Union workers celebrate at Dodger Stadium


LAX workers were the first to begin the cheers.

“Obama! Obama! Obama!”

It didn’t take long for others to follow when the news broke out at Dodger Stadium on election night that Barack Obama had been re-elected president. That’s where hundreds of supporters gathered as part of a party organized by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.

“Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!”

The crowd at the Stadium Club, a bar and dining area that overlooked the lit-up stadium, looked up eagerly at flat-screen TVs to take in the news. Union workers, community leaders and Obama supporters didn’t have to wait long to get worked into a frenzy. News outlets called the election for the incumbent just 15 minutes after the party started at 8 p.m.

Then Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, addressed the group, speaking from a podium and denouncing “the super rich and powerful.”

“Their money is nothing compared to the power of firefighters, teachers … and truck drivers, and nurses,” she said.

What Eric Bauman, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, expected to be a long night ended rather quickly. He tipped his hat to Florida Jews, saying that Obama carried Jewish counties in Florida by huge margins.

“Jewish voters by-and-large stood with the president,” he said. “This is a great victory for us today.”

Still, when Bauman took the stage later he reminded the crowd that the presidency wasn’t the only important contest up for grabs.

He didn’t have to tell Lowell Goodman, director of communications for Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents 80,000 public employees in Southern California, including librarians, nurses, social workers and trash collectors.

Goodman said he had been out since 1 p.m. knocking on doors to mobilize people to vote against Proposition 32, which proposed reforming California’s campaign finance rules and banning the use of employee payroll deductions for political purposes. Union leaders opposed it, arguing it would limit their ability to participate effectively in the political process.

“Yes on 32 silences the voices of our 80,000 members, and what it says is the only ones who should have a voice in politics in California are the 1 percent,” he said.

Goodman, whose children attend preschool at Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, lives near the stadium in Angelino Heights in Echo Park. Asked if he was going to walk home, he answered:

“If it’s a good night, I’ll stumble home.”

Young Persian Jews cool, not cold, on Obama


When the networks projected President Barack Obama’s re-election victory Tuesday night, most of the young, partying crowd at The Parlor bar in West Hollywood erupted in raucous cheers.  Except for one section.

There, a crowd of more than 100 young Persian American Jews remained mostly quiet—at least three-quarters of them had clearly been hoping for victory for Gov. Mitt Romney.

“I think Obama will be spineless when it gets to dealing with Ahmadinejad,” said Michael Hiller, a thirty-something Persian American Jew, echoing a primary reason so many of his friends and family had voted for the Republican. “Romney’s better for Israel.”

Just a few cheers punctuated the silence.

“Maybe there’s 10 of us,” Sam Yebri, founder of 30 Years After, shouted over the din.  He meant Obama backers.

But the quiet that overtook the lively crowd as a bank of giant TV screens announced state after state for Obama didn’t tell the whole story.

When CNN reported victories for a Colorado initiative legalizing marijuana use, the group erupted in applause.  They did so again when Maryland’s initiative for gay marriage passed.

Young Persian Jews, said 30 Years After executive director Tabby Davoodi, lean conservative on economics and foreign policy, but are socially liberal.

But their alliances are more fluid than they seem, or sound.

“I voted for McCain in 2008 and Obama today,” said Michael Yadegaran, a vice president of the group. “I realized Republicans were using Israel as a partisan issue.

Navid Soleymani also switched to Obama.

The 38-year-old lawyer said Sen. Mitch McConnell’s declaration that his job was to unseat the President “put politics above country.”

“To me it’s not about Romney,” Soleymani said. “It’s about the Republican brand that’s been damaged.

“The most important thing,” said Sanaz Meshkinfan, 29, “is 30 years after their parents came from Iran, this generation of Iranian Americans is engaged in civic duty.”

Election day snapshots


Beverlywood

Nettie Price voted for Obama in 2008, and in the past the registered independent has voted mostly a straight Democratic ticket. But not this year.

Standing outside her polling place at Castle Heights Elementary School in Beverlywood, Price said this time she voted a straight Republican ticket, based on one issue: economics.

“Obama had four years to fix things. I voted for him four years ago, but no way in hell would I vote for him again,” said Price, who runs an adult basketball league.

She voted no on Proposition 30 and on most propositions that would raise taxes, but voted to change the “three-strikes” law.

Her husband, a retired high school football coach, is a longtime Republican, and he voted that way this election. “I’m sick of big government — it doesn’t work,” he said.

