NEW YORK CITY – Election night in America is one of the biggest television events of the year, but you wouldn’t know it on Division Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where the radio sputtered out ballot returns in every other Orthodox household.
Few of the Orthodox residents there stayed awake to hear the twilight speech of reelected President Barack Obama, and most Orthodox Jews in this community stayed away from the voting booths. Despite that, in Kings County, where one in four residents is Jewish, Obama won a stunning 81% of the vote.
“Most of the people here don’t like Obama,” says Wolf Weiss, a rare supporter of the president in his community.
“But people here know their vote just doesn’t matter.”
And in a neighborhood completely bare of campaign signs, Sam Lipschitz lamented having to take down his Romney-Ryan fanfare earlier in the morning after.
Lipschitz, 25, became active in politics for the first time in his life for this election cycle: afraid of Obama’s position on Egypt after the revolution, he founded the “Orthodox Jews for Mitt Romney 2012” group on Facebook, which had 300 members at its peak. The group’s membership has since dropped to 92.
Reacting to strong Jewish voter turnout for the president nationwide, Lipschitz was dismissive.
“It means that 70% of Jews here don’t care about Israel,” he says. “And this is why I’ve finally become active.”
In Korn’s Bakery, the daily morning rush churned as usual, with little chatter over the poll results its customers insist was pre-ordained. The news driving the day was still the local trauma: Superstorm Sandy’s devastation of Jewish communities across the city.
“I didn’t vote because I didn’t have time,” says Abraham Waldman, owner of Korn’s Bakery. “I was cleaning my house after a seven foot wave destroyed everything.”
Waldman says the collection of garbage he has accrued - from furniture to precious photos - couldn’t fit into his entire bakery, floor to ceiling.
“All I want is gas,” one of his customers exclaimed.
And yet despite the devastation, and the dropping temperatures plaguing thousands of displaced New Yorkers, voter turnout here was resilient yesterday, with over half of registered voters in the city turning out to cast ballots.
So perhaps their reasons for declining their right to vote were more political than tropical.
“I’m quite concerned that the folks on Division Street are disillusioned, because the system we have isn’t broken— they’re just unhappy with the results,” says Rick Anderson, a Brooklyn resident for over two decades.
“I think Jews here who voted for Obama are obviously able to look at the bigger picture,” he said.
For Anderson, that bigger picture refers less to Israel than to the American economy.
And yet the residents pacing up and down Division Street don’t disagree. Ironically, after months of both campaigns’ attempts to target small business owners across the country, they just don’t believe the president – whoever he may be – has much to do with their successes or failures.
“The same people are going to come in here every day and buy my danishes,” says Waldman.
“We all vote on the local level. But to us, the president is far removed.”