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Tzitzit...in Wolf Point, Montana

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Judy Posen was headed for a scrabble tournament in Minneapolis and decided to make the excursion into a road trip. She set out from Seattle heading east, with her scrabble board, scrabble dictionary, road maps and and a friend – a fellow scrabble fiend.

On Day 2, after four hours of driving, Judy and her friend Robin decided to take a break in the next town they came across. That’s how they found themselves in Wolf Point, Montana, a town numbering 2,621 souls.

They drove slowly through town, in search of a place to buy a soda, when suddenly Judy caught sight of a dusty sign reading, “Jake’s Bibles & Hebrew Collectibles.”

She couldn’t resist. “Let’s just drop in for a moment,” she said to Robin. “This looks like a must.”

Downtown Wolf Point, MontanaStepping into the dank shop, they tread on creaking floorboards and breathed in air permeated with ancient smells, borrowed from the homes of a dozen aging widows. Lining every wall were shelves stacked high with Christian bibles and overflowing with Judaica items of every size and description: menoras that hadn’t known silver polish for over a decade, Mizrach wall decorations made of macrame and set in dark wooden frames, Star of David pendants under a heavy glass jewelry counter and row upon row of assorted chachkeles.

Judy and Robin exchanged baffled glances. Then the hanging double doors leading from the backroom swung, and in came a portly figure, an amalgamation of Dustbowl farmer and 18th-century Polish chassid. On his head a yarmulke rested snugly and tzitzit dangled at his waist. A wool tzitzit garment worn over his shirt was held to his portly belly by a pair of overall straps.

Judy collected herself. “Would you happen to have a blue tallit with silver stripes?” she inquired, trying to sound natural.

“No, ma’am,” said the proprietor, “but perhaps I could interest y’all in a messianic tallith, 100% virgin wool?”

“Sorry, that’s not quite what I had in mind,” Judy replied. She motioned to Robin and they went out into the bright midday sun.

As they drove out of town, Robin asked her friend to confirm the surreal scene they had beheld. “Was that really a tallit katan and tzitzit the storekeeper had on?”

“You bet your bootstraps.”