Price said all her friends and neighbors are Democrats, so she doesn’t usually talk politics.

But with her vote cast and the late-morning crowd light outside the school auditorium, Price wasn’t shy about her views.

“I think Obama did a horrible job — just horrible,” she said.


Pico Boulevard

To Sol Berger, which candidate or measure he voted for isn’t as important as the fact that he gets to vote.

The 93-year-old Holocaust survivor grew up in Poland, and he has seen what nondemocratic regimes can do.

“I know the difference,” Berger said, as he waited for his ride outside of Congregation Mogen David on Pico Boulevard near Roxbury Drive, where he had just cast his ballot.

Berger said he’s voted in every election since he and his wife, Gertrude, moved to the United States in 1950. Sol survived the war by disguising himself as a Polish laborer and escaping with a partisan unit to the forest. Most of his family did not survive.

He was a Zionist from the age of 15, he said, and tried to get to Palestine before the war but wasn’t able to get out.

“I vote for anybody who wants to defend Israel,” Berger said. “And I always like to vote for Jewish representatives.”

Berger is a speaker at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and at the Museum of Tolerance, and he lectures at colleges and high schools as well as at churches and synagogues. A few years ago, he was invited to speak at the University of Krakow, and the day after the election, he was scheduled to speak to the Los Angeles Police Department.

But today, he’s voting.

“I love this country. This country gave me opportunities I could never have anyplace else in the whole world,” Berger said.


Beverly-Fairfax

Smack in the middle Beverly-Fairfax area, with its mix of Orthodox Jews and young hipsters, the Pan Pacific Park Senior Center was buzzing even in the late-afternoon lull of  Election Day. While early-morning hours had seen long lines, as the sun blazed down at around 2 p.m., elderly couples shuffled in, and men in black hats and long coats rushed by.

Adam, a 34-year-old development officer on paternity leave, put on his sunglasses and pushed a stroller as he came out of the gym onto the blindingly white concrete. His month-old daughter stayed asleep while he voted.

Adam, who declined to give his last name, is an Obama supporter, but is frustrated, once again, about this election.

“I never feel that the choices in presidential elections are as good as they should be,” he said.

 “I felt Obama was the best candidate for this election. I don’t think Romney represents the people as much as Obama does,” he said.

Carl Miller, a 29-year-old small-business owner, also voted for Obama. He’s relieved the grueling election season is over.

“I’m just glad we were spared some of it since we’re not in the swing-state crossfire,” he said.

He said he could go down a list of why he voted for Obama, but it comes down to direction.

“He is pretty diametrically opposed to Romney, and I’m much more comfortable with the direction Obama is taking this country,” Miller said.

Miller said he had initially been vociferously advocating for Proposition 37, which would require labeling for genetically modified foods. But after he did more research, he wasn’t satisfied with the way the law was written. “So I swung the other way,” he said.

A 63-year-old CPA with a long gray beard and wearing a black hat declined to give his name but said he voted for Romney.

“I believe we’ll be in deep trouble if Obama stays in,” he said. “He’s weak on foreign policy, he is not a supporter of Israel, and he’s a spendthrift who overpays but doesn’t produce results.”

And for Adam, the 34-year-old, the birth of his first child has affected how he thinks about politics.

“I think now more than ever about how important it is to create the world you would like to see your child grow up in,” he said.


San Fernando Valley

What convinces Jewish voters to back a particular candidate? Some brandish endorsements from prominent Jewish leaders, others recruit Jewish surrogates to trot out pro-Israel talking points, still others create specific campaign materials aimed at Jewish voters.

But for many Jews, the deciding factor can often be the advice or urging of someone close to them.

Margie Feld, who cast her ballot late Tuesday afternoon at Shaarey Zedek, an Orthodox synagogue in Valley Village that is her usual polling place, acknowledged that Howard Berman got her vote in large part because she had heard her friends and neighbors talking about him.

“It’s just who we hear about all the time – Berman this, Berman that,” she said.

Those pro-Berman friends didn’t just win over Margie Feld; they also got her husband’s vote. Jeff Feld said he had, until recently, been planning to vote for Berman’s opponent, Brad Sherman, but like many men and women across the country, he eventually voted the same way his wife did – and not just in the that heated Berman-Sherman congressional race.

“When she forces you to match up her ballot with yours, you know it’s gone too far,” Jeff Feld said with a smile.

