Tag Archives: Immigration

Catholic Candidates, Voters and Contraception

By Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil

From the announcement of President Obama’s controversial new contraception policy, to Rick Santorum’s unexpected triple-win on Tuesday—Catholics have determined this week’s news cycle. To understand these developments, Moment speaks with Shaun Casey, a religious outreach advisor to the Obama campaign and author of The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy v. Nixon 1960. He is also associate professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC.

MM: What does it mean that we have two prominent Catholic candidates vying for the Republican nomination right now? Is this the first time all the top candidates—from either party—have not been Protestant Christians?

SC: Of course the Democratic Party has nominated Catholics—John F. Kennedy and John Kerry. But on the Republican side, I don’t believe we’ve ever had a non-Protestant be the nominee. The evangelical Protestant vote is very powerful—it’s a huge piece of the Republican base. They have struggled this time to pick the person they want to go to, and no single candidate has been able to garner that vote. So if you’re an evangelical voter, you’re flummoxed where to go.

MM: How does Catholicism inform Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich’s politics?

SC: Newt Gingrich is a recent convert, and he comes to Catholicism from having become a Southern Baptist in his college years—so he’s made quite the pilgrimage. You can’t point to any visible political changes as a result of his conversion to Catholicism, but what unites Gingrich and Santorum is that their faith overlaps with their conservative politics. Both Gingrich and Santorum are drawn to the anti-abortion stance, the stance against gay marriage—there’s a very strong correlation between their conservative faith and their conservative politics. On the other hand, there’s some tension between Catholic social tradition and their conservative political beliefs: the preferential option for the poor, the desire for universal health care, the right for unions to organize—there’s a robust list of political stances that Church teaching points towards that goes in a different direction from Santorum and Gingrich. While their faith does shape their politics, there’s not only an area of conjunction, there’s also an area of disjunction between their political beliefs and the faith of their Church.

MM: Tell me about Catholic voters—how have they voted historically and where do they stand now?

SC: Since the early ‘90s, the Catholic Church has migrated from predominately Democratic to the ultimate swing voters today—typically, the candidate who wins the Catholic vote wins the overall vote. At the same time, mainline Protestant voters are going the other way. They were predominately Republican in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and now they’re moving toward the center. And going back 40 or 50 years, evangelical voters were predominately Democrats, and now they’re predominately Republican. Those are the three great migrations in religious voter patterns.

The Catholic community is also becoming more and more an immigrant church. The Pew forum has data showing that if you’re an American-born, Anglo Catholic, there’s a fairly high attrition rate or movement out of the Catholic faith, while immigrants from Mexico and Latin America, and to a certain extent Asia, are replacing them. Yet again it’s becoming an immigrant church as it was in the 19th century.

MM: Does it matter that Santorum and Gingrich are taking such a hard line on immigration when so many Catholic voters are Hispanic?

Absolutely. Hispanic Catholic voters tend to vote Democratic—Obama won the overall Hispanic vote rather handily over McCain in ’08. While they are social conservatives—they’re not liberals on abortion or same-sex marriage—they are very concerned about immigration reform, and that’s the trump issue right now. Even though theologically and socially they might be more attuned to the Republican Party, they fear their stance on immigration.

MM: Do Catholic voters feel any loyalty toward Santorum or Gingrich because they’re fellow Catholics?

No—they don’t feel any sectarian affinities toward those two that I can detect. I think both Santorum and Gingrich have trouble Catholic voters overall. Conservative Catholics love them, but they don’t make up the majority of Catholic voters.

MM: Are Catholic voters in line with Church leadership in opposing Obama’s new contraception policy? Will it affect voting in the fall?

No, they are not. At the same time, there are some liberal Catholics who support birth control—and even support universal access to it—but who also feel in terms of the First Amendment, that religious groups that don’t share that view have the right not to coerce their employees to get it. The administration was surprised by the breadth of the outcry from progressive and moderate Catholics for whom the issue of contraception is not a big deal, but the issue of religious liberty is. Is that going to drive another 30 percent of Catholics into the Republican Party—I doubt it. But people are watching very carefully to see if there’s a compromise we can come to. At the end of the day, the bishops want to find a solution, and that’s what the Obama administration also wants. Despite the heated rhetoric, I’m pretty confident they can find a way to work through this because it’s in everyone’s interest.

