The July 18th 2010 TAT story from Ben and Elizabeth about the Yellow Deli People sounded eerily familiar. I knew the name of the group before it was ever mentioned in the article: The Twelve Tribes Commonwealth of Israel. Three summers ago, I stayed with the same group for a few days in Rutland, Vermont while in the process of completing a 5-month Appalachian Trail thru-hike. They run an adorable hostel upstairs from their business, The Back Home Again Café and Juice Bar, and offer a “work for stay” option. This means that for perhaps 1-2 hours of work (washing dishes, sweeping, peeling potatoes, whatever), we are able to have a roof over our heads and eat well without paying a dime. These deals are highly attractive to the thru-hiking community, who would do just about anything for the promise of a hot meal, a shower, and a real mattress.
The weather during the first half of Vermont had oscillated between cold drizzle and oppressive heat, and after one of our more interesting hitchhiking experiences, my hiking partner and I arrived at the café exhausted and hungry. Upon entering, we were struck by the atmosphere of the place: intricate, hand-carved wooden beams, exposed brick, cozy lighting and with hanging plants everywhere…definitely an other-worldly Middle Earth sort of vibe, with the elfin community members happily running around with serving trays. We were greeted with warm smiles, and promptly led toward the showers (stocked with intoxicating homemade lavender and tea tree soap). The men and women were conservatively dressed, and I immediately felt self-conscious in my clingy, sweaty tank top. I knew we must’ve reeked, and yet they invited us to join their family for dinner. They were amazingly nice people, but I’ll admit I was a little unnerved by their serenity. What is their deal?
There was a variety of reading material in the bunkrooms for our perusal: things about the homemade soap, menu choices for the café below, and…what’s this?…pamphlets about following Yahshua with all of one’s being? Ah, the light bulb went off in my head. The Twelve Tribes Community, it seems, is a branch of fundamental Christianity trying to return to as close to a traditional Jewish lifestyle as possible. This includes, but is not limited to, communal living, strict gender roles, homeschooling and labor for the children, shared finances and possessions, Hebrew names given for all community members, and universal hairstyles and clothing. After a few hours of working side-by-side, we were on a first name basis with several of the community members and our interactions felt comfortable enough to ask them some questions about their path: why the traditional, regimented dress code? Why did you join the group and how does your family feel about this? They responded patiently and smiling sweetly. They seemed acutely aware of cult-like perceptions outsiders have of the group. Whatever their reasons, they seemed really happy. I know I couldn’t handle it, but to each their own, I guess.
Travelers take note, the people here are interesting, welcoming, and open to questions, and the food is delicious and wholesome. We were told that we should look up other community locations if we were ever in need of a place to stay. Just be prepared to volunteer in the kitchen (or wherever they need help), in addition to experiencing the magnetic pull of that peace-and-love feeling…which may creep you out a bit upon escaping the place.
By: Maribeth Latvis