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Examining the Jewish Vote

Orthodox Jews Show Little Kerry Support

by Gaby Wenig

October 21, 2004 | 8:00 pm

Like many Jews, Paul Kujawsky is a vociferous supporter of Sen. John Kerry. But at Shaarey Zedek Congregation in the Valley, he stands out as such an anomaly that his rabbi refers to him as "the one Democrat in the shul."

The reason? Kujawsky is Orthodox. According to a recent poll by the American Jewish Committee, 60 percent of the Orthodox vote is going to President Bush. Orthodox Jews tend to be more sympathetic with the Republican Party's positions on gay marriage, abortion and school vouchers, and they also see Bush as the strongest supporter that Israel has ever had in the White House.

According to the poll, while Kerry commands 69 percent of the overall Jewish vote, his support in the Orthodox community is just 26 percent.

Jay Footlik, senior adviser for Middle East and Jewish Affairs for the Kerry/Edwards campaign, told The Journal the campaign had been reaching out to Orthodox groups, and has met with representatives from the Orthodox Union, the Agudah, and the National Council of Young Israel.

Janna Sidley, the Democratic National Committee's political director and community liaison for California and Jewish community liaison for Kerry-Edwards, said that the campaign had "overall community support" in the Jewish community. However, she could not give any figures on how many Orthodox Jews in Los Angeles supported Kerry, because the campaign did not track support across denominational lines. However, Kerry supporters in the L.A. Orthodox community believe they are few and far between.

"I get a lot of teasing for supporting Kerry," said Kujawsky who is president of Democrats for Israel Los Angeles. "In my [Orthodox] synagogue most of the people are Bush supporters, even though they remain Democrats. I haven't counted [how many Orthodox Kerry supporters I know], but if I had to, I could probably round up a minyan."

"We put a Kerry sticker in our living room window in Pico-Robertson, and we got a lot of comments from people," said Daria Hoffman, a member of B'nai David Judea who, along with her husband, Yechiel, will be voting for Kerry this election. "A friend who goes to Anshei Emes said, 'What's the deal with the Kerry bumper sticker?'"

Kerry's Orthodox supporters say that his stand on Israel is as strong as Bush's, and that Bush's support is more hype than deed. Further, they say the Orthodox position on abortion, which permits it if the mother's health is endangered, is more in line with left-wing, pro-choice views than right-wing ones.

Footlik also said that Orthodox Jews should support Kerry because, if he is elected, they will receive more governmental assistance for their large families.

"I think that Bush's support for Israel is one of the biggest myths that the community has propagated," Hoffman said. "I don't think Bush has done that much for Israel over the past four years. I mean, he made a few speeches, but nothing much has been accomplished."

"I don't believe that there is anything in the Torah that tells you which political party to support," Kujawsky said. "There is nothing in Orthodoxy that demands you be a Republican, and it's a misunderstanding that all Orthodox Jews are politically conservative."

"While it is true that Orthodox Jews tend to be Republican," he continued, "obviously when you have someone like Sen. Joe Lieberman, who is obviously Orthodox and a Democrat, plainly there is a long tradition of Orthodox Jews supporting democrats."

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