MM: One topic that rarely gets talked about is war and poverty. What’s the Church’s stance on these issues, and why don’t we hear the Church pushing back against the government as much as we do on the social issues, like abortion and contraception?

SC: On the question of poverty, the bishops have been active behind the scenes in Congress, trying to push both parties towards preserving social services to the poor and to children. During this difficult budget process, they have been walking the halls of Congress and calling the White House, but in a much quieter way—they’re not reading letters against Speaker Boehner, President Obama or Vice President Biden on the budget issues and the poor. On war, they were quite good during the Bush administration—they were very clear in their opposition to the Iraq War, which they expressed in letters and direct conversation with the president—but it hasn’t been the same dramatic, direct confrontation.

MM: What’s something most people don’t know about Catholics and politics?

SC: I think that the Catholic vote is going to be an important constituency in this election. While Obama won it handily over McCain in ‘08, it remains to be seen whether that’s going to play out in 2012. But I wouldn’t assume that because there’s a Catholic nominee in the Republican Party that the Catholic vote will immediately flip toward the Republican Party. I think that assumption is debatable.

Why the Israeli Ad Campaign Matters

by Erica Shaps

Last week, the Israeli Ministry of Immigration Absorption’s now-cancelled ad campaign directed at bring Israeli expatriates in American back home took the American Jewish media by storm.

The contents of the ads are, by this point, well known. My personal favorite shows a young family Skyping with their grandparents in Israel. As we look at the menorah in the background of the grandparents’ screen, they ask their granddaughter, in Hebrew, if she knows what Holiday they are celebrating. She enthusiastically responds, “Christmas!” Her parents look on in horror. The  fear-mongering, offensive, inaccuracy-laden ads were almost comical. If I didn’t know better, I could have easily mistaken them for skits on Eretz Nehederet. These insulting advertisements showed Israeli disdain for Diaspora Jewry and a perception that we cannot live full Jewish lives.

Almost immediately, Abe Foxman, of the Anti-Defamation League, and the Jewish Federations of North America released statements deploring the ads. Only three days after Jeffrey Goldberg wrote his blog post, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ambassador Michael Oren issued an apology, and the ads were gone.

I think that a number of important conclusions can be drawn from this series of events

The ad campaign had been playing in Israel for months; even then, Israelis were not particularly thrilled with the campaign. My Israeli roommate put it this way: “Isn’t it nice that they do the right thing after they insulted all of you [Diaspora Jews] and not months ago when the Israelis said that it was a bad idea?

It goes to show that when American Jewish leaders are outraged enough and make a lot of noise, Israel listens. This phenomenon was also well observed last summer when Diaspora Jews’ campaign against the Rotem Conversion Bill led to a vote being postponed indefinitely. Although I don’t think American Jews should abuse their potential influence over the Israeli government, I do think it is fair for us to put pressure on government officials when their decisions have ramifications for worldwide Jewry and the United States, like legislation that restricts our government’s ability to allocate funds to organizations of its choosing.

American Jews place substantial money, resources and time into defending Israel’s best interests in the American political arena. Therefore, we have the right to advocate for the Diaspora and express our frustrations with the Israeli government from time to time. As this incident proved, when we do, it can be a powerful motivator and catalyst for change.

Second, Israel has the right (and good reasons) to try to court expatriates to return home–it has been reported that as many as two million Israelis are currently living in the United States. However, the too-cheesy-to-be-compelling ads are an insult to Israeli intellect. When the ads first aired here, many people saw them as hilariously over the top, disconnected from Israelis’ mindset, and completely ignoring the real issues that draw Israelis away. The ads offer no tangible incentives for Israelis to come back. One friend joked that the ads might have been more effective if they reminded expats that the weather is much nicer in Tel Aviv than New York.

