Jewish Tailoring: Increasing Orthodox Population Has Candidates Adjusting Their Message
“I sing your praises, sometimes I get in trouble for doing that but I will continue to do it forever,” Democratic Assemblyman Dov Hikind told Republican State Senator Dean Skelos on his post-Shabbos radio show late last Saturday night. “I just want to personally thank you for being so amazingly responsive to all of New York State, but to the Jewish community in particular. You are really just a superstar.”
Mr. Skelos, the leader of the New York State Senate and one of the “three men in a room” that control decision-making in Albany, received this high praise for adding yeshiva tuition tax credits into the state budget and his recent work to fund bus service to those same private religious schools. Mr. Hikind is a longtime assemblyman and power broker in the Jewish neighborhoods of southern Brooklyn and, despite being a Democratic Party official, has been more than willing to endorse Republicans.
At the end of last year, Mr. Skelos traveled to the Masbia soup kitchen in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn where, after donning a velvet yarmulke, he chopped carrots, peeled potatoes and ladled kosher soup to the needy. He proceeded to tell a story about smuggling Jewish artifacts into the Soviet Union and joked that his own Greek Orthodox beliefs gave him insight into Orthodox Judaism, letting Yiddish words like tzitzis and shul roll off his tongue all the while. Cameras rolled and mobile phones snapped photos for the Jewish media to consume later, of course.
Mr. Skelos is hardly the first powerful politician to make the pilgrimage to Brooklyn’s kosher soup kitchens, but he is the most notable Republican to do so in recent years, demonstrating a new reality that a swath of heavily Democratic Brooklyn and Queens is ready to vote for candidates who belong to the same party as Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Indeed, Mr. Skelos and his Republican colleagues drew a new State Senate district in southern Brooklyn this year and packed it with as many Orthodox Jewish voters as possible. In past redistricting cycles, the district lines suggested Republicans sought to dilute the Orthodox vote.