The front porch of the Chilmark General Store on Martha’s Vineyard is a little bit small-town America, a little bit shtetl and a little bit Park Avenue. At certain lunchtimes on certain summer days, it may be one of the country’s great concentrations of wealth, professional expertise and Jewish jokes.
The town of Chilmark, according to famed attorney and summertime local Alan Dershowitz (whom I was profiling for JTA), used to be “Judenrein” until the late ’60s or early ’70s, when a group of Jews formed a commune in the vicinity of Menemsha Pond and called themselves “Menemsheviks.” After that, the neighborhood quickly changed.
The store itself is a modest, shingle-sided building with an old-fashioned, wooden front porch decked out with benches, a few rocking chairs, a couple tables — nothing fancy. Inside, they sell pizza, coffee, sandwiches, and local necessities. The dress code is strictly schlubby.
On a recent noon visit to the porch, the scene was in full swing. There was Neil Weisman, a former partner in the aptly named Chilmark Capital hedge fund. Photographer Guy Webster, who shot album covers for The Doors and Simon and Garfunkel, among others. David Ginsberg, a minority owner of the Red Sox and the Liverpool FC soccer team (and who, according to Dershowitz, makes fantastic pasta). Sharon Bialy, the casting director for “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead,” among others. Professors Carol and James Gilligan. Nick Stevens, who is Ben Stiller’s agent. Bob Vila, of “This Old House” fame, made a brief appearance. And many more.
As Dershowitz puts it, “Here, you don’t need Google. You’ve got an expert for everything.”
One departed porch-goer is the late Harold Ramis. He and Dershowitz used to sit on the porch for hours, trading Jewish jokes rapid-fire, one after another.
The vibe is friendly and familiar — people bring their kids, and everybody seems to know one another going back for years. A few of the attendees compare notes on the personalities of fellow Vineyard-goers Presidents Clinton and Obama. (Obama, one attendee suggests, is a bit of a cold fish.) They talk about trying keep the weight off their paunches, about Jewish last names.
One attendee announces that she is leaving the Vineyard — there are hugs, farewells and a few tears. Then the empty seat is filled, and the rhythm of conversation resumes.