Forward Thinking

Why Is Pa.'s Tom Wolf a Big JCC Macher?

By Anthony Weiss

Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf is a JCC macher, but is not Jewish / Flicker: WolfForPa Campaign

(JTA) — In his coverage of last night’s primary elections, Slate political reporter Dave Weigel mentioned an odd fact: Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania’s newly crowned gubernatorial nominee, has given so much to his local Jewish community center in York, Pa., that many reporters assumed he was Jewish. Only he isn’t.

So why is a non-Jewish businessman one of the biggest donors to his local JCC — so big that, in the midst of a gubernatorial campaign, he’s also co-chairing the JCC’s new capital campaign?

There are a couple parts to this answer. One is that Wolf and his family have deep roots in the York community — in fact, one of the York’s boroughs, Mount Wolf, is named for Tom Wolf’s great-great-grandfather — and he’s been a generous donor of time and money to local civic life.

The second part is that the York JCC is one of a number of JCCs around the country where the membership is majority gentile. (I wrote about this a few years ago for the Forward.) In these communities, the Jewish population is too small to support a decent JCC on its own, so the local leaders have decided to actively recruit members from outside the Jewish community. The Jews get a nice big JCC (and I can attest that the York JCC is very nice, even before its newly planned expansion) with lots of Jewish programming, and the non-Jews get a nice gym and another good local preschool.

So, in that light, Tom Wolf’s JCC donations make sense — he’s just supporting another York civic institution, the way his family always does.

There’s one more twist to the story, though: Tom Wolf, the man so many people believed was Jewish, just beat out Allyson Schwartz — a woman who is, in fact, Jewish — in the Democratic primary race for governor.

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Shhh: NY Times Reports on Orthodox GOP Vote

By J.J. Goldberg

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Some news, apparently, is fit to print, but not too boldly. Take, for example, the demure self-censorship on display Saturday in the New York Times’ eye-opening report, headlined “On Island, Largely Blue, an Exception: Trump Tower,” on the handful of New York City neighborhoods that voted for Mitt Romney over President Obama. Overall, the city voted Obama over Romney 81% to 18%.

The headline and the first five paragraphs were about the two isolated election precincts on the Upper East Side of Manhattan Island where Romney won half or more of the vote. It wasn’t until paragraph 7 to find out that the main news began to trickle out: that the “deepest single bloc of Republican support in all the five boroughs” was a four-square-block section of Gravesend, Brooklyn, “dotted with Sephardic temples and yeshivas.”

Finally, well into the jump, we learned that Romney “enjoyed strong support from a range of neighborhoods with large populations of Orthodox Jews.” Many precincts in Borough Park, Kew Gardens Hills and Sheepshead Bay (which is largely Russian, not Orthodox) voted 90% GOP. A note on the accompanying map gave you the money quote: “Mr. Obama’s worst precincts were in Orthodox Jewish areas like Ocean Parkway and Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Kew Gardens Hills in Queens.”

The map shows the city’s 5,286 precincts as a sea of blue and red dots, shaded darker or lighter to indicate higher or lower percentages of partisan leaning. The darkest red voted over 80% for Romney, while pale pink gave him 50% to 65%. In addition to the broad swathes of dark red running down Brooklyn from Hasidic Borough Park down Sephardic Ocean Park to Russian Brighton Beach, there are dark red clusters in mostly Italian-American Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, and mostly Irish-American (and storm-ravaged) Breezy Point, Queens.

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No (GOP) Sex on Tisha B'Av

By Nathan Guttman

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With President Barack Obama’s reelection only a few days in the rear view mirror, the topic of the Jewish role in American politics is still brewing — and we learned some tantalizing details about Mitt Romney’s summer trip to Israel.

Democratic and Republican operatives sparred over the importance of the Jewish vote in the just-completed election at the only session devoted to discussing the results at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly.

Tevi Troy, a former George W. Bush adviser who consulted the Romney campaign on Jewish issues, said the big headline coming out of the election had nothing to do with Jews.

Insteaed, it concerned the fast-growing Latino vote, which went strongly for Obama, prompting much hand-wringing about the future of the GOP.

“People are going to wonder going forward,” Troy said, “how much the Jewish vote really matters.”

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Ed Koch Weighs In for Obama

By Nathan Guttman

With the presidential election only days away, it is time for both campaigns to pull out their strongest arguments and best presenters in order to make that final push just a little bit more effective.

For Jewish Democrats, this means getting out Ed Koch, former mayor of New York, for a warm endorsement of President Barack Obama. In a campaign video released Wednesday Koch speaks at length about Obama’s record on Israel, and then moves on to praise the president’s economic policies. To make clear at whom this ad is directed, producers of the video made sure to film Koch with a large menorah in the background.

Koch is an important figure for the Obama campaign not only because of his standing in the Jewish community. Koch is especially valuable because of his on-again, off-again endorsements of the President, which may give him credibility as a straight-shooter with some undecided voters.

An outspoken supporter of Israel, Koch has criticized Obama several times in the past four years, even as recent as last month Now, the Obama campaign can make the point that even Koch, 87, is convinced by Obama’s record on Israel.

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Mitt's Big Lead in Israel

By Nathan Jeffay

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Luckily for President Barack Obama, Israel is no swing state.

