The elephant in the room among these GOP Jews

Lean Right members chat after their meeting this month.
Photo by Dan Schere

It was the 2016 election all over again.

In a small room above the sanctuary at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in Washington, 20 young Jewish Republicans sat in a circle, rehashing the vote that brought Donald Trump to the White House and sent Hillary Clinton back to New York. What sparked their ire was a 2016 article Tablet magazine article that described Trump’s base as white, uneducated bigots.

Liberals and mainstream media are perpetrating this false narrative, the group of millennials agreed. And Trump’s victory was a referendum on political correctness.

The group calls itself Lean Right. At a time when three-quarters of millennials identify as liberal to moderate, according to the Brookings Institution, and political opponents have become mortal enemies, these Republican Jews need a safe place to speak their minds and discuss Republican issues in the absence of liberals.

“Even within the group there’s disagreement, but people tend to be civil,” said Zachary Leshin, 27, who began attending the monthly meetings last fall. “It’s not as if everyone has the exact same opinion, but you can freely express your views, not without being criticized, but without being personally attacked.”

Members identify with a range of role models, from former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Although they criticized the stereotyping of Trump supporters, several in the group acknowledged that they did not vote for Trump.

Leshin, a District of Columbia resident and ex-staffer of former Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas), said in an interview that talking politics civilly, even with Democrats, was possible at work. But coming out as a Republican in the city’s crowded bar scene was something he would think twice about.

“At a happy hour you have people who you don’t want to necessarily bring up politics around,” Leshin said.

Rabbi Shira Stutman of Sixth and I, said Lean Right is one of a number of groups the synagogue sponsors to allow like-minded young Jews to meet.

“A vibrant Jewish community is made up of all different types of people, with all different types of opinions,” she said.

“We know, of course, that the Jewish community leans more liberal and
progressive,” Stutman said, “so we understand the need for conservatives to have a safe place to express their views,” she said.
A safe place, like that other mushy liberal term “safe space?” Yes, Stutman said, although group members would “probably not use that term.”

(Lean Right members elected to exercise their safe space rights by asking a reporter not to quote them or use their names during the meeting, but individuals could make a different choice during interviews. )
When one Trump supporter combined the name Hillary with Hitler, members said such a comparison was

The group attributed what members view as the rise of tribalism in politics to the liberal idea that the “personal is political” and that “who you are defines your right to speak and the value of your opinion.”

That was Grant Jules’ sentiment. The 20-year-old Fairfax resident described himself as a centrist. He voted for Trump in the primary and sat out the general election. It’s something he’s cautious about telling people.

“With some people, politics is so much a part of their identity, when you discuss it it’s like you’re attacking their personality,” he said.

Tim, a 31-year old Arlington resident, who asked not to use his last name because he’s a federal employee, said he supported Cruz in the primary and declined to say who he voted in the general election. Tim said he finds much of Trump’s rhetoric is divisive.

Despite his right-of-center politics, Tim said he is able to have civil discussions with liberals.

“It’s fun debating them,” he said. “The most interesting part is when you actually come to agreement on certain things.”

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  1. “Kol Ha-Kavod” to the “Lean Right”. I am gratified to see Trump supporters among Jewish millennials. I voted for President Trump in the general election, and if the election were held again today, I’d vote for him again. Maybe it’s a function of age and stage, but outside of areas where there would not be discussion of any politics (such as in business), I have not experienced any incivility due to my political views. I suspect that there are more Trump supporters, or “closet supporters”, among Jews than polls would indicate.


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