Changing Face of New York Jewry

Led by Orthodox, Population Grows and Shifts Dramatically

kurt hoffman/getty images

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published June 14, 2012, issue of June 22, 2012.
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Less Liberal

Taken together, New York City’s Orthodox and Russian-speaking Jewish communities comprise 56% of the city’s Jewish population.

The newfound dominance of those communities, both of which are more politically conservative than other Jewish groups, could challenge the notion that the New York Jewish vote is a liberal vote — or even a Democratic vote.

“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.”

Source: UJA-Federation of New York

The locus of this new, right-leaning Jewish constituency is in Brooklyn, where Jews make up 23% of the population. Most of the area’s Russian-speaking Jews live there, as do nearly all of the area’s ultra-Orthodox Jews.

The community already flexed its political muscles once, in a high-profile special election to fill the seat of liberal Jewish Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner, who resigned in June 2011. Republican candidate Bob Turner rode a wave of Russian Jewish support to take the seat, much to the surprise of the city’s Democratic establishment.

“The Jewish political field in Brooklyn has changed so much,” said Alec Brook-Krasny, a Russian-speaking Jew who is a member of the New York State Assembly. “The dynamics are that we’re going to have more and more Russian Jews participating in elections. Of course the influence will be increasing.”

Ultra-Orthodox Jews, meanwhile, have an acute need for social services and tend to vote in blocs. Today, this inclines them to support establishment Democrats who dominate New York City politics and can deliver these services. But in sharp contrast to non-Orthodox Jews, they also hold conservative positions on social issues such as same-sex marriage, and they strongly back public funding for parochial schools. This puts them close to the Republicans ideologically.

“I would think that wise politicians would look at this data and realize that they can no longer view the Jewish community as monolithic politically,” wrote Republican political consultant Lee Cowen in an email.

On a national level, the survey’s findings could have long-term implications for how American Jews support Israel.

Some Hasidic groups, like the Satmar of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, remain theologically anti-Zionist. Only 56% of the Hasidim reported that they felt “very attached” to Israel. That’s a higher proportion than among non-Orthodox Jews, but far lower than among other Orthodox groups.

National pro-Israel lobbying groups, which are largely supported by Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodox Jews, are in no foreseeable danger of losing their backing. But the ambivalence toward Israel among some of the ultra-Orthodox could have an impact as the burgeoning population of young Hasidim comes of age.


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