House of Representatives: Of 25 Jewish members, 16 voted Yes on the final debt ceiling compromise and nine voted No. (Democratic votes overall: 95 Yes, 95 No.)
Yes. Democrats: Shelley Berkley (Nev.), Howard Berman (Cal.), David Cicilline (R.I.), Susan Davis (Cal.), Ted Deutch (Fla.), Gabrielle Giffords (Ariz.), Steve Israel (N.Y.), Sander Levin (Mich.), Nita Lowey (N.Y.), Jared Polis (Colo.), Steve Rothman (N.J.), Adam Schiff (Cal.), Brad Sherman (Cal.), Allyson Schwartz (Pa.), Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (Fla.). Republicans: Eric Cantor (Va.)
No. Democrats: Gary Ackerman (N.Y.), Steve Cohen (Tenn.), Eliot Engel (N.Y.), Bob Filner (Cal.), Barney Frank (Mass.), Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), Henry Waxman (Cal.), John Yarmuth (Ky.).
Senate: Of 12 Jewish members, 10 voted Yes and two voted No. (Democratic votes overall: 45 Yes, 6 No. The two Independents split.)
Yes. Democrats: Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Barbara Boxer (Cal.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Dianne Feinstein (Cal.), Al Franken (Minn.), Herb Kohl (Wis.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Ron Wyden (Ore.). Independent: Joseph Lieberman (Conn.)
No. Democrat: Frank Lautenberg (N.J.). Independent: Bernie Sanders (Vt.)
I know some of you are going to ask why bother making such a list, so let’s get it out of the way: No, it’s not antisemitism, obsessive ethnocentrism or atavistic parochialism. What it is, is one of the metrics that help us gauge the current condition of Jews and Judaism in the world.
No, the Jewish members of Congress aren’t elected by the Jewish community, nor are they there to represent the community. They’re there because each one individually decided to run for office and won. Some come from districts with significant Jewish populations (Westside L.A., Newton, the Upper West Side) and some have very few Jews among their constituents (Oregon, Vermont.
Neither are they a snapshot of overall community opinion. The 37 Jewish lawmakers on Capitol Hill today include 34 Democrats, 2 Independents (both of whom caucus with the Democrats) and 1 Republican. Among Jews overall about 60%-70% vote consistently Democratic and about 15%-20% consistently Republican. Thus the rank and file are far less lopsidedly Democratic than those 37.
On the other hand, surveys of Jewish opinion are rare and of wildly varying usefulness. The organizations that purport to speak for the Jewish community can barely reflect their own members’ views, much less the larger community. Put them all together, though, and a hazy picture begins to emerge.
It’s also true that the Jewish community functions in many ways as a factor in the larger world, whether weighing in on social justice issues or defending Israel, religious freedom, old-folks’ homes or threatened Jewish communities abroad. Those interactions rely on many pressure points, and the Jewish members of Congress are one of them. It thus behooves us to know who they are and what they’re up to.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).