Beliefnet
POSTVILLE, Iowa, Jan. 16 -- A group of voters in Postville -- the small northeast Iowa town that has attracted attention this year for its ethnic and religious diversity -- is seeking to oust their first Jewish city councilman after just one week in office.

Aaron Goldsmith moved his wife and five children from Los Angeles to the town of 1,700 because of its slower pace and reputable Jewish school. Goldsmith was approved by the council to replace a member who was sworn in to the Iowa House of Representatives recently.

City officials have been forced to set a special election after petitioners collected a requisite 72 signatures. Council members said they'll choose an election date at a meeting this month.

Goldsmith, a businessman, called the petition "a stupid approach to drag Postville back to the dungeons."

"They don't have any material arguments," said Goldsmith, 43, a Hasidic Jew. "I really feel what you have here are a few people who have agendas who are misleading decent people. More often than not, I'm warmly received here."

Some townspeople have brushed off the election but worry that it's a setback for the community. The town needs to heal after profiles of the town overshot the extent of religious conflict, they say.

In one year, Postville's religious and cultural diversity has been the subject of a PBS documentary, a book by a University of Iowa journalism professor and other extensive media coverage. The focus has been a power struggle between the town's two meatpacking plants, one of which has Jewish managers and has attracted several Jewish families in the past decade. The other plant has drawn Hispanic families.

About 200 Jews live in Postville, Goldsmith said.

Eyes are again on the people of Postville. This time, the citizens are responsible for the attention.

A group of residents knocked on doors this month, asking for help in their quest to rid the council of Goldsmith.

City Councilman Dale Meyer and others said Arlin Schager, a retired Postville man, propelled the action against Goldsmith.

A woman who answered the telephone at Schager's home said Schager no longer lived there. She declined to disclose his whereabouts.

The petitioners have been accused of misrepresenting their cause to other voters. Two people pulled their signatures from the petition because "they didn't understand the full picture when they signed," said City Clerk Melissa Hammersland.

The petitioners have given no reasons for a special election, Hammersland said.

Meyer, the councilman, sees the election as a waste of taxpayer money because Goldsmith's appointment is a one-year term. Letters to the local newspaper reflect a similar opinion.

Meyer said many citizens encouraged Goldsmith to pursue the position. Goldsmith appears to have few critics, he said.

"To me, he's more than qualified for the job," Meyer said. "He's progressive, he runs a business and he's in with the Chamber of Commerce. We just felt he was the man for it, and with all the Jews and Mexicans and Russians we have here, we've got to have some communication."

A PBS documentary featured Goldsmith, who said he defended the town because researchers "were looking for dirt." He also criticized a book by University of Iowa professor Stephen Bloom, which characterized Postville's Jews as "greedy" and other residents as "local yokels," Goldsmith said. Bloom did not return calls.

"Postville has been defined, to an extent, by people outside of Postville," said Goldsmith, who grew up in western Illinois and attended Drake University before moving to California.

Rabbi Yossi Jacobson of Des Moines, who represents Iowa's Lubavitch movement, said prejudice against Jews exists everywhere in Iowa. The opinions don't always reflect anti-Semitism, said Jacobson, who met Goldsmith at Drake in the 1970s.

"It's an idea they're not used to," Jacobson said. "In the bigger cities, I don't think it's outstanding, but in Postville it is, and I'm sure it happens in other small towns. The focus has to be how human we are, not how different we are."

Jacobson said a special election will put the people of Postville to the test. "There's no situation in America today like Postville," he said.

Goldsmith hopes the community will stand behind him.

"I think that it would be embarrassing to the decent people of Postville if an effort to put me out was successful," he said.

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