Instead of attempting to play off Israelis’ emotions, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption would be better off addressing the legitimate factors that might have led so many to leave Israel in the first place. If the young family from the “Christmas” ad lived in Israel, they probably would not live in a comfortable suburban home, but possibly in the apartment of the very grandparents they were Skyping.  Their daughter might not have the same educational opportunities. If Dafna from the “Remembrance” ad was home, she might very well have pitched a tent on Rothschild this past summer to protest economic and social inequalities. If Israel is truly determined to bring expatriates home, instead of spending a reported three million shekels on a tacky ad campaign, it should allocate its resources to addressing the issues that made Israelis take to the street this summer and probably make the “land of opportunity” so enticing.

I hope these four days of tumult between the Israeli government and U.S Jews proves to be a teachable moment. The Israeli government should take more strides to understand both Diaspora Jews and the needs of her own people. U.S. Jews, on the other hand, should think carefully about their relationship with Israel and ability to influence its behavior; when the time is right for us to speak up, we make change happen.

Jane Ziegelman on Food and the American Story

97 Orchard, by Jane Ziegelman, tells the story of five immigrant families living on Manhattan’s Lower East Side at the turn of the twentieth century. The stories of these Irish, Italian, German and Jewish families emerge through the food they cooked and the struggles they faced. Ziegelman chatted with Moment about American food, Jewish food and the place of immigrants in the American story.

What was the inspiration for 97 Orchard?

The inspiration was the tenement itself. A while back, when I was a graduate student at NYU studying urban anthropology, I heard that this new museum was opening on the Lower East Side devoted to America’s urban pioneers, immigrants who settled in tenement districts on the Lower East Side. I worked as a volunteer collecting oral histories from former tenement dwellers. They needed people to go around and collect histories of people that had once lived at 97 Orchard Street. One of the people that I met during that time was Josephine Baldizzi, [one of the women featured in 97 Orchard].

Anyone who’s been in that building feels its history and the sense of all of these people having lived there moving through the building. It’s a kind of haunted place in the best sense of the word.

Why did you choose these families specifically?

I chose the particular families because of the ethnic diversity that they represented.

Did you feel a special bond or closeness with any family or character in the book?

I really identified with the women. It seems to me that the men kind of check out in some of the stories in this book, and the women are the heroes of the story. In the Gumpert story, the father essentially abandons his family under the pressures of keeping his family housed during a particularly bad economic period. He buckles under the pressure and leaves the responsibility of caring for the kids to his wife, and she does what has to be done. That’s the story of these immigrants, that they take care of business. They find a way to do what has to be done, particularly in the interest of their children. These were people who had the ability to defer their own dreams and put aside their own needs in the interest of the next generation. And to me, that is really heroic behavior.

How did you decide that food was going to be the way through which you told these stories?

I’ve seen food as a really useful tool for interpreting culture and also as a way to enter the everyday lives of people who are not exactly like us. That’s part of the appeal of food. On one hand, food is something we all need. It’s a biological necessity. On the other hand, it’s tied up with all kinds of really profound human aspirations. It’s tied up with family and God and nature and our relationships to our community, so it stands at this really interesting point between heart and biology. It’s also just so incredibly concrete. I’ve always been interested in the way people lived and the texture and the tastes and the smells of everyday life, and I think food is a great way to get at that.

Is there such a thing as American food?

American food is defined by its diversity. It’s a direct reflection of the American people. This wasn’t always the case, but the immigrants who came to this country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries really changed the way we eat.

What about Jewish food?

There is no one Jewish cuisine—there are many Jewish cuisines. Jewish food is the food that’s important to us. That changes with geography and with time, so the category of Jewish food is this ever-shifting concept, but when you say Jewish food, I know what it is to me, and I think other Jews know what it is to them.

What is it to you?

To me, Jewish food is the food made by my grandmother. It’s chicken soup with kreplach, and it’s honey cake. It’s vegetable barley soup. It’s chopped liver. When I just got out of college and I got back to New York I’d meet my grandmother for lunch in the city, and we had to go someplace kosher, and our favorite place was Ratner’s. So everything on the Ratner’s menu—that’s Jewish food. The borscht, the blintzes, the kasha varnishkes and the knishes.

