With a Kippah and Diehard Support for Israel, Cruz Tries to Win Over Brooklyn Jews

The Republican presidential candidate attempts to court Russian and Orthodox Jewish communities with his own brand of conservatism and diehard support of Israel.

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks at the Jewish Center of Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, New York, April 7, 2016.
Bloomberg

Crowds of Brooklyn Jews, some Hasidic, some ultra-Orthodox, some Soviet emigres, filled the north side of Ocean Parkway, smartphones poised to snap photos, campaign posters raised high. “Jews for Cruz, Jews for Cruz,” some hooted.

As part of his New York tour yesterday, Senator Ted Cruz chose to spend his afternoon with Brooklyn’s Orthodox and Russian Jews, first visiting a Chabad center’s matzah factory, and then going on to the Jewish Center of Brighton Beach, where he spoke to an audience of about 200 at an event organized by the Russian American Jewish Experience (RAJE), a Jewish outreach organization working with Russian-speaking youth.

After being introduced as the “next president of the United States,” Cruz returned to his usual lines: telling the room of mostly Russian immigrants of his own experience being a son of immigrants escaping oppression. 

“I just had the great blessing of making matzah,” he said, sporting a bright red yarmulke, looking less rabbinic and more like a cardinal. “I’ve had matzah plenty of times out of the box, but it’s much much better when you... make it yourself,” he said. Passover, he said, is a time of celebrating new beginnings, “and to celebrate leaving captivity.” Young men in the crowd shouted, “yes, yes.”

With many Russian-speaking Jews (a community of 216,000, according to the 2012 UJA-Federation of New York’s census) and Hasidic Jews (16 percent of New York’s Jewish community) supporting Trump this election season — probably drawn to his blunt rhetoric, his bombastic declarations, and his Islamophobia — the Cruz visit was an attempt to court these communities with his own brand of conservatism, citing God’s grace and his diehard support for Israel. 

The event felt more like a teenagers’ summer camp gathering than a campaign speech; Brooklynites refused to sit down or back away from the senator. Outside the building, policemen asked supporters to move to the side, to which some men hissed, “Anti-Semites.” “They only talk like this to Jews,” one huffed. 

“There is a power of speaking truth with a smile. And that is exactly how we won Wisconsin,” Cruz said. The audience went wild. The senator praised Netanyahu as “Churchillian,” a “voice of clarity in a time of confusion and foolishness, when the United States is sending $150 billion to Ayatollah Khomeini.”

“If Donald is nominated, Hilary Clinton wins that general election. But I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said, appealing to voters, asking them to “pray and stand together” for his victory.

Primary among the audience’s concerns was yeshiva tuition — one rabbi stood up and asked about government support for yeshiva education. Cruz chose to ignore the question and spout something on religious liberty. “We want to continue to protect religious liberty and keep government away from it,” he said.

“I’ve never seen such enthusiasm before,” said one of the rabbis in Russian, watching the Cruz entourage pull out of the Jewish center’s driveway. “It’s like the Messiah has come.”