Rabbis for Human Rights: DC in December!

Adventures on Dickinson Street

I don't really know the town of Springfield. It's kind of odd that I don't, because it's only fifteen minutes further away than Northampton, and we go to Northampton all the time. But Springfield is a city we most often pass on the interstate, not one we've ever spent time exploring.

Springfield is Boston's idea of "western Massachusetts," and we who live a solid hour and a half west of there can resent that sometimes. Boston puts state services in Springfield and claims they're convenient to us here in Berkshire county, and they're just...not. It's easy to hold a grudge about that. But the Western Mass Jewish Music and Arts festival was in Springfield today, which gave us a good excuse to explore a little.

We've been yearning for Vietnamese, and my sister-in-law had told us we might find it in a neighborhood called "The X," so that was where we went, meandering from exit 3 off I-91. When we started seeing Vietnamese nail shops and beauty salons in profusion, we knew good food had to be somewhere nearby. Sure enough, we found four different Vietnamese joints within a block or two of each other. We chose a place called Can Tho Fast Food, on the corner of Dickinson and Wilmont.

The whiteboard menus on the wall were entirely in Vietnamese. The woman behind the counter smiled broadly at us, but pretty clearly didn't speak much English. We managed to order sandwiches and spring rolls. I drank a can of coconut water. We listened to Vietnamese pop while we waited for our lunch. The food was sublime, a stunning balance of spicy and savory and sweet. We ordered more food because it was just so good, and beamed at the proprietress a lot. In the end, our extraordinary lunch for two cost $12.

We found our way back to the highway and drove one exit down 91, following the directions to the Springfield Jewish Community Center. The JCC is in Forest Park, a posh neighborhood of big trees and nice houses. It feels like it's million miles away from the X. But the funny thing is, although my directions took us via the highway and Converse street, the JCC turns out to be on Dickinson: the same street we'd been on for lunch.

I spent a few hours at the music festival, enjoying Golem (they sounded great, though the table where I was hawking Zeek only allowed me a line of sight to the back of the white canvas tent which held the stage, so I didn't technically see them play...) The festival was sadly under-attended, which was a drag. I saw a lot of happy little kids running around, and at the end of Golem's set there was some impromptu line dancing in front of the stage, but (at least while I was there) the crowd was pretty sparse. Still, I enjoyed basking in the equinoctial sunshine and listening to the music.

When we left the festival, we drove back along Dickinson toward the joint where we'd had lunch. There are three synagogues nearby -- I'm guessing this neighborhood has old Jewish history. (Some online searching leads me to this article about the Lathrop House, a kosher B&B which now occupies the building which housed first a Reform temple, then the Lubavitch yeshiva. I'll bet there's a story there.) Somewhere along the road, there's an invisible line between neighborhoods. Suddenly the architecture shifts, and the demographic along with it.

It's fascinating to discover something new in one's backyard. The Vietnamese population of Springfield is around 2,400 (source); I haven't been able to find a number for the Jewish population of Springfield, though the Jewish population of Hampden County is about 10,000 (source.) I wish I knew more about the history of the neighborhood, and how (and whether) these two communities have interacted over time. For all that they're (geographically) close together, they feel pretty far apart to me.

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