Little Hope for Change Seen by Jews

Skeptical Jewish Electorate Still Flocks to Polls for Obama

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By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published November 07, 2012, issue of November 16, 2012.
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Jacques Berlinerblau, director of Georgetown University’s Program for Jewish Civilization suggested that the demographic demise of the Jewish teacher and civil servant might be changing how Jews think about government. “I would venture that there has been a huge drop-off in Jews working in the public sector,” Berlinerblau said. “And that might be impacting Jewish views on government.”

Vast numbers of Jews worked as teachers and had joined teachers unions in past decades, he noted. “That generation is gone,” Berlinerblau said. “The era of the Jewish teacher, a heroic American icon — that’s passed.” Ira Sheskin, director of the Jewish Demography Project at the University of Miami’s Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies, suggested that Jews are simply frustrated with congressional gridlock. “I can see people saying that right now who are pretty disgusted with the fact that Congress seems to be unable to get very much done,” he said.

Sheskin’s observation was borne out in some interviews with voters. “I am disenchanted with the refusal of so many members of Congress to be willing to cross party lines and do what is in the best interest of the country,” said Jim Samuels, a Jewish Obama supporter in Cleveland.

It’s possible, too, that the frustration and disenchantment are simply a function of a long election taking place in a troubled economy.

“I think people are just tired,” said Raphael Sonenshein, a professor at California State University in Los Angeles. “People are always annoyed at the government. That’s a no-brainer. That’s what we in political science would refer to as a ’ ‘duh.’”

The morning after the election, one young Jewish voter, at least, was hopeful. “You know, I’m optimistic for the future,” said Marty Paz, 33, a Las Vegas resident who was forced to take a lower paying job in the midst of the recession. Paz said he had settled on Obama after Romney picked Ryan as his running mate. “I think the country’s going in the right direction, ” Paz said. “I do see an improvement. ”

Additional reporting by Nathan Guttman

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


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