It was the first time casting a ballot in a presidential election for Ben Bernshtein, and on his way out of Shaarey Zedek in North Hollywood, the 19-year-old college student wouldn’t say whether he voted for Romney or Obama. But he did know where he’d be watching the results come in: the Alpha Epsilon Pi house at California State University, Northridge, where he’s studying film, hoping to become an actor.

“You know the saying, ‘Two Jews, three opinions’? Well,” Bernshtein said, “this is going to be like 20 Jews, 50 opinions.”


Westwood

Polling places often move around from year to year, but normally not on Election Day itself, as happened to the polls at Sinai Temple this year.

On Nov. 6, when the day began, 14 booths were positioned inside the West Coast’s largest and oldest Conservative synagogue. But after two trained volunteers, working with Election Protection, a nonpartisan election-monitoring organization, reported that the synagogue’s security guards were, as they do every day, using metal detector wands to screen each person entering the building, poll workers relocated the booths to a fenced-in courtyard outside the synagogue, just off Wilshire Boulevard.

“It can be intimidating,” said Brian Link, one of the volunteers, explaining why the polling places had to be moved to comply with election law.

Nobody appears to have been turned away from the polls at Sinai Temple while they were indoors, and the polls were even more visible and accessible after being moved.

In the mid-morning, a class of 19 4-year-olds from Sinai Akiba walked in with their three teachers. The kids had conducted a mock election in their classroom earlier in the day, one of the teachers said.

“Oreos or Chips Ahoy,” she said. “I don’t know who won. We haven’t counted the votes yet.”

So, who are you voting for?


For Miriam, an outspoken woman in her 80s who wouldn’t give her last name, there isn’t the slightest possibility she will vote against President Barack Obama on Election Day. 

“Maybe we all don’t have to worry about becoming pregnant, obviously,” Miriam said, addressing the five other women, ages 60 to 90, who had stayed after their Tuesday morning exercise class at the Westside Jewish Community Center to speak with a reporter. “But what if a 15-year-old does become pregnant in high school? Should the child have a baby that she does not want and perhaps ruin her life? Absolutely not! And therefore, what the hell do I care what a Republican says?” 

A day later, and a dozen miles north, Linda Stern sat at a table at Nagila Pizza, a kosher joint on Ventura Boulevard in Encino. Stern voted for John McCain in 2008; this year her family donated to the campaign of the Republican nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. 

A member of Valley Beth Shalom, Stern said she will be voting for Romney on Nov. 6 because she believes he’ll boost the economy and because he’s said he won’t cut military funding. 

“I’ll be thinking about who’s going to protect this country, and maintain what makes this country great,” she said, “and who will support our friends and not support our enemies.” 

As different as these two women are — one lives in the Valley, the other in the city; one is a Republican, the other a Democrat; one looks to be at least 35 years younger than the other — the two women share a common trait: Neither is a single-issue voter. 

“I know people who cast their ballots solely on abortion issues,” Stern said. “I am definitely a broad-spectrum voter. But shouldn’t we all be?” 

Miriam, meanwhile, may fiercely disagree with the Republicans’ strict anti-abortion platform, but that’s hardly the only reason she’s voting for Obama. She extolled the president’s health-care overhaul bill for providing access to affordable insurance for 32 million Americans who currently lack coverage, a law Romney has said he would repeal as soon as he’s elected. Miriam also she said she has serious concerns about the integrity of the Republican challenger. 

“I can’t vote for a president like Romney, charming as he is, although that doesn’t sit well with me; handsome as he is, and that doesn’t sit will with me; who says one thing and then says another when it’s expedient,” Miriam said. “How do we know when he’s ever telling the truth?”

Whether any single issue can determine how Jews will cast their ballots in 2012 is a question at the center of a public debate within the Jewish community (see sidebar). Israel, Iran, jobs, the economy, reproductive rights — any one of these is the bottom-line issue for at least some Jews in this contentious election season. In a quest to reveal what is on the minds of Jewish voters this year, at least in Los Angeles, we canvassed the streets and attended many recent Jewish events throughout the region. 

As it turns out, most Jewish voters appear to be deciding with multiple factors in mind. 

“I think the economy is a big issue,” Adeena Bleich said on the evening of Oct. 22 at a presidential debate-viewing get-together at the Jewish Federation building on Wilshire Boulevard. “My husband was out of work for almost two years, so that’s one of the things I’ll be thinking about.” 

