NEW YORK - Toward the end of the day, as the lines at most of the other polling booths in New York grew longer, those at Public School 180 in Brooklyn's Boro Park started to thin out. There were mainly women in the line, ultra-Orthodox women in long black dresses, with covered heads or wigs. Most of them were pushing baby carriages and trailed behind them a string of small children - until they had to go behind the curtain of the polling booth.
In Boro Park, it was time for studying the daily page of Gemara, and no Haredi man would miss that.
"There was a lot of activity here during the day," one of the women at the registration table notes, before hurrying over to help a very elderly man who entered the hall slowly. But Alex Steinberg, aged 90, does not want assistance and is eager to fulfill his civic duty. "I voted Bush," he says proudly, as he leaves a few minutes later. He straightens his back. "Four years ago, I voted for Al Gore. Then I was afraid George W. Bush would go in his father's footsteps and be bad for Israel." He switches to Yiddish. "Now everyone knows that he is a great friend of Israel."
Steinberg, a Holocaust survivor who came to America 60 years ago, has a son in Jerusalem. "I'm going to Israel soon," he says.
P.S. 180 is located between 56th and 57th Streets on 16th Ave - a crowded neighborhood where, until 15 years ago, mainly Italians lived. But the natural increase in the Haredi population has turned it into one of the most densely populated religious quarters in the Jewish world. Hundreds of rabbis and Torah sages are active there and they are revered far and wide. But not one of them interfered in the election, and no yeshiva head was heard telling his students for whom to vote.
When Haaretz asked one local activist why there were no such calls, he laughed. "No rabbis intervene in politics here, at least not openly. We don't have an Ovadia Yosef in Boro Park."
But in conversations with Jewish voters there, it was clear there was no need for this.
"I don't see how any Jew could not support Bush," one said. This was echoed by many others coming out of the polling booth. Some 10,000 voters are registered in Boro park and it was estimated that 7,000 would have cast their ballots there by the end of the day.
"The vast majority of voters here are registered Democrats," says Congressman Dov Hikind, who represent the borough. "In 2000, more than 50 percent voted for Gore and Joseph Lieberman. I expect some 90 percent to vote Bush [this time]" he says.
Hikind, a Democrat assemblyman, is also up for reelection. He tries not to stand near the polling booth but corners voters on their way to the school. "Vote Bush," he urges them. This is the third time Hikind is promoting a Republican. The other two were Rudolph Giuliani for New York mayoral race and George Pataki for governor.
On the other hand, the vast majority of Boro Park voters is believed to have given their support to Democratic Senator Charles (Chuck) Schumer, who was seeking a second term. "You can count on the Boro Park voters," one activist said.
Asked whether the vast majority of New York Jews who voted for John Kerry do not care about Israel, local activists responded: "Heaven forbid. They also support Israel. But their care for Israel is not their prime consideration, perhaps their last."
Ze'ev Hollander, a yeshiva student, comes beaming out of the polling booth. "Kerry went to speak to Arabs in Washington and attacked the separation fence," he says with disdain. "Make a note - here everyone voted Bush because we care about Israel more than the Israelis care about themselves."
Rabbi Yehoshua Berger says that it is obvious Bush must be supported because "he has proven himself as Israel's friend." But he admits that the voters are aware that votes for Bush in New York are actually lost votes. "Still, we have to express gratitude."
Tonia Castro also voted for Bush. She is not Jewish but has lived in Boro Park for many years and works in the municipal sanitation department. "I am a devout Christian and support Bush because he opposes abortion and single-sex marriages," she says, holding my arm. "He can't stand homosexuals."
Late into the night, a Jew in a silk coat and with a long and well-cared-for beard left the polling booth. He had long side curls and refused to give his name. But he did admit to voting for John Kerry. He is aware that he is among a small minority in the neighborhood.
"The Democrats are interested in education, and that is most important," he says. The man is a rabbi in a nearby synagogue. "I also have a disabled child who needs a grant for his special education," he adds.
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