As World Zooms in on Pennsylvania, Jewish Community Reacts to Tight Race

Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri
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Biden-Harris yard signs in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Biden-Harris yard signs in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Credit: Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri

NEW YORK - Jewish voters in Pennsylvania are cautiously hopeful as more votes are counted in the Keystone State, which has emerged as the most important battleground of the 2020 Presidential Election. 

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden took the lead over President Donald Trump in Pennsylvania on Friday, putting him on the verge of winning the White House. Winning Pennsylvania alone would complete the electoral college votes the former Vice President needs and propel him to the Presidency. 

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“I am ecstatic!,” Pittsburgh resident Meryl Ainsman told Haaretz in an email on Friday morning  “Especially after Trump’s ‘speech’ of last night,” she added, referring to the President claiming widespread voter fraud on Thursday and saying that the mail-in votes currently being counted nationwide were “illegal” ballots.

Ainsman,66, and her husband dropped off their absentee ballot early at their county’s dropoff site. Trump’s comments, she said “obviously it makes me angry.”

“Of course [the mail-in ballots] are not illegal,” Rabbi Jamie Gibson, 66, also from Pittsburgh, said in a phone conversation. “Words come out of [Trump’s] mouth, that doesn’t mean they have any meaning, weight or value.”

Supporters of Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden hold up signs outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center as ballot counting continues inside in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 6, 2020Credit: Bryan R. Smith / AFP

Gibson, who has been closely following the election numbers in Pennsylvania believes that “the fact that Republicans are winning across the country and that President Trump is presently losing, is a direct repudiation of him and his values.”

“That doesn’t mean that others don’t have those values but he is the most prominent representative of values that are incompatible with American political culture such as standing at the White House last night lying about voter fraud,” he added. 

With that, Gibson is still concerned that “even though President Trump may be leaving in January, Trumpism is certainly not leaving.”

“There will continue to be outrageous claims, there will continue to be lies told,” he said. So far, the retired Rabbi said he feels “about 80 percent hopeful, there is 20 percent of me that says there might be demonstrations in the streets.

“The next few days/weeks will be interesting if Trump tries to rile up his supporters to foment violence,” Aisman added. “In any event, I feel that we are finally going to get our country back and again operate as a real democracy.” 

When she turned off her television on Thursday night, Philadelphia suburb resident Linda Katz, 75, did not feel hopeful that Vice-President Biden, whom she voted for, would win. 

“Wednesday went by with continued feelings of dread, particularly as the electoral college numbers remained the same,’ she said. “Yesterday, I felt a little more hopeful for Biden and I do think he will win Pennsylvania and Georgia. So there is definitely joy after disappointment over House and particularly Senate races.”

Clockwise from top: A garden decked out with skeletons for Halloween; decorated boards outside the Tree of Life, a placard featuring Mr. Rogers; and a "No place for hate" sign in Squirrel Hill.Credit: Danielle Ziri

Even if the democratic ticket wins however, Katz believes “the path forward is troubling.” 

“The platform that [Biden] ran on (with efforts to change policies on healthcare, climate change, world peace, women's rights,economic reform) will not hold sway with Mitch McConnell in the Senate,” she told Haaretz. “The divide in this country remains.”

“Perhaps, the racism, antisemitism, homophobia and lack of trust in science have always been present but Trump inflamed those sentiments,” Katz went on. “Almost like a genie released from a bottle, can Biden stuff it back in?”

Although Pittsburgh resident Len Asimow, 81, voted for Trump in this election, he wasn’t optimistic about the President’s chances of being re-elected. 

“I think Biden has won the election, but President Trump is determined to go down tweeting,” the conservative voter said. “Regardless of the presidential result, I am relieved and gratified that the progressive blue tsunami, especially in the down ballot races, never materialized.”

Len Asimow in East Liberty, Pittsburgh, October 2020. Credit: Danielle Ziri

Asimow also said he feels hopeful about the fact that “Trump Republicans have made some inroads with minorities (and apparently, even with Jews!) with a message of free-market economic vitality and equal opportunity (as opposed to grievance-based identity politics).”

“In my view the American electorate has repudiated the far-left learnings of the coastal elites (and their cheerleaders in the mainstream media),” Asimow told Haaretz in an email on Friday.  He also believes that even with a Democratic administration, the democratic party will need to “do some serious soul-searching with regards to its radical/activist base and the influence they hold.”

As Gibson put it, even though the Jewish vote may not have been a critical factor in this election, “there may have been some effect of Jews voting their values in respect to the Presidential election in the state of Pennsylvania”.

He does also believe that whatever the outcome of the vote count is in his state, “this is not going to cause any rift in the Jewish community of Pittsburgh.”

“People are still going to pray together, we are still going to work on community endeavours and needs together,” he added.

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