Romney makes inroads with Russian and Orthodox Jews

Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light

Klein’s rationale is a core reason that at least two groups of American Jews are steadfastly in the Republican camp in this election. 

Lisker, of the American Jewish Committee, noted that AJC’s polling has shown that Russian Jews in New York and other large cities are strongly in favor of the Romney ticket, as are most of the Orthodox. They do not follow the usual Jewish pattern of several decades of voting with the Democratic Party.

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For some, it’s a matter of strict religious observance of Torah on issues such as abortion and gay marriage, both of which Democrats generally favor. And it may be that Israel’s security also is a more important issue than the social-justice issues that move many Jews to vote Democratic.

These distinctions in the minds of many Jewish voters, Rabbi Smason said, are because many Jews are “dispersed, diverse and assimilated” into American society.

Robertson, of UMSL, said he expects the Jewish vote overall for Obama to run from 66 percent to 75 percent. And, he said, the Israel issue will not turn many Jewish voters against the president, which could be significant in some states, like Ohio and Florida, with large and active Jewish populations.

Even though the Jewish vote is around 2 percent of the voting population, it can seem outsized because of its influence in key urban areas.  Cleveland and Cincinnati come to mind. As Klein of ZOA noted, Jews are “disproportionately [strong] financial supporters of politics” – particularly regarding the Democratic Party and its candidates.

Voting is not the only political act in a democracy, several people said.

“A person should not only vote and participate but become an advocate,” said Smason. “The minimum is to vote. But also they should write letters, talk around the water cooler, make the case for what they believe.”

This tradition of high political awareness among Jews has its roots in Jewish history, said Bob Cohn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of this newspaper.  Jews have always had to adjust to different cultures, wherever they lived and whoever was in power as head of state.

Ever since Napoleon freed the Jews of France in the early 19th century to participate openly in public and civic life, Cohn said, Jews have realized that by taking part in the political process they can help to shape the conditions of the society in which they live. 

 “We have a devotion to study,” Cohn said, “that was infused with Jewish values: love thy neighbor, do not stand idly by, tzedakah, social justice.”

For many again this year, that probably will mean the Democratic Party, regardless of what Norman Podhoretz thinks.

As Robertson of UMSL put it, “party identification is an emotional issue. It’s hard to change. It really is.”