February 1, 2016


Who are the Jews of New Hampshire? (Uriel Heilman, February 1, 2016, JTA)

A few characteristics distinguish the 1.3 million residents of New Hampshire. They're old, with a median age of 41.9 (third-oldest in the country), and  94 percent white (fourth-whitest state in America). Fewer than 20,000 of the state's residents are black.

There aren't too many Jews, either. Jewish federation officials say they know of 3,000 households with at least one Jewish person, leading them to an estimate of 10,000 Jews in all of the state. [...]

Though New Hampshire is a geographic mirror image of neighboring Vermont, the two states have very different cultures and reputations. Vermont is known as more hippie-dippy, tourist friendly and progressive. The state, home to Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders -- an avowed democratic socialist -- has voted Democrat in every presidential election since 1992. Granite Staters tend to be more libertarian and gruff, and they are twice as numerous as Vermonters. With no state income tax or sales tax, New Hampshire draws the kind of people who want government to leave them alone.

"There's a rugged individualism that permeates New Hampshire," said Rabbi Robin Nafshi, who moved to New Hampshire nearly six years ago to lead Temple Beth Jacob, a Reform synagogue in Concord. "The state motto, 'Live free or die,' is taken very seriously here. People don't like to be told how or what to do."

Nobody moves to New Hampshire for its Jewish life, and some have left because of its dearth. But the state still has pockets of Jewish vibrancy.

New Hampshire boasts about a dozen synagogues representing all the non-Orthodox Jewish movements, from Reform and Conservative to Reconstructionist and unaffiliated. The only year-round Orthodox presence in the state is a pair of Chabad centers, in Manchester and at Dartmouth College in Hanover.

In the summer, however, the northern town of Bethlehem fills with Satmar Hasidim who have been coming to the White Mountains for a century to escape the heat and foul air in New York. Hasidim stricken with allergies began coming to New Hampshire as early as 1916 to escape the pollen in their hometowns. Bethlehem, home to the National Hay Fever Relief Association, is reputed to be pollen-free.

Posted by at February 1, 2016 4:04 PM