Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus meets.
Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus meets. (Courtesy of Noah Arbit)

This second Summer Simcha picked up from where it left off after last year’s cancellation.

Noah Arbit was a self-described “political nerd” two years ago when he founded the Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus (MDJC). 

Arbit, 25, director of communications for Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald, said he was “restless for a new project” after working to elect Democrat Gretchen Whitmer as Michigan’s governor in 2018. He saw the need for an organization, not then existent, that could bring Jewish Democrats together because “I believed fiercely that our Jewish community needed political leaders who understood the issues facing our community — right here