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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Outside the gates, there’s little public transportation. Inside the gates there’s trouble, too: Most buildings in Century Village don’t have elevators for residents of second story condos. That wasn’t a problem for retirees who moved in planning to go to assisted living when they grew old and sick. But many have been forced to give up on that plan. Menzer, the 78-year-old who said he would outlive his money, has neighbors who are staying put despite needing higher levels of care because they can’t sell their homes and therefore can’t afford to move.

JF&CS social workers sometimes advise retirees in higher-end communities like Menzer’s to downsize to cheaper places like Century Village, where you can buy a condo now for $6,000 down. “They get mad because they don’t want to lower their lifestyle,” Newstein said.

The charities, meanwhile, have their own problems. Wealthy Jews in Palm Beach prefer to donate to causes up North, which hold fundraisers in the area during the winter. “The very, very wealthy are not supporting local Palm Beach charities,” said Josephine Stayman, 88, a Palm Beach resident who has helped raised funds for the JCC here. “They are residents of Palm Beach for tax reasons, but the local charities do not appeal to them that much.”

On a recent Friday, a few dozen seniors gathered in the lunchroom of MorseLife’s sparkling West Palm Beach facility. The seniors were there for breakfast, lunch and Bingo, as part of a county-funded program that MorseLife took on after the JCC that previously housed it closed a few years ago.

For some of the attendees the daily meals the service provides are a literal lifeline, Sadowsky said. For others it’s more of a social outlet. Whatever the value, it’s a small program. Between 32 and 40 seniors attend each day, according to MorseLife. In the eyes of the staff at JF&CS, headquartered in an office park ten minutes away, that’s a small drop in a growing ocean.

Visitors see the services available at MorseLife and the lifestyle at the high-end retirement communities and they think they’ll be taken care of if they retire here, JF&CS’s Frumer said. “They really don’t believe — what do you mean, there’s no help?”

Newstein, the JF&CS CEO, believes that there are state-level political remedies to some of the problems facing the elderly here. But he doesn’t see anyone instituting a state income tax anytime soon. “I don’t think there’s any political will to solve it, by any party,” Newstein said.

There’s a billboard near the Boynton Beach exit on I-95 you can see when driving up from Ft. Lauderdale that aims to focus some of this inchoate frustration into a vote for Romney. The text reads like the subject line of a chain email: “OBAMA … OY VEY!!! Had enough?”

A web address leads to a Republican Jewish Coalition site featuring videos of Jewish Democrats explaining why they support Romney. Some focus on Israel, others on the economy.

The apparent certainty of the voters in the video that a vote for Romney will fix what Obama couldn’t is hard to find on the ground in Florida.

“My life is sheltered,” said Buddy Marks, 72, contrasting himself with many others in the area as he sat at a breakfast table at Temple Torah in Boynton Beach amid a cluster of older men and women. Marks said he was still undecided. Though he voted for Obama four years ago and is “not a big Mitt Romney fan,” he said that he hadn’t quite settled on his candidate yet.

“I don’t know who to believe when they’re talking to each other,” he said.

For others who are not as insulated, the problem is less who to believe than the limits to what any president could do. Said Steinberg, the public school teacher: “All empires end.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or follow him on Twitter @joshnathankazis

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