BETHLEHEM, N.H., Sept. 3 (JTA) — Every July and August, the little town of Bethlehem becomes the Chasidic capital of New Hampshire, if not of all rural New England. Hundreds of Satmars and other Chasidim, or fervently Orthodox Jews, drive north from New York to enjoy the cool mountain air and tree-lined vistas for which the tourist town is known. “There could be 200 to 300 extra Jews” in town on any late summer day, says Margie “Moocho” Salomon, a weaver of tallitot and member of the year-round Bethlehem Hebrew Congregation. “Our congregation blossoms, too.” Many of the Chasidim stop at the first building inside city limits, the Arlington Hotel. Behind a roadside sign that declares “Glatt Kosher” in Hebrew stands the scuffed, three-story, 130-year-old white wooden hotel with a wrap-around porch. Inside, the carpet is worn, the furniture shabby, the wallpaper faded. But host Moishe Mendelovicii, who at age 53 still likes to entertain guests by standing on his head, is friendly and talkative in several languages. The food is prepared fresh by the Strulovitzes, a Satmar family that has owned the Arlington for 30 years. The story goes that Mrs. Strulovitz, the family matriarch, came to Bethlehem after asking the Satmar rebbe how she could cure her asthma. His advice: Go to “Hampshire.” She could have flown to England, Mendelovicii says, but instead got on a bus headed for the Granite State. She disembarked in Bethlehem and found her way to the Arlington, which was kosher then, too. She slept for three days and felt much better. She and her husband, the late Rabbi Solomon Strulovitz, bought the place. The Satmars have been coming ever since. Other Chasidim and some modern Orthodox Jews stay in local boarding houses with kosher kitchens, Salomon adds. She says the non-Jewish townsfolk “kind of roll their eyes and wonder why the Chasids wear black coats on a 90-degree day. But the locals know the Chasids are a central part of the economy.” The city Jews have little interaction with the local country Jews, though some visiting Chasids tour Bethlehem Hebrew Congregation, a newly refurbished, 19th-century, white wooden building with a tall peaked roof and gabled windows. The 100-family congregation is not affiliated with any movement and depends on lay leaders or rabbis from neighboring towns to lead services. Shabbat attendance varies from 15 people in January to 40 or 50 when a charismatic rabbi is leading a service in summer, Salomon says. Cantor Amy Mitz of nearby Sugar Hill, N.H., runs the Hebrew school and leads worship on the High Holidays, when attendance can reach 150. The congregation used to lend a Torah scroll to the Chasidim. One of the borrowed Torahs turned out to be damaged, Salomon recalls, so a Chasidic Torah scribe who was vacationing in Bethlehem repaired the marred letters at no charge and returned the scroll as good as new.
Chasidim come to Bethlehem — New Hampshire