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Hey, we’re less divided than everyone else — and your weekend reads

This is an adaptation of our weekly Shabbat newsletter, sent by our editor-in-chief on Friday afternoons. Sign up here to get the Forward’s free newsletters delivered to your inbox. And click here to download and print a PDF of Your Weekend Reads.

So many words have been written this week, some of them by me, about the deep, even dangerous divisions that this election exposed across our Jewish community. But actually Jewish voters are less divided than almost any other religious or ethnic group.

The Associated Press voter survey showed us splitting 68% to 30% in favor of Biden. (J Street’s poll put it at 77-21, but I’m using A.P. here because it has way more voters, 110,000, and more slices to compare.) So we’re less evenly split than Latinos (63-35, according to the A.P.), Catholics (49-50), even Muslims (64-35). (The margin of error in the survey overall is 0.4.) The only groups with more lopsided voting were Blacks (90% for Biden, 8% for Trump), Mormons (24% Biden, 71% Trump), and white evangelical or born-again Christians (17-81).

So more Muslims than Jews voted for Trump despite his efforts to ban immigrants from Muslim countries, despite his support of extreme Islamophobes, despite his belittling of the father of a Muslim soldier slain in combat in Iraq; more Latinos than Jews backed the president despite his inhumane policy separating refugee children from their parents, despite his characterization of Mexicans as rapists and murderers.

Maybe they voted for him not as Muslims or Latinos but as small-business owners desperate to reopen the economy, or working-class parents who benefited from his tax cuts, or believers that abortion is murder. 

It got me thinking about which parts of my identity power my own voting choices, other ways of looking at how divided “my people” really are. We women voted 55-44 in favor of Biden. White folks: 43-55 in favor of Trump. College graduates: 56-43.

My age group broke 48-51 for Trump, my income bracket 51-47 for Biden. I live in a suburb: 54-44. I attend “church” about once a month (we just call it a synagogue, and these days its dialing in from the couch): 45-53. I’m with the 76% of voters who think racism is a very or somewhat serious problem and the 57% who think the U.S. economy is in “not so good” or poor condition. Even the way we voted this time was divided — I’m in the 41% who cast my ballot by mail (actually, we dropped it off). 

Of course I’m all these things at once — female, Jewish, white, suburban, college educated, relatively rich, worried about racism and jobs. Two years ago, before the midterms, my then-11-year-old daughter asked me one of the most profound political questions I’d ever heard. If you and daddy grew up in the same families, she said, but in red states rather than blue ones, do you think you’d have the same views?

What I told her is that some of my views are based on values — maybe those are Jewish values, maybe they’re feminist values — and I didn’t think those would change. But that some of my views on particular policy questions were more based on experience, based on who and what I know, and that I thought — even hoped — those views would change if I lived in a different place and knew different people and viewed those questions through different lenses. 

I told her a story from my time covering the Midwest. I spent five years as Chicago bureau chief of The New York Times, traveling around 11 states including the industrial cities of Michigan and Indiana and the rural plains of Nebraska, Kansas and the Dakotas. I remember one project in particular, where I spent the day with deer hunters in Wisconsin, that made me rethink my understanding of gun control.

It was while I was in Chicago that I covered the 2004 presidential campaign, spending some 18 months traveling with candidates. George Bush won that election with less than 51% of the popular vote and 286 in the electoral college — probably less of a mandate than Joe Biden will end up with when all the votes are counted. (FWIW, Jews split 75%-25% in favor of Sen. John Kerry that year.) So the divisions are nothing new to me, to our community, to our country. 

What is different, of course, is the apparent depth of the divide. It’s not that we disagree, it’s that we disparage. We seem unable to understand how our neighbors, how our fellow Jews — or women or suburbanites or college graduates — could possibly end up on the other side from us.

I got an email yesterday from a reader complaining about one of our Opinion contributors. Complaining is fine; but the reader didn’t just criticize the argument, he called our writer a “blithering idiot.” And when I responded about the importance of publishing a broad swath of views from across our diverse communities, the reader wrote back, “maybe his version of Judaism and my version aren’t the same religion.”

Or maybe Judaism and Jewishness has space for truly different views, like colleges and suburbs. Nobody expects everyone in their age group or income bracket to agree on everything. On Thursday, I was on a Zoom-panel hosted by the Jewish Council on Public Affairs and the first question was, “Was it good for the Jews?” My answer: It was mostly bad for everybody. (Watch the video here.)

What I’m thinking about at the end of this exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating and somewhat frightening week is anava — that’s Hebrew for humility.

I’ve heard a lot of friends, neighbors and colleagues react to the results with shock and horror at how many fellow Jews or fellow Americans could possibly think so differently than they do. I get that, but I think it’s extremely unproductive and potentially pernicious.

Instead, we should be working to understand why and how people who voted differently made their choices, We should be listening to their actual reasons,  not dismissing them with caricatures and stereotypes. We should be open to the idea that at least on some issues, some policy positions, we might just be wrong. 

Your Weekend Reads

Our PDF for you to download and print was put together before Friday morning’s news that put Joe Biden on the brink of the presidency, so it does not include our live coverage of that enormous news. You can find a roundup of Jewish reaction to Biden’s victory here, and we’ve also got a thoughtful take from our National Editor, Rob Eshman, and a celebration of centrism by Ari Hoffman, one of our contributing Opinion columnists. 

And here are some stories that are worth a look regardless of the breaking news.


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