In Brooklyn, Hasidim and Hipsters Head Out to Vote

Residents of Sanders' former neighborhood take time out from their Passover preparations to make their voices heard in the New York primaries.

Moishe Lowy plans on voting for Clinton. 'I like her personality.'
Debra Nussbaum Cohen

BROOKLYN – It's apparently not enough to be a former neighbor of Bernie Sanders to want to vote for him. A short walk away from Sanders’ childhood home and in front of his alma mater, none of the voters emerging from the grand brick high school in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn said they voted for him in the presidential primary election.

Cheryl Spivak, a retired New York City public school special education teacher, said that she cast her ballot for Hillary Clinton. “I’m concerned about some of the things Bernie said about Israel,” said Spivak, who was dressed in the sporty modest clothing of modern Orthodox women. “He does not seem pro-Israel.”

Charles, who would not give his last name, had just emerged from James Madison High School where he had voted for Ted Cruz. “I like what he stands for,” said the 45-year-old father of five, who wore a pale purple dress shirt and black velvet yarmulke and said he is the office manager for a distribution company. “I like his conservative values, like keeping the government out of our business. And he’s pro-Israel. He considers Israel a friend.”

Thinking that they looked more like Sanders’ usual demographic, a reporter hustled after two young women wearing knee-length skirts, one with a baby strapped to her chest in a Snugli, as they walked away from the polling place after voting.

They declined to give their names or even say who they voted for but when prodded to see if they’d given Sanders their vote, one exclaimed “oh no, we’re Republicans!”

Miriam Goldschmidt, a 65-year-old registered nurse, said she was about to vote for Trump.

Wearing a brown wig and houndstooth jacket, Goldschmidt relies on a walker for support since fracturing her knee in an accident at the rehabilitation center where she worked. She was born in a town that was in Czechoslovakia at the time but is now part of Ukraine. She likes the toughness Trump represents, she told Haaretz. “I hope he’ll make our life easier by making more money, and prevent terrorist attacks.”

Tallitot hang on a rack outside a Williamsburg dry cleaner.
Debra Nussbaum Cohen

A mother of four and grandmother of many grandchildren, Goldschmidt said she’s a conservative Republican and likes that Trump “speaks like it is.” Asked what she thinks of the way he speaks about women, Goldschmidt said, “His wife Melanie [sic] says he treats women good, that you just have to get to know him.” When a reporter mentioned that he now has an Orthodox daughter in Ivanka, who converted to Judaism under the auspices of an Orthodox rabbi before marrying Jared Kushner, Goldschmidt said, laughing, “she goes to shul more on Shabbos than I do.”

A few miles away in Williamsburg, many of the Hasidic men and women on the street declined to speak with reporters, saying they didn’t have time just days before Passover.

Chava Rubin paused while crossing the street. The 24-year-old, who has been married a year and wore a strawberry blond sheitel in a pageboy style, said she wasn’t sure she’d have time to vote today, given all her holiday preparations.

She grew up and still lives a block from where we stood, at Driggs Avenue and South 8th Street, and said that if she votes, it will be for Cruz because, “my husband told me he has good ideas and knows what he’s talking about.”

Over on Division Street, a central shopping strip in Hasidic Williamsburg, housewares stores bustled as people bought what they need for their extra-strictly kosher Passover kitchens.

Satmar Hasid Yoel Lefkowitz, a 36-year-old father of six, wouldn’t be voting for Clinton, he said, “because she is corrupt, even though she did a lot of good for Skver” Hasidim while she was a senator from New York from 2001 to 2009.

Though he is a registered Democrat, he said he wished he could vote for Cruz. Those who are registered Democrats in the area have done so because of the importance of local races for members of Congress and the state assembly.

Cruz “is an honest man,” said Lefkowitz, who teaches English and Yiddish at an area yeshiva. “He doesn’t want to apologize to Mitch McConnell even though it would be easier for him” if he did, he said, referring to Senate Republicans' call on Cruz to apologize to Senate Republican leader Sen. McConnell for calling him a liar on the Senate floor last year.

Lefkowitz, who admitted that he is more interested in politics than most of his neighbors, said he gets his information from Kol Hamevaser, a Yiddish-language phone-in hotline that serves as a replacement for radio, television and online news sources for Haredi Jews. 

On the other side of the Williamsburg Bridge, just past the upscale and decidedly non-kosher steakhouse Peter Luger’s, a pair of tattooed, dreadlocked voters emerged from Junior High School 50, where they had just cast their ballots for Sanders.

Eduardo, a 40-year-old tattoo artist, said he voted for Sanders “because he’s coherent, because he makes sense, and because he’s a good human being.” Though not Jewish, Eduardo lived in Tel Aviv for seven months awhile back, working as a tattoo artist.

Miriam Goldschmidt, a 65-year-old registered nurse, said she was about to vote for Trump.
Debra Nussbaum Cohen

He and his girlfriend Melody, 27, are expecting their first child in September.

Melody, an artist, has one arm covered with an extravagant tattoo portrait of a female god. She said she voted for Sanders because “he represents the majority of the people and he has a good spirit. I’m not one of the top one percent. Obviously the old way isn’t working. We are the richest country in the world and still people live like slaves.”

Heading back toward Division Street, Moishe Lowy leaned against the wrought iron fence outside a building while he looked at his phone and smoked a cigarette. The Satmar Hasid, who lives in upstate Monroe, works in the kitchen of Levy’s Kosher Restaurant. He said he planned to vote for Clinton if he got home from work in time. He is in the distinct minority as a registered Democrat, he said, because most people in the area vote Republican.

“I like her personality,” said Lowy. “She is more likely [than Sanders] to get things done.” 

Eduardo and Melody voted for Sanders 'because he's a good human being.'
Debra Nussbaum Cohen