VICE: Chaim Schlaff was born and raised in a Hasidic Jewish community in London. He now lives in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, and describes himself as a “proud legal immigrant.” He is also an enthusiastic Donald Trump supporter.
Schlaff says he “loves” the way Trump speaks and so do most of his friends: “He talks about everything we think.”
Schlaff is not the only member of the Hasidic community in the greater New York City area that feels this way about Trump. According to many Hasidic voters and political commentators, Trump has sparked an undeniable interest in parts of this culturally isolated world.
“Among my circle of friends, at least 90 percent [support] Trump,” said Yanky Lichtman, a Trump supporter who lives in Lakewood, New Jersey, one of the biggest Orthodox Jewish communities in the New York area.
David Gross, a Hasid who lives in Brooklyn, said he was never interested in politics before this election, but “when Trump decided to run I got excited.”
“He is honest, an everyday person,” Gross said. “A lot of people I know agree with him, but they just don’t want to say it.” Gross added that he’d probably just sit out the general election if Trump was not the Republican nominee because “it won’t be as interesting.”
Jacob Kornbluh, a New York-based Orthodox political reporter for the news site Jewish Insider, says that there is “no question support for Trump is widespread” within the Hasidic community. The majority of Hasidic voters he’s spoken to have said they plan on supporting Trump, although Kornbluh says that he has also found support for Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz within the community. But for the average Hasidic voter, says Kornbluh, “Trump is their guy.”
The Hasidim are the most conservative wing of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and are culturally, ideologically, and politically distinct from mainstream American Jews. While Jewish voters overall are consistently one of the most liberal groups in the country, nearly two-thirds of ultra-Orthodox Jews say they are politically conservative, while 57 percent of Orthodox Jews identify with or lean towards the Republican party, according to a Pew survey of Jewish Americans.
There have not been any polls of Hasidic voters ahead of the primary election, so much of the evidence of support for Trump within these communities so far has been anecdotal. But the fact that Trump has also done well among evangelical Christians in the primary states that have voted so far (in South Carolina, he won 34 percent of the white evangelical Christian vote) is a fairly telling indicator of how Hasidim will vote as well.
Since 2000, ultra-Orthodox Jews in New York have voted in national elections in extremely similar patterns to how evangelical Christians voted, according to Sam Abrams, a political scientist at Stanford University who studies the politics of American Jewish voters. The only other religious group of Americans that are as consistently conservative (politically and ideologically) as Orthodox Jews are white, evangelical Christians, according to Pew.
If it were any other election, it might be surprising that a candidate like Trump is popular in communities as conservative as Hasidic Jews and evangelical Christians. The twice-divorced reality television star has bragged about the size of his penis on national television, voiced support for gay marriage (although he has since walked that back) and extolled the virtues of Planned Parenthood. None of this exactly matches up with the socially conservative views held very deeply by both groups.
Related: Donald Trump Just Referenced His Penis Size in a Nationally Televised Debate
But one of the fundamental aspects of Trump’s campaign — which has confounded political pundits to no end — has been his ability to find support across seemingly contradictory pockets of the American electorate. Since the start of this election, commentators have been obsessed with assigning each candidate to specific groups of voters based on their demographics, backgrounds and ideologies; Ted Cruz’s base was supposed to be evangelical Christians concentrated in the south, while Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio were the “establishment” guys that would appeal to moderates in northeastern suburbs. But Trump smashed through this framework by proving he was able to pick up supporters across all kinds of voters.
Trump’s popularity in the Hasidic community highlights this phenomenon. When asked about their support for Trump, many Hasidim use the same lines and talking points one hears from Trump supporters at his rallies around the country.
“I like the way how he says it,” said Lichtman. “He tells you straight what he thinks and that’s a big plus.”
Lichtman added that he, along with many of his friends who are also supporting Trump, are “fed up with the establishment on both sides. [We] gave them a chance and nothing worked.” Like Brooklyn’s Gross, Lichtman says that if Trump is not the nominee he probably won’t vote in the general election at all.
Others cited Trump’s business experience as a big reason for their support. There’s a “feeling he’ll be able to create jobs, create wealth, bring jobs into this country,” Gross said…
Those who closely track the politics and culture of the Hasidic community speculate that one reason that Trump has gained popularity among some of its members is very specific to the way Hasidic life is organized. For generations, the ultra-Orthodox religion and communities have been structured around a strong central leader, a rebbe or rabbi, who controls nearly all aspects of their life.
“How we operate on a daily life is to follow a certain rabbi and be inspired by him and do whatever he orders without questioning him,” says Kornbluh.
Trump represents a similar type of leader, who promises plenty of great solutions if the country just follows his example. Explanations of how, exactly, he’ll achieve those solutions come later. (See: “Make America Great Again”). These similarities between Trump and the rebbe style of leadership could be “why a lot of Orthodox Jews are inspired by him without questioning what he says or what his views on certain issues are,” said Kornbluh.