Bleich works at a management company in West Los Angeles that services volunteer and professional associations, and she came to watch the debate with a co-worker. She said she’s also considering the differences between Romney and Obama on health-care policy, looking at the candidates’ relationships with Israel, and scanning their actions and policies for evidence that they “genuinely care about the American people.” 

A registered Democrat, Bleich grew up in Connecticut and said she’s been a multi-issue voter since even before she could vote. “I remember when I was a little girl, my parents would sit us down and explain why we were voting for a particular candidate,” she said. 

On-screen at the front of the room, the debate between Obama and Romney kept coming back to the subject of Israel. Jenny Root, Bleich’s co-worker, said she would also be voting based on a range of issues, but as for Obama and Israel, she said she believes the president’s description of his visits to Yad Vashem and Sderot in 2008 — which went over well with the vocal Democrats in the crowd — was irrelevant. 

“That was during his candidacy, not during his presidency,” the self-described moderate Republican said. 

Bleich, for her part, noted that the two candidates seemed to be espousing very similar policies on Israel. 

“They are,” Root conceded. “But Obama’s been blowing off Bibi for years.” 

As he has throughout the campaign, Romney attacked Obama during this third debate for allegedly wanting to put “daylight” between the United States and Israel. In their multimillion-dollar effort to persuade Democratic Jewish voters to abandon the president, the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) has enthusiastically taken up the argument that Obama, who has a frosty relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been less friendly to Israel than a President Romney would be. 

But a national poll taken in September by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) showed the vast majority of American Jews plan to vote based on economic concerns, outnumbering 4-to-1 Jewish voters who will consider Israel or the Iranian nuclear threat while casting their ballots. 

That same poll also found that American Jews can be expected to continue their decades-long record of turning out at the polls in disproportionately high numbers and supporting Democratic candidates at rates higher than any other group of white voters. Sixty-five percent of those polled by AJC said they will vote for Obama this year, while only 24 percent said they will vote for Romney. 

Despite such poll results, Republican Jews have worked hard this year to make Obama’s perceived unfriendliness to Israel into as much of a political liability for the president as possible. 

With $6.5 million in funding from Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and others, the RJC has made large purchases of airtime, targeting a few swing states — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada and, of course, Florida — running ads that hammer home the message that some Jews who voted for Obama in 2008 have been disappointed by his performance and claiming that no Jew who cares about Israel should trust the president.

How effective these ads are depends upon the individual. “We’re inundated,” said Rabbi Yocheved Mintz of Congregation P’nai Tikvah, a Reconstructionist/Renewal community of fewer than 100 families in Las Vegas. Mintz, who received her rabbinic ordination from the Academy of Jewish Religion and now sits on the board of the Los Angeles-based nondenominational seminary, is a committed Obama supporter. She called the RJC spots “vitriolic.” 

“You wake up in the morning, and you’ve got ads,” she said. “Between shows, constantly, it’s nonstop.” 

Beyond the advertisements, the RJC has been working to make person-to-person contact with Jewish voters and has custom-built a database of Jewish voters in swing states for this election. Using its database, the RJC has marshaled Republican Jews in uncontested states to make phone calls into swing states in the hopes of swaying some small — but potentially significant — percentage of the Jewish voters who live there. The goal, as explained in e-mails to Los Angeles RJC members, is not to win in Los Angeles, but to “win from Los Angeles.”

That Republicans won’t win the presidential race in California, let alone in Los Angeles, is practically a given. As for the Republicans who have been intimating that 2012 could be the year the party makes significant inroads into the Jewish community nationally, Eric Bauman, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, isn’t buying it. 

“The Log Cabin Republicans,” Bauman said, referring to the organization of gay Republicans, “make a lot of noise, make it seem like they’re a major fighter in any given election. But gay Republicans, just like Jewish Republicans, make up less than one-third of the vote, and that’s going to be the same this time.”

At Reform synagogues, Bauman said he hears “about 90 percent support” for Obama, but support for Romney is markedly higher in more observant Jewish communities. At the two Valley synagogues Bauman regularly attends, he said, the breakdown is very different. 

“When I go to Adat Ari El, which is Conservative, it is split slightly more Democratic than Republican. When I go to Shaarey Zedek [an orthodox synagogue], it is substantially more Republican,” Bauman said, “though I always find it humorous that all the Democrats come up to me and quietly tell me they’re Democrats.”

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