Color Granite State Voters Unimpressed

Heading to the polls on Feb. 9, some New Hampshire Jewish voters are not thrilled about the presidential candidates.

Less than thrilled is how some New Hampshire Jewish voters describe their feelings toward the presidential candidates vying for votes in the Granite State. Despite the lackluster enthusiasm for this year’s candidates, the Jews of New Hampshire will do their duty and head to the polls on Feb. 9.
“I’ve been a lifelong Democrat,” said Dr. Sol Rockenmacher of Bedford, “[but] this election both my wife and I are undeclared.”
Though Rockenmacher draws comparisons to Democratic hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — they both grew up the children of immigrants in Brooklyn, N.Y. — he’s disappointed that neither the self-described democratic socialist nor former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have spoken up about Israel.
“We have three married daughters and five grandchildren and our biggest concern is national security and secondly is Israel,” said Rockenmacher. “Speak up Bernie! Speak up Hillary!”
Rockenmacher and his wife Linda, who belong to Temple Adath Yeshurun, a Reform congregation of approximately 200 in Manchester, have applied for absentee Republican ballots. He is considering Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. He is not considering voting for frontrunner Donald Trump or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Rabbi Jonathan Spira-Savett, spiritual leader of Temple Beth Abraham, a Conservative synagogue in Nashua, concurred, saying, “People are not tremendously excited about the candidates this time, but I said in synagogue the other day it’s good because we’re not here to fall in love [with candidates].”
Despite the disappointment with this year’s crop of candidates, both Rockenmacher and Spira-Savett said that they and their fellow Jewish New Hampshirites feel a certain responsibility because of how the primary has influenced the rest of the race.
Spira-Savett went so far as to discuss politics in his Yom Kippur address. He was nervous at first, but given how political talk permeates the congregation, from folks casually chatting about candidates during kiddush to families hosting campaign staffers in their homes for “weeks and months,” it was worth broaching the subject. It helps, he added, that he’s an independent (“My allegiance to God and Torah is bigger than allegiance to a political party,” he said).
The Haftarah for Yom Kippur morning, Spira-Savett explained, asks, “Is our fasting worth anything if we neglect the homeless, don’t feed the hungry? … If we’re really concerned about the Jewish imperative to serve those in our society who have the most need, then we have to talk about politics.”
“I told the congregation: If you’re a liberal, be a more Jewish liberal,” he recalled. “If you’re a conservative, be a more Jewish conservative.”
The Brotherhood at Temple Adath Yeshurun, which Rockenmacher co-chairs, has invited the campaigns to send a representative to their candidate forum on Feb. 4. With the Iowa caucus taking place just days before, Rockenmacher expects he will hear from campaigns at the last minute, but he’s optimistic given the media coverage that his synagogue’s annual fall candidate forum for local candidates attracts.
Access to candidates and their surrogates is a privilege of living in New Hampshire, one that more than makes up for the inundation of campaign calls — “eight calls a day,” said Spira-Savett — and mailings.
“When we lived in North Manchester, one of our neighbors had Bob Dole over and we met him, even though we were registered Democrats,” said Rockenmacher.
And when the Rockenmachers supported Gen. Wesley Clark’s Democratic bid for the presidency in 2004, two Jewish politicos, Rahm Emanuel, the now embroiled mayor of Chicago, and Anthony Weiner, the former congressman from New York who resigned amid a sexting scandal, came to their home to stump for the general. Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, is a longtime aid to Clinton.
The Clintons, though, seem to have a certain pull with New Hampshire Jews.
According to Spira-Savett, who joined his congregation seven and a half years ago, the former president and his wife, now running for president, once attended a dance at his synagogue and a number of congregants have pictures with them. He and his family got to meet Hillary Clinton through a congregant who serves in the state senate and worked on a past Clinton campaign.
This year, Spira-Savett took his 12-year-old daughter to a Labor Day parade and Kasich, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has since left the race, and Sanders took the time to shake his daughter’s hand.
“You can see whoever you want,” joked Rockenmacher. “You just have to get there early.”


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