At Democratic Convention They Can’t Believe Many Jews Are Poor

The articulate lady delegate from a large Eastern city to the Democratic Party convention couldn’t believe it. “You seriously mean there are poor Jews,” she said between mouthfuls of sirloin steak. “I’ve never seen one. I always thought all Jews are rich.”

“If you want to see some poor Jews here in Miami Beach all you have to do is visit the South Beach section and you will find Jewish folks paying for their groceries with food stamps just like poor folks in New York or Boston or Washington,” she was informed.

The lady, who has a son with a teacher’s degree, had described herself as a “militant” and a “radical” to help “poor people” and is working as a social worker although, she admitted, she does not have a social worker’s professional credentials.

“Try New York, too,” it was suggested to her.

“I’ve lived in New York,” she responded, a puzzled look coming over her face. “I didn’t see any poor Jews there, either. You surprise me.”

If this were the only case, it might be considered a political aberration. But a dozen delegates to the convention of the “People’s Party” from half as many Eastern states were not aware of any serious poverty among Jews. But then, three out of four delegates to this convention have not been to a convention before and many of them have not been involved directly in political affairs.

Such ignorance and misconception of who makes up America’s poor have been observed among others in political circles of both parties and even among those whose livelihood comes from administering publicly to the poor.

Thus New York Democratic Rep. Herman Badillo’s report Friday that the Jewish poor are “the forgotten poor of New York” was most timely because it came on the eve of the Democratic convention and presumably would become a part of the general knowledge of the delegates. But Congressman Badillo’s appeal to Mayor Lindsay, a presidential hopeful himself earlier in the year, to revamp New York City’s anti-poverty program to take care of poor Jews, was unknown to the Eastern delegates questioned, including one from New York City itself. And the New York Times available here had published it in some detail.

The major importance of the Badillo report is that 300,000 Jewish poor in New York constitute the third largest group of poor in New York after Blacks and Puerto Ricans. Yet the demonstrations here Saturday for “poor people” that made such big headlines in Miami papers and on television did not give a clue about them and some other ethnics who feel poverty in exactly the same way.

At this time, of course, the delegates have only one thought and that is the credentials committee’s non-stop meeting beginning Monday night to determine what happens to those California votes for the candidates.

Nevertheless, the lesson is clear. If a delegate from a major city with widespread social action programs has never known a poor Jew exists in all America then something is wrong with the spread of knowledge about who is poor in America.

The Health, Education and Welfare Department in fact is just getting around to understanding this. At least, some of its officials in Washington are beginning to wonder why some Jews who heretofore have been so unquestioningly supportive of welfare programs now worry about them. This is not to say these Jewish supporters oppose the programs to help the poor but they are asking whether they are equitably conducted and fair play is invoked on all levels of administration.

The Democratic Party’s platform is replete with demands on government for jobs, rights, social justice for all. But it appears many too few understand what “all” means.

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