I grew up in the small Southern town of Newport News, Virginia, and life prior to the Civil Rights act of 1964 was often painful and confusing for me, a young child of Holocaust survivors.
My earliest memories are of listening to my father speak of suffering in concentration camps and my mother chillingly relate her harrowing experiences in the Ukrainian woods, running and hiding from the Nazis. Persecution and prejudice weren’t abstract concepts to me; they were deeply personal.
I have clear memories of walking to shul with my father and feeling confused and uncomfortable watching black people step off of the sidewalk on Wickham Avenue as we walked by, seemingly in deference to our superior position as “white folk.” I also remember the counter at the downtown Woolworths on Washington Avenue where there was a separate section labeled “Colored” and the separate bathrooms for men, women, and colored in the downtown library.
I never did understand why such blatant racial prejudice was allowed, and perhaps because of my unusual position as a triple minority – a Jew in a predominantly Christian town, a member of a small Orthodox synagogue amidst a predominantly non-Orthodox community, and one of the only children of survivors in my shul – I was particularly sensitive to the issue of discrimination.
My father took a stand for equality and justice in subtle, quiet ways. My parents had a small real estate business, having bought a number of rental houses in the mostly black East End of Newport News, and his reputation in the black community as a fair, kind, and generous property owner was legendary.
My job in the family business was to open the door when a tenant would ring the doorbell, and to invite him inside. I honestly never knew whether he would be coming to pay rent or get a personal loan from my father, who never could say no to a tenant in need. I remember my mother once inquired whether my father kept a record of these loans, and my father responded, “If they can pay me back, they will; and if they can’t, they can’t” – and that was the end of the discussion.
It should come as no surprise, then, that my parents were Democrats. I think everyone we knew were Democrats. Back then, it seemed like the Republican Party was for “the goyim,” the WASPs and the Southern Baptists whose anti-Semitic attitudes and comments were just a de facto reality of the Baptist Belt in the ‘60s.
I remember the family across the street who wouldn’t allow their daughter to play with my sister because she was Jewish. My 8th grade teacher at Ferguson High School wouldn’t let me make up a test that I would be missing because of Sukkos. She loudly explained her decision in front of the entire class, “You’ll probably pay off someone to give you the answers to the test. That’s what all of you Jews do anyway, don’t you?”
Even amongst my own peers, I vaguely remember being teased for having the same family name as Senator Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential candidate, because he was seen as a “Jew who became a goy.” In the minds of the people around me, I guess, someone as harsh and self-hating as Goldwater could only be a Republican.
This attitude obviously shaped my political identity, and I clearly self-identified as a Democrat. My hero was Scoop Jackson, a socially progressive, hawkishly conservative Democrat who battled against communism and supported Israel unwaveringly. I actually worked for his 1972 presidential campaign even though I wasn’t yet old enough to vote. The idea of supporting the likes of Richard Nixon was anathema to me.
I have voted for Democratic candidates for president five times. I voted for Bill Clinton twice, and for Al Gore (okay, mainly because of Joe Lieberman). It was still safe to vote Democratic back then, and I felt safe sticking to my political roots.
But that was then. The Democratic Party of 2020 is definitely not our parents’ party. It doesn’t even remotely resemble the Democratic Party of 40 or 50 years ago, and, sadly, there would be no place in it for the Scoop Jacksons, LBJs, and Hubert Humphreys of yesteryear.
Those of us who value social justice and racial equality and harbor a passion for freedom of speech and love of Israel, as well as America unfortunately can no longer safely call the Democratic Party home. The party of today has been hijacked by militant far-left activists and couldn’t even pass a bill that condemns anti-Semitism without watering it down to a worthless, hypocritical piece of paper.
As much as Joe Biden is a fundamentally decent man who once had a credible record of being pro-Israel (before the Obama era), we should be realistic about his ability to have Israel’s back now. After all, the outrageous UN resolution that delegitimized Israel’s claim to its ancient homeland, was passed under his watch.
What is even more disturbing is the question of Biden’s ability to withstand the onslaught of pressure from the unmistakably socialistic left wing of the party that is clearly and unabashedly anti-Israel and, at least to some extent, anti-Semitic. More disturbing still is Biden’s history of plagiarism, which only reinforces the fact that he lacks a real core to think for himself and therefore make independent decisions.
Additionally, his declining cognitive faculties and the possibility that he is exhibiting early signs of dementia makes the scenario of a Biden presidency frightening, especially when you think who will actually be pulling the strings behind the scenes.
So where does that leave us as social justice-minded Orthodox Jews? Black Lives Matter has unfortunately undermined the legitimate need to hold abusive policemen accountable for their misdeeds and require intensive racial sensitivity training at every level. Instead, it has helped the nation devolve into chaos and disorder.
We can’t go to the absurd extreme of defunding and attacking policemen, most of whom are good, solid men and women who protect our citizens and who leave their homes and families every day knowing that they may never come back home. The sickening violence that is happening in the streets of formerly calm and beautiful Democratic-run cities such as Portland and Seattle – a place that I love and know well, having lived there for a number of years – would never have been condoned by these rioters’ grandparents, or the gentle, dignified people of color I grew up with or, for that matter, Martin Luther King, Jr.
So what then can we do to deal with this pernicious stain on our nation’s conscience? As Orthodox Jews, we need to get out and vote. Vote for those who support the need to end racism but with socially appropriate and effective training programs and laws that protect minorities.
Vote against those who support violence, releasing criminals who destroy life and property, and who legitimize riots and destructive protests. Support those who support law and order, and our police officers, most of whom are working for the right reasons, to protect all of us. Support those who unabashedly support Israel and are willing to do what is right and necessary to protect her.
And finally, vote to protect our American way of life, to ensure that our children and grandchildren are left with the legacy of freedom, safety, and prosperity, for many generations to come.
Unfortunately, for this once solid Democrat, the only choice then is to vote Republican – not just for president but also for local Senate and House races. The Democratic leadership has deteriorated into a frighteningly angry, destructive band of obstructionists, determined to bring down, by any means, a democratically-elected president, who, although he wasn’t my first choice in the 2016 primaries (he was actually my 15th choice), has brought this country unprecedented economic growth, a rebuilt military, and renewed respect for American values.
Whether you like him personally or not, he has brought new respect for American strength, which is bearing fruit with the recent Abraham Accords and the renewed ties between Israel and two Balkan republics (one of which is majority Muslim). This would never have happened had the countries not wanted to have greater ties with a now stronger United States.
This renewed respect for America’s place in the world has been the result of our president’s strong anti-globalism and nationalistic push for “America First,” which has brought an end to our costly involvement in senseless, endless wars, forced our allies to do their share of the burden of protecting democracies around the world, and has finally held hostile countries accountable for their actions.
We are no longer seen as the apologetic, subservient nation that the previous administration had led us to become. We are, once again, the proud, strong leader of the free world.
For all of these reasons, this former loyal Democrat is going to vote Republican this year, and probably for many years to come. When you look at how far off course the Democratic Party has gone from its illustrious roots, there really is – sadly – no choice.