NEW YORK (Feb. 8)
There are probably dozens of states where the Jewish vote counts proportionately more than it does in Iowa.
But Iowa is the setting for the first round of presidential nominating caucuses, and candidates have wooed Jewish voters with no less enthusiasm than they have farmers, fundamentalists and grandmothers.
Well, maybe not grandmothers.
For instance, Sen. Paul Simon (D-III.) and Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) accepted invitations to speak after Shabbat morning services at Tifereth Israel Synagogue, the Conservative congregation in Des Moines.
“Some of the congregation did not want candidates here at all. But we felt they should be courting us as well,” said Rabbi Jonathan Maltzman.
At Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, the Reform synagogue in Des Moines, Rabbi Steven Fink respectfully turned down the requests of campaign staffers to host speaking engagements, rallies and endorsements.
Still, said Fink, his congregation of 300 families remains “intensely political,” and he was planning to attend his first caucus at a nearby junior high school Monday night.
Fewer than 7,000 Jews live in Iowa — 3,000 in Des Moines, 750 in Iowa City and 700 in Sioux City. As a result, said Elaine Steinger, acting executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines, “the Middle East is by and large not a major caucus issue,” even if it is of primary concern among Jews.
But Jewish issues are far from forgotten. There are other issues of concern to Jews — the rise of the religious right, for one — and Jewish Iowans are well represented on the staffs of presidential candidates and in the party organizations.
Lynn Cutler, formerly of Waterloo, is vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Arthur Davis, a member of B’nai Jeshurun in Des Moines, is former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party.
According to Doris Rosenthal, executive director of the Sioux City Jewish Federation, Jewish voters in Iowa seem divided in their support between Simon and Democratic Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts. Rabbi Fink mentioned the same two names.
“I can’t believe how seriously they take politics here,” added Fink, who called his congregants’ reaction no different from most Iowans: “hysterical.”