Sitting in the sukkah the other day at the JCC, celebrating a bar-mitzvah of a community leader, I had a chance to shmooze about the elections. Out of my house, amid a group of people a generation older, they asked me about students and politics. And one of our friends, a man in his 70’s, and a lifelong Democrat said, “I wish we could have the primaries again. There is no one to vote for.”
There is a sizable group of septuagenarian and older Jews, that have voted their whole lives on the Democratic ticket, who are seriously considering voting for McCain, or voting for someone else. And until I encountered it that day over Sukkot, I had not been able to really understand it. I don’t live in Florida, don’t have a synagogue, my 97 year-old grandma sent in her vote for Obama, I don’t hang our at Leisure World.
Obama scares them for a variety of reasons: the former preacher, doubts about religion, he’s African-American, and there are others. They don’t trust Obama, and when pushed on the subject, they could not come up with more than the reasons I just mentioned. Black leadership as a whole, is still clouded by the likes of the Black Muslims and Rev. Jesse Jackson, for some of these older Jews. They don’t see MLK, they don’t see JFK in Obama, they see someone they just don’t get.
I am the last person to want to preach to elderly Jews. These great-grandparents are pillars of our community and have poured so much of their heart and soul into Jewish communal life and Israel, and I am young and naive.
But to understand the generation gap is to also put your finger on the pulse of why Jewish communities are still pursuing broken models to try to ameliorate the declining Jewish population and donations to the communal purse.
Young people have a broader conception of their identities, they travel the whole world in an instant message. They look for things to unite them, they pick and choose – or as Steven Cohen put it – they create life playlists. They incorporate all kinds of ideas, media, relationships, and networks to create their identities. Young people – and I firmly put myself in this category – believe that being Jewish and the extent of their Jewishness is a choice, not an obligation. This is not how Jews born in the first quarter of the last century see the world at all.
The Holocaust, and fear of Jewish survival, still rank high among the worries of the Bubbie and Zaidie generation. This fear ranks high only among a few young Jews.
Young Jews come from families that are diverse religiously and ethnically, their friendships are across social and cultural lines, their colleges more diverse, their influences more worldly and explicit.
So is it any wonder that Bubby and Zayde are going to be afraid of a black man called Barack Obama who is running a campaign heavily dependent on the internet?
They might bring up a few reasons that they don’t feel they can vote for Obama, and usually they boil down to the preacher, doubts about his religion, and distrust of other black leaders. Its on the kishka (gut) level. But many young Jews see in Obama someone they can relate to, be inspired by, and he is closer to them generationaly, than he is to the Bubbies and Zaydies in Florida.
My mother brings up another very cogent point. As older Jews became more wealthy, they are more concerned for their tax bracket.
That last element that is undoubtedly affecting their vote is their vulnerability to email. The cascade of conspiratorial emails that flood my inbox, make me pine for the conspiracies of the loonie-left. Otherwise level-headed thinkers have forwarded to be emails that describe Obama as a Manchurian Candidate, funded by secret foreign funds. And worse. The elderly Jews that use email are also receiving there emails. Many believe what they read, without subjecting the email to scrutiny or a truth-test. And some of them are just a odd.
The Bubbie Zadie Factor up against the Democratic DNA of the Silver Bullets – its going to be an interesting day.