of historic buildings. Since I do this a lot, I pretty much always feel like one of those people who walk very slowly, gaping, through Times Square.

So I was standing there, obviously not from Ellington and therefore obviously drawing attention to myself and this unprotected building. But then I thought, it's fine, because the Baron De Hirsch Fund intended me to be here. And the Jewish Agricultural Society intended me to be here. And the horribly named and kind of questionably motivated Industrial Removal Office intended me to be here. Well, not precisely me, and not exactly in this way. I don't think anyone ever intended for Jews to be saved from the perils of Eastern Europe so that they could be free to blog. But suddenly I didn't care that the people in the cars rushing from farm to town were watching me.

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