Election Holds Little Hope for Florida Jews

Punishing Recession Has Many Thinking About Staying Home

Don’t Move Here: The large developments populated by many retirees and transplants are suffering from foreclosures and a stagnant real estate market.
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Don’t Move Here: The large developments populated by many retirees and transplants are suffering from foreclosures and a stagnant real estate market.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published October 16, 2012, issue of October 19, 2012.
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Elderly Jews shouldn’t move to South Florida. That’s the advice of the Jewish welfare agency serving this area, which has more old Jews than anywhere in the country but New York. If your grandmother doesn’t live within half an hour of the Boynton Beach JCC, her sister probably does.

Four years into the recession, things aren’t looking up in the retirement communities here. People who relocated a decade ago are out of cash with nowhere to turn.

“They moved down here thinking they were going to have a life in the sunshine,” said Neil Newstein, executive director and CEO of Alpert Jewish Family & Children’s Service, which struggles to stanch the exploding economic needs of the Jewish community here. “Now it’s disaster time.”

And it’s not just the old: Young families are stuck in developments pockmarked with foreclosed homes. Working people can’t find jobs.

With the presidential election weeks away and the candidates neck and neck in Florida, Republicans and Democrats are fighting for stray votes in key communities like Lake Worth. Jews here generally say they will vote for the same party they supported in 2008, which usually means the Democrats. But few believe that the election will make much of a difference. To residents of this desperate edge of Palm Beach County, the presidential race seems beside the point.

On the map, the gated retirement communities along Hagen Ranch Road just west of Boynton Beach look like a cross section of a human brain, the cul-de-sacs folded in gently curving layers. The names of the developments promise refinement: Venetian Isles, Valencia Shores, Ponte Vecchio.

Arnold Menzer lives near here in a development called Bermuda Isle. He moved to the area in 1992, well before the boom. Now 78, the onetime shoe importer says over a chicken salad sandwich in a bagel shop that he’s certain he’ll run out of money before he dies. His house is worth a fraction of the nearly half a million dollars he’s put into it, and nothing’s selling at Bermuda Isle anyhow. He has no way out, however sick or old he gets.

Galit Marks, 24, lives a few miles away in a house full of young anarchists in downtown Lake Worth. When she moved here earlier this year her house had no water and no electricity. She and three friends lived in the place rent-free while they fixed it up. There’s water now, and a makeshift stove, and fresh paint on the walls.

Marks voted for Obama in 2008, back when she was a liberal. Since then she’s had trouble finding professional work. She pays off her student loans working as a waitress at a vegan restaurant and tending bar at a Chili’s. Her roommates are anarchists, too. Marks is still planning to vote in 2012, but that makes her unusual in her circle.


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