What was the most surprising thing you learned when researching the book?

The big surprise was how much farming went on in New York City, in the tenement district. There was this whole tradition of animal husbandry on the Lower East Side. The Jews raised geese and other kinds of poultry, the Italians raised goats and the Irish kept pigs. This was shocking to me. The life of children on the Lower East Side was also a real wake-up call, the fact that kids went to work at eleven or twelve years of age and that ten-and eleven-year-old girls were called ‘little mothers’ and bore the responsibilities of grown women.

Which immigrant groups are having the same kind of culinary influence on America today?

In New York, it’s people from Thailand, Vietnam, China—East Asians and Southeast Asians; Latin Americans and Mexicans; people from the Caribbean. Those are the three groups that are making their presence felt in New York. Caribbeans and Latin Americans are really active as street food vendors, so we’re seeing this kind of food on the streets. New York’s Chinatowns—and there’s more than one—are just extremely vibrant places, and Western people are discovering them and trying their food.




Lessons for Germany’s Turks from France’s Jews

By Symi Rom-Rymer In the midst of cheering crowds and booming music at an auditorium in Düsseldorf, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Turkish audience of 10,000 to “integrate…into German society but don’t assimilate. No one has the … Continue reading

People of the Book: Jewish Bialystok and Its Diaspora

By Symi Rom-Rymer

The story of Jewish Eastern European immigration is a familiar one.  Even if one never had the chance to know their relatives from that generation, all one has to do is watch Fiddler on the Roof to see what they must have experienced: the shtetl, the Cossacks and, of course, the eventual expulsion.  But for Rebecca Kobrin, assistant professor of Jewish History at Columbia University and author of the new book Jewish Bialystok and its Diaspora , even if we might know all the words to Anatevka, we really don’t know very much.  Kobrin challenges the traditional American Jewish view of that life much like Alana Newhouse’s did with her article about Roman Vishniac’s photos in pre-war Poland within the context of pre-war East European Jewish life.

Using Bialystok—a center of industry and a predominantly Jewish town—as her lens, she charts the complex process of Eastern European immigration in the 20th century beginning with internal Jewish migration from smaller to larger towns within the Russian empire and ending with the establishment of communities in places as far-flung as Australia and Argentina, not to mention the United States and Israel.  Through a wide-range of primary sources, Kobrin demonstrates how many Bialystokers saw their migration west not always as a positive move forward, as it so commonly portrayed today, but also as a form as exile or galut.  Although for them, this feeling of exile was not from the biblical Israel but rather from Eastern Europe; and in this case, more specifically from Poland—a country that they thought of as the promised land.

Furthermore, Kobrin uses the book as a rare opportunity to explore the Jewish immigrant experience outside the United States.  Through that international framework she demonstrates how despite their feelings of vulnerability in their new homes, Bialystokers also maintained a powerful network through which they sought to create an empire of Bialystok communities throughout the world.  She also uses this framework to compare and contrast how each community dealt with hardship from finding jobs to creating a strong community to what it means to be from Bialystok when, decimated by the Holocaust, it no longer existed as a Jewish home.   I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Rebecca Kobrin and talk with her about her new book and the role she hopes it will play in future discussions about Eastern Europe Jewish migration.

Why a book about Eastern European migration?
Ninety percent of American Jews come from Eastern Europe and if you ever talk to people about their families, they always talk about their relatives going around the world: to Buenos Aries, New York.  But typically, it’s seen as one journey from Eastern Europe to America.  It was really many lines going from one place.

You challenge several traditional American Jewish narratives in your book.  Was this the intent from the beginning or did it evolve as you were writing?
No.  It was really the sources.  The opening of my book talks about the first issue of the Der Bialystoker Stimme (The Voice of Bialystok) [a Yiddish journal written for and by Bialystokers] and how the writers were toying and imagining what migration means for and themselves and trying to understand their place in the world.  In the Yiddish materials, they say things differently from what we expect.  [For instance], I never thought in a million years that I would find the word galut (the biblical word for exile) in their writings.  That’s when I started to rethink that my project wouldn’t only be about migration.

