Ohio Jews Tune Out Presidential Election

Despite Recession, Little Sign of Shift to Republicans

Turn the Channel: Jewish voters in the swing state of Ohio are being bombarded by campaign ads for President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Many just want it to end.
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Turn the Channel: Jewish voters in the swing state of Ohio are being bombarded by campaign ads for President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Many just want it to end.

By Nathan Guttman

Published October 23, 2012, issue of October 26, 2012.

American Jews are long famous for their political engagement. But Jews here in Cleveland just want this presidential election to end.

In this fiercely contested swing state, every commercial break on TV features ads for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama; radio broadcasts are packed with super PAC attack messages and — worst of all — the phone won’t stop ringing with robo-calls.

Obama supporter Rick Lichaw works out at the Cleveland JCC.
nathan guttman
Obama supporter Rick Lichaw works out at the Cleveland JCC.

If there is one issue Ohioans can agree on in this politically divided electorate, it is the wish to get back their peace and quiet. The candidates and their partisans stress the historic turning point this election represents. But many in the Jewish community don’t even think the outcome will make much of a difference.

“I just turn the channel when the ads come on,” Ester Lebovitz of Cleveland said, using the hand gesture for turning the TV channel knob known only to people of a certain age.

Stable voters in a swing state, most Cleveland Jews appear entrenched in their political views despite the fierce campaign around them and changing economic and social realities. It is a community with “economic vulnerabilities,” a recent study by the Jewish Federation of Cleveland found, with more than one-third of its members “just managing” to get by, but it is also a community reluctant to swing.

For middle-class Jewish families in Ohio, managing to get by is, at times, a subtle change. Cutting down on restaurant outings and making more use of hand-me-down clothes for the kids is how Jodie Bromberg from the Cleveland suburb of Pepper Pike describes the changes her family has gone through in recent years. Bromberg actually views herself as among the lucky ones; her husband’s business has done well. Her greatest concern is having the financial means to keep three children in Jewish day school. “It’s our No. 1 priority,” she said.

The Gross Schechter Day School her three children attend has seen a drop in enrollment in recent years, many families pointing to the $9,000-a-year price tag per child as having become prohibitive.

Data collected for the Cleveland Jewish Population Study, conducted in 2011, after the new economic reality settled in, revealed how the shrinking of free income and the lack of financial security have taken their toll on the ability of Cleveland Jews to participate in Jewish institutions. A quarter of middle-income families said they could not afford to send their children to Jewish day schools. More than half of lower-income Jewish families had to stop sending their children to overnight summer camps. One-third said they could not pay for synagogue membership.

Jewish life in Cleveland, a stable community of 80,000 members, has been shifting in the past two decades. Religiously Orthodox Jews are increasing in numbers and in their share of the community.



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