A sneak preview of a poll which will be released tomorrow indicates that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has won the hearts and minds of Israelis. Asked which hopeful they preferred, some 57% of Jewish Israelis said Romney, while just 22% said President Barack Obama.

The poll, conducted by Tel Aviv University and the Israel Democracy Institute, suggested that in the Arab sector, the picture was totally different. Only 15% preferred Romney while 45% wanted to see Obama return to the White House.

Interestingly, in Israel Romney even some following among those who define themselves as left-wingers. Some 30% of respondents who put themselves in this group said they preferred Romney. Among rightists and centrists the figures were 70% and 54% respectively.

Some analysts have suggested that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could see a spillover benefit in his own election campaign if Romney wins, or suffer if Obama is reelected. But 69% of Israelis say that the US election results won’t impact the outcome of Israeli elections. Some 51% of Israeli Arabs believe they will.

Of course, voting behavior experts have often pointed out that voters’ analysis of how they make up their mind is often a world away from how they really choose their candidate. So we will have to wait until the early hours of January 23 to find out any true connection between the U.S. and Israeli elections.

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Obama Won by Talking Like a Republican

By Jay Michaelson

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This late in the campaign, everything is about swing states – and the foreign policy debate was largely about Florida, where moderate Jews could well decide who gets the state’s 29 electoral votes.

On those grounds, on the basis of issues important to Florida Jews, President Obama won this debate, but in a bizarre, looking-glass sort of way in which the candidates seemingly exchanged personalities. Mitt Romney sounded like Obama: reasonable, measured, and knowledgeable about foreign policy. Barack Obama sounded like Romney: making strong rhetorical points with little attention to detail.

On Israel, for example, it was Obama who struck first, citing his support of the Iron Dome defense system, and using the phrase “stand with Israel” numerous times. Romney, meanwhile, sounded like a Democrat: arguing for peace talks with the Palestinians, and a measured approach to Iran.

So too on the emotional issues likely to resonate with the bubbes and zaydes of Palm Beach County. Could anyone have predicted that President Obama would invoke the holocaust in his discussion of the State of Israel? And yet that’s what he did, noting that on his trip to Israel, he visited Yad Vashem (the holocaust memorial, he explained to the non-Jewish voters who happened to be watching the debate too), whereas Romney went to fundraisers.

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Florida Jews Breaking for Obama: Poll

By Nathan Guttman

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Florida Jewish voters, viewed as crucial in determining the outcome of the November elections, will vote overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, according to a new survey of the state’s Jewish voters commissioned by the American Jewish Committee.

The poll conducted between September 7-9 and released Thursday, found that support for Obama among Jewish voters is down from an estimated 74%-to-78% in the 2008 elections to an expected 69% this year. Romney, according to the poll, which included 254 registered Jewish voters, will win 25% of the votes, up from an estimated 21% won by Republican candidate John McCain in 2008.

The survey has both good and bad news for Democrats. On the positive side, it suggests that Florida Jews fall in line with the national Jewish population which according to the latest Gallup tracking poll will give Obama 70% of its support with only 25% of Jewish Americans voting for Romney. Democratic strategists have long argued that Jewish support ranging from the mid 60’s to the low 70’s would be a satisfactory outcome in this elections cycle.

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'The Era of the So-Called Jewish Vote Is Over'

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

A new survey of New York’s Jews out today suggests the advent of a much more politically conservative Jewish community that could shift the balance of local New York politics.

The study, conducted by the UJA Federation of New York, knocks down old conceptions of what it means to be a New York Jew. The Jewish community is increasingly Orthodox and poor, with significant numbers of Russian-speaking members and decreasing levels of educational attainment.

“The Russians are not Democrats, and the Hasidim are not necessarily Democrats,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a conservative Democratic political strategist. “When somebody figures out how to put the Russians and the ultra-Orthodox together they’re going to come up with an atomic bomb in Democratic politics in New York State.”

The UJA survey was the largest of its kind ever conducted. As we reported earlier this morning, 32% of Jews in the five boroughs of New York City plus three suburban counties identify as Orthodox, up from 27% a decade ago.

Orthodox Jews are generally more political conservative, and are in greater need of social services than non-Orthodox Jews. Their numbers appear to be concentrated in Brooklyn, where the study found that 22% of Brooklynites are Jewish, up from 18% just ten years ago.

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Only Nice Words for Obama

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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Jack Rosen

You wouldn’t expect a host to say anything bad about his guest of honor. But American Council for World Jewry chairman Jack Rosen was especially gracious about the message delivered by President Obama at a fundraiser held at Rosen’s Manhattan home.

“He made, I think, a solid case for having stood with Israel on the crisis issues facing Israel, which are security cooperation and Iran,” said Rosen, a real estate developer who came to prominence as chair of the now-inactive American Jewish Congress.

Rosen, who has raised money for both Democrats and Republicans, called the Forward a couple of days after the event. He readily conceded that Obama came with hat in hand. Besides raising cash, he also wanted to send an inclusive message to Jewish leaders.

“He came because fundraising took place, but I also think he wanted to reach out and have a dialog with the Jewish community, and that was an added benefit here,” Rosen said of the November 30 event. “We had a frank discussion on the issues that mattered to the community, certainly with regard to Israel.”

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