In the wake of the 2020 general election, many Democrats were disappointed by Florida’s rightward drift. This allowed Donald Trump to win Florida by a larger margin than in 2020, one of only two states where this was the case. Additionally, two congressional seats were flipped by Republicans, and Latinos drifted toward the Republican Party.
Yet one statistic in particular concerned many Jewish Democrats: Donald Trump won more Jewish votes in Florida than anywhere else. This came even as Jews remained firmly Democratic, excluding Orthodox Jews. To combat this frightening Floridian statistic, determined civic leaders decided something had to be done and began to bring Jewish Democrats together to chart a course forward.
Florida had already had a joint Sarasota-Manatee County Democratic Party Jewish Caucus. There was also an overhead statewide caucus that held events tailored to any Jewish Democrat no matter where they lived.
In 2021, these lonely crusaders got a major boost. Miami-Dade County finally got a caucus to represent its sizable Jewish Democratic population, as did Palm Beach County. The smaller Polk County also got a caucus.
As important as these caucuses are, however, possibly the most impactful new caucus has been that of Broward County.
The most Democratic county in Florida and the center of the resistance against Republican tyranny, Broward’s new caucus has proven to be a major asset to the Florida Democratic Party Jewish Caucus.
The caucus started as an idea in the mind of the exceptionally talented former Florida state Rep. Richard Stark, D-Weston. This was accomplished with crucial aid from longtime Florida Jewish Caucus President Rabbi Mark L. Winer MBE. He is known worldwide for his work, which includes international diplomatic efforts to rescue Ethiopian Jews in 1991 through Operation Solomon and solving a major crisis at Auschwitz.
After an extremely successful run in the legislature, Stark turned to form the Broward County Democratic Party Jewish Caucus. This aims to mobilize people to help turn the tide against the rising support for Republicans in Florida. Stark eventually became its esteemed chair, leading the caucus to an extremely successful first year.
In an interview exclusively with the Florida Political Review, Winer noted the goal of the Democratic Party Jewish caucuses is threefold, given that “Jews punch far above our weight” as “a phenomenal part of the Democratic Party.”
Firstly, the caucuses reinforce and turn out Jewish volunteers. Across the state, including in newly forming caucuses in Tampa and Gainesville, there are “several hundred members.” This volunteering is “a matter of emphasizing that our activity comes from a deeply entrained Jewish sense of mission, what we call tikkun olam,” said Winer. Tikkun olam is the Jewish value describing an individual’s responsibility to the welfare of society at large. “[Jews] believe deeply in having each other’s backs, and we are a tribal confederation of different religious, ethnic and racial groups,” Winer said.
Among other things, Jews were central to the civil rights movements. Winer himself was the Jewish youth leader at the March on Washington in 1963. He pointed out that two of the three civil rights leaders who were murdered in Mississippi were Jews.
Continuing this long legacy, the BCDPJC takes this into serious consideration — having held a town hall in a marquee event for the special election to fill the seat of the late Alcee Hastings in the U.S. House. This pre-primary event saw 10 out of the 11 candidates for the Democratic nomination answer questions on both Jewish issues and those specific to the heavily Black District 23.
There was also a joint Palm Beach County Democratic Party Jewish Caucus-BCDPJC meeting focused on criminal justice. This saw the state attorneys for Broward County and Palm Beach County conversing about their jobs and what they do to make our communities safer while ensuring the system becomes more equitable.
LGBTQ+ groups are also fiercely advocated for by the BCDPJC. The renowned transgender author Rabbi Abby Stein was featured in a Hanukkah meeting talking about the relationship between Jews and the LGBTQ+ community. That event garnered viewers from the Democratic LGBTQ+ caucus, the Dolphin Democrats.
Traditionally and distinctly Jewish topics are also discussed. One of the first meetings of the BCDPJC hosted Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, and Ted Deutch, D-Florida, who spoke about supporting Israel and Congress’ role in that.
The second goal spoken of by Winer was strengthening our sense of mission and core. Jews have this “in our DNA; we are social activists around the world,” Winer said. This is especially true in South Florida, where Boca Raton Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel’s district is the most Jewish in the country and where Jews have close to 100% turnout.
Reflecting this criticality to the community, a distinguished crop of members have joined. These include former state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, and former Rep. Lawrence J. Smith, D-Florida. Other important members include Dr. Samuel Edelman, a noted scholar and former executive director of the Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, and Broward County Commissioner and former Florida Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston.
Members also attended statewide caucus meetings, hearing from all three Democratic candidates for governor and, soon, both Democratic candidates for Senate.
Finally, Winer noted that “Jews give money disproportionately to the Democratic Party as a whole.” This, combined with the factors discussed above, demonstrates really how important this Jewish community is to Florida politics, according to Winer.
Keeping in line with these three tenets, the quality and quantity of programming offered by the BCDPJC have truly exceeded expectations, fundraising, informing and mobilizing. It shall assuredly continue to maintain its high standards.
With a great first year behind it, and the midterm elections looming, I say mazel tov to the BCDPJC and to Stark, who Winer described as “an outstanding… established leader of the Broward Jewish Democrats for years and years” — something I can personally attest to. His outreach to the community and informative meetings have turned the BCDPJC into an institution worthy of its members’ support. Here’s to a great year ahead.
Author’s note: Surveys, including exit polls, of Jews are often inaccurate because they underrepresent Jews of no religion. When asked what religion one is, Jews of no religion (who are overwhelmingly Democratic) do not say Jewish, which makes it seem as though Jews are voting more Republican than they are. A more accurate question for polls to ask would be if one considers themself to be Jewish.
Check out other recent articles from Florida Political Review here.
Featured image: Broward County Democratic Jewish Caucus Chair Richard Stark presides over a meeting. Photo by Charles Horowitz.