Summer in Massachusetts, Jews Everywhere

groot sculptuur in Turn Park

Summer in Massachusetts is glorious. Not only is the weather usually great, but there is so much to see and do – in and outside Boston. Every summer I try to take a road-trip, either by myself or with a friend. This year I traveled for 3 days with Viva who lives in Australia. I called our time together, a “Thelma and Louise” trip, although, of course, the beginning, middle and end were different that in the movie.

We started by heading west from Logan International Airport to the campus of Hampshire College in Amherst, where the Yiddish Book Center is located. Of course we were not surprised that many other Jews were visiting. In this video Aaron Lansky, the founder of the Yiddish Book Center, talks about ’the why’ of this Center, and his 40 year old project of collecting Yiddish books from all over the world that people were discarding.

Because I have an “only one museum a day” policy, we didn’t go to any other museums in the area including the museum established for the iconic American poet, Emily Dickinson. 

The next day we went further west to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA. As you probably know, Norman Rockwell, not a Jew, was one of the most famous American illustrators. Many of his paintings are iconic, recognizable by most Americans. The museum offered a separate tour of his studio where I met another Jew. This one was embedded in a painting called “The Golden Rule” that portrays a wide array of people who adhere to different religions. In the upper middle of the painting, where your eyes focus, is an old, Jewish man with a long white beard, a black kippah and a white tallit over this head and shoulders. On the left side of the painting is a young boy, may be bar mitzvah age, wearing a kippah as well and holding a Sefer Torah. 

Golden Rule, 1961. Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, April 1, 1961. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections. ©SEPS: Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), Golden Rule, 1961. Oil on canvas, 44 1/2” x 39 1/2”, ©SEPS: Curtis Licensing, Indianapolis, IN.

The docent told us that the ‘rabbi’ was not actually Jewish, but rather a mailman in town whom Rockwell used as a model. As we left the museum, we passed by a large stunning sculpture by my friend, Harold Grinspoon, a local Jew and major philanthropist who created PJLibrary.

The next day we decided to visit Shaker Village in Hancock, MA. But instead of going straight there, we got off the road when we saw a sign for Hoffman Pottery. We quickly turned the car to go down the smaller road. The setting of the potter’s land was gorgeous – on rolling hills and lush gardens. We entered the shop and Viva immediately noticed displays of ceramic hanukiyot, mezuzot, and nerot Shabbat. Not being shy, I asked the potter why she had all these Jewish items? Is she herself Jewish? She said “yes, a secular Jew.” We discussed Jewish life in the area. Then I bought a pair of candlesticks for my daughter.

Hypnotic, Harold Grinspoon, 2020

I asked the potter what we should visit in West Stockbridge, where her home was located and she suggested the shop of a woman who makes the best almond extract in the world. We never got there because when we arrived in West Stockbridge – a town four blocks long – and parked the car, we went into a charming coffee shop. I don’t know how it happened but as we were paying the bill, I asked the clerk (!) if he was Jewish, and he said Yes! He had immigrated from Argentina. I was astonished.

Outside the shop, there was a sign pointing to something called the TurnPark Art Space, basically a very large, amazing sculpture garden. TurnPark Art Space almost made me shout for joy.  In one picturesque spot, there was a simple table and two matching chairs. Viva and I sat to enjoy the peace, beauty, breeze, and pieces of art all around us. From the corner of my eye, I saw a woman I did not know, walking across the field. I called out to her and asked if she could come to where we were sitting. I wanted to ask her if it was worthwhile to walk in the direction from which she was coming. She approached us and after answering my question, she began to talk with us. It took about a minute to discover that she was a Jewish woman from Moldova whose parents were Holocaust survivors (horrible stories emerged) and who eventually immigrated to Israel where she arrived at age 19. She lived in Israel for seven years and speaks fluent Hebrew, of course, which Viva and I do as well. So, the three of us – an Jewish Australian, Moldovan and American continued in Hebrew for about half an hour. At the end of the conversation, Viva and she had made a date to meet in New York City where Viva’s relatives live one block away from the Moldovan woman.  

As we were leaving, we checked Google on our phones and learned that the TurnPark Art Space is largely a Russian Jewish project!  “An open-air museum, sculpture park, and performance space…The approximately 16  acre site is located on the grounds of a former lime and marble quarry.  It includes a collection of sculptures, mostly from the Soviet Nonconformist Art movement of the 1950s – 1980s, represented by Nikolai Silis, Vladimir Lemport and Nazar Bilyk. The park was established in May 2017 by collectors Igor Gomberg and Katya Brezgunova, and designed by architects Grigori Fateyev and Alexander Konstantinov.” The day we visited, TurnPark’s theme was support of Uikraine!  

For Viva and me, our trip was a series of Jewish surprises and discoveries, among everything else. We could have bought a copy of the 28-page newspaper, Berkshire Jewish Voice, published by the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires. But sometimes it is more of a pleasure to discover Jewish life on one’s own. 

My next Thelma and Louise trip is to Iceland with one of my daughters. Who knows whom we will find.

cover: wandering rocks by Alexander Konstantinov, see Turnpark Art

Over Shulamit Reinharz 2 Artikelen
Shulamit Reinharz retired from Brandeis University in 2017 where in addition to her teaching, speaking and publishing she revamped the Women's Studies Program, created the Women's Studies Research Center, and art gallery (2001). She established the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, which studies the intersection of Jews and gender. The author of 15 books, her recently completed volume (whose title is being debated) concerns her father's Holocaust experience in Germany and in Holland, where he became an onderduiker. Shula was born in Amsterdam in June 1946 and has visited the Netherlands frequently.

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