By Deborah Fineblum/JNS.org
When Norma Shulman recently spoke before a gathering of Massachusetts Democrats, she held up the Adlai Stevenson campaign button her mother wore back in 1956.
“I was born into it,” says the resident of Framingham. At age 70 Shulman has logged countless hours stumping for Democratic candidates over the years, including former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, former Massachusetts treasurer Steven Grossman, and now presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Working the phones, training newbie callers, and knocking on doors—it’s all part of the game for Shulman. Now, she has beaten out several other contenders to win a district seat as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.
“Being a Democrat is in my blood and Hillary is a good candidate to work for,” Shulman says. “In extreme cold or heat, when you’ve already spent seven hours knocking on doors, you can’t stop because someone has to do it. It’s the way you make a difference.”
While Shulman spreads the Clinton message, just a few miles away, Debra Livernois of Littleton Mass. makes the case for Republican candidate Donald Trump with friends and strangers alike. In her first foray into presidential campaigning, the former registered Democrat is taking on all kinds of responsibility.
“I began to have grave concerns about how this country is being run,” says Livernois, 54. “And, when they opened a state Trump headquarters in my town, I walked in and signed up.”
Standing in the cold at the polls for nine hours on Election Day is just part of what she does.
“For me, it feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have an impact,” she says.
Indeed, older Americans vote at a much higher rate than younger ones, says Dr. Jonathan Sarna, the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, chief historian at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, and co-author of Lincoln and the Jews.
“And Jews are no exception,” says Sarna, whom many consider to be the leading historian on American Jewry. “But Jews as a whole also vote at much higher levels than many other American groups.”
And why is that the case?
“Older Americans tend to be more rooted in their communities,” Sarna says. “They know from experience how important every vote is, and they have more time for civic engagements.”
Like the old man in the Talmud who planted a carob tree knowing he would not live to enjoy its fruits, older Jews have a tradition of political activism to benefit the next generation.
“We Jews are used to raising our voice when we see a need,” says Roz Grunmann, 68, another Boston-area Clinton campaigner who works the phones and also canvasses door-to-door.
“Many cultures don’t give that permission, but today it’s not dangerous for Jews to be politically active and outspoken, and that has not always been the case,” adds the retired history teacher. “What’s more, today people our age are getting more active; we’re not slowing down.”
CAP: Seventy-year-old Norma Shulman (left) is pictured in New Hampshire with her presidential candidate of choice, Hillary Clinton.
Credit: Courtesy Norma Shulman.