The Shmooze

Mosque Debate Focuses Attention on Bloomberg’s Judaism

By Nathan Burstein

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Leave it to a debate over a mosque to refocus attention on Michael Bloomberg’s Judaism.

New York City’s mayor has returned to the national spotlight in recent weeks, as controversy has escalated over the so-called “Ground Zero mosque,” the proposed Islamic cultural center that would be built two blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center. Bloomberg, raised in a kosher home in Medford, Mass., has prominently defended the project, declaring in an August 24 speech that “[t]here is nowhere in the five boroughs of New York City that is off limits to any religion.”

While Bloomberg’s religious background isn’t exactly a secret, his outspoken support for the center has renewed interest in his beliefs. An August 28 article in the Wall Street Journal examined the mayor’s upbringing and observance in adult life, noting his childhood Hebrew school attendance but reporting that Bloomberg is now “more likely to show up in church” for a political event “than be spotted at Temple Emanu-El, the Upper East Side reform synagogue to which he belongs.”

That said, the mayor still makes a point of attending High Holiday services each fall, and risks “trouble with his sister, Marjorie, if he doesn’t arrive on time for Passover seder.” In addition to a personal trip to Israel before his political career, Bloomberg has repeatedly traveled to the country as mayor, and paid for a new wing at a Jerusalem hospital, among other donations.

Attitudes toward Bloomberg’s Judaism appear to be correlated with views about his leadership, both on the mosque debate and on other issues. M. Taufiqurrahman, a staff writer for Indonesia’s Jakarta Post, pointed to Bloomberg and other Jewish defenders of the mosque as evidence against anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, while New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a fomer ally who opposed Bloomberg’s 2009 re-election bid, told the Wall Street Journal, “Would I call him a proud Jew? I don’t know. Is there anything he’s said, done that has especially shown that he has a real connection with the Jewish community?”

Judging Bloomberg on his level of religious identification isn’t a task for politicians or writers, former New York City Council member Simcha Felder told the Journal. “The only one that should judge people’s religiosity or level of observance,” Felder said, “is God.”


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