Your book seems to address similar issues to those brought up in the recent article about Roman Vishniac and his photographs.  Why do you think the narrative is changing?
Since the fall of Communism and the opening up of Eastern Europe, I think there is more of an openness to revisiting and rethinking the narratives Eastern Europe.  Immigrants who came there would undeniably admit that the US had more material things but they were ambivalent about the immigrant experience.  That ambivalence has been erased and what I’m doing is reinserting it. If you talk to American Jews, ask if they’ve been to Eastern Europe.  They haven’t, but they have been to Israel.  American Jews have become attached to a homeland where none of their ancestors had ever lived.  Israel has taken on an importance greater than Eastern Europe only in the post-war years.  That is in essence what my book is about.  It’s about where Eastern European Jews are really from and how it reshapes their relationship with America.  I think that some people will never accept that Eastern Europe was a great place to be Jew because you have the long and deep shadow of Auschwitz that people can’t see past.  Urban Polish culture was Jewish culture, Jews felt comfortable there and no one can accept that people felt comfortable there.  I think that’s changing but it depends in what circles you travel in.

I was interested to learn that Bialystokers returned home during the 1920s, because in my mind immigrants didn’t return once they moved to the US.  How pervasive do you think is this idea among American Jews now?
That’s part of the narrative, that leaving Eastern Europe was the best choice they ever made.  But tons of people went back and took pictures.  That’s how you showed you made it; by going back.  That was the actually lived migration: not this idea that they went to the US and completely cut off ties and never went back.

It seems like the reaction to the Holocaust–both during and afterwards–was very different in the US as opposed to that in other countries.  Why do you think that was?
America was still involved in the war effort and because of that, people in the US were more fixated on that because they had sons, brothers, and fathers in the army.  Survivors arrived in Argentina, for instance, much earlier than in the US so Argentinean Jews had more live witnesses to what had happened.  A lot of people in the US thought that perhaps the devastation wasn’t as bad as it was, that people would come back.  I found that coming to terms of what it means to a Jew from Bialystok, when there was no Bialystok, was a much slower process for American Jews.  In the US, the press had been playing down what had happened to the Jews of Eastern Europe and they bought it. But in Buenos Aries, they just lived in a totally different culture and could absorb more readily the reality of what happened in the Holocaust.

Have the descendants of Bialystok families’ relationship to the city changed after the collapse of Communism?
In Israel, there are some people who have been back several times, although a lot of it is generational.  I think people in Israel are more open to visiting Poland.  In Australia, there is so much nostalgia–I’m still trying to work out why.  In the US, there are a few original immigrants still alive but it’s mainly children and grandchildren. None of the original immigrants are interested in the graveyard; only the children and grandchildren are interested in maintaining the Jewish sites of the city—or what is left of them.

How aware are contemporary Bialystokers about the Jewish history of their town?
There is one woman who lives there who just discovered she’s Jewish at the age of 40.  This will be happening more.  Not hundreds of thousands, but still.  The university is trying to do this project where they have conferences where they bring together Jews who lived in Bialystok and scholars who write about it.  Bialystok knows that as a city it would be nothing without the influx of the Jews and the industry that they built.  Because of them, it became the main transit point of the Warsaw-Moscow train line that was built by the Tsars; a train line that still exists to this day. Without its Jews, Bialystok wouldn’t have been important.

What would you like people to take away from reading the book?
Two things.  First, that the whole narrative of why Eastern European Jews left and come to the US is more complicated and filled with ambivalence than we expect.  And secondly, that Eastern Europeans and their relationship to Eastern Europe really shaped the way Jews throughout the course of the 20th century viewed the key issues of homeland, longing, and exile.

Rebecca Kobrin’s Jewish Bialystok and Its Diaspora raises critical questions and observations not only about our ancestors’ relationship to their places of origin, in this case the town of Bialystok, and to their new homes, but also about how we, their descendants, have shaped that story for each subsequent generation.  As the original immigrants become ever fewer in number, we are left with few tangible links to their history as they experienced it.  Books such as this challenge us to reexamine our closely held-beliefs and encourages us to see that history as it was, rather than as we might want it to be.