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Despite these changes, the community’s strong institutions and committed members have given Cleveland Jews an image for decades as a “model community,” one that leads the pack in fundraising and in providing services. As the community geared up for its “Super Sunday” fundraising drive, scheduled for October 21, officials noted that fundraising numbers were starting to grow again after being hit hard by the 2008 financial crash. Some communal officials said they could return to pre-recession levels this year.
Geographically, the community’s center has moved to the East Side suburbs from the neighborhoods known as the Northern Heights. Beachwood is among those growing Jewish neighborhoods with a state of the art Jewish community center, just opened with an $18 million investment and a variety of synagogues of all denominations.
But older Jewish strongholds are languishing. “There are so many houses around us that just can’t be sold,” Rina Hazony of University Heights said. A resident of the Cleveland area since 1964, Hazony is a strong Romney supporter. She is disappointed with the shape of the economy, but states that her greatest concern is Israel. “For me, Israel is the first issue, but the economy is also a big issue,” Hazony said, explaining that Romney would be better on both issues. She finds herself at times representing the minority view when talking politics to other members of the Jewish community. “A lot of my friends — for themto vote Republican is like for an Orthodox man to eat pork.”
Rick Lichaw, 63, is among those who see no reason to reconsider his Democratic vote. “Israel is not a factor,” the retired plumbing supplies businessman said as he exercised at the JCC’s gym, where community members meet to shmooze while working out. “Either president is going to be 100% behind Israel,” he explained. Lichaw was not personally affected by the economic downturn, and feels that things have improved since Obama took office. In the next four years, he’d like to see more government investment in infrastructure and an increase in taxes for wealthy Americans.
But for die-hard partisans, Israel is not only an issue, it is also a rallying call. Jewish Republicans in Ohio have zoomed in on the perceived tensions between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and continually stressed this issue in reaching out to Jewish voters.
“He angered Netanyahu but has no problem reaching out to Arabs,” Tybee Zuckerman said. “If Israel goes, we go.”
Zuckerman said she voted for Obama in 2008, but has since devoted much of her time to writing and advocating against his re-election. She stopped her subscription to “mainstream media” publications (including the Forward), and receives information from Internet websites about Obama and what she views as the threat of a Muslim takeover of America.
Helping to energize Ohio Republicans is the local U.S. Senate race in which the state’s treasurer, Josh Mandel, is running strong against incumbent Sherrod Brown. Mandel has little support within the Jewish community, because of his conservative views on social and fiscal issues, but his campaign, with the national attention and massive cash flow it has been receiving, has helped Republican Ohio Jews get activists out for rallies and phone banking.