Jamaica Kincaid’s congregation celebrates its Vermont roots

A white-pillared converted stone church beside a coppice of pine trees and over a sloping meadow from the grave of poet Robert Frost, might seem like a strange location for a sukkah, but this fall the Bennington Museum hosted two of them to mark the centennial of organized Judaism in the Vermont town. Though the Hebrew Congregation of Bennington first associated in 1909 as part of the Orthodox movement, it took an additional 14 years to put up a synagogue. A decline began in the 1970s, as the older generation retired and the younger one moved away. In 1988, members were unable to gain access to a dilapidated Beth El over the High Holy Days, and they resolved to revitalize the community and renovate the building.

The synagogue has since affiliated Reconstructionist, and its membership has grown to 110 families, the result of an effort to reach out to a scattered Jewish polity making up no more than 1% of the state’s total population. “No one moves to Vermont to be a part of the Jewish community,” said Beth El’s rabbi, Joshua Boettiger. “But these off-the-beaten track communities can be creative experiments in what it means to be Jewish.”

A prominent member of the congregation is Antigua-born writer Jamaica Kincaid, who converted to Judaism (her former husband Allen Shawn’s faith) in 1993. She has taken part in the events preceding the rededication of the synagogue’s building (scheduled for Hanukkah) through a reading from her work.

For more go to http://www.forward.com/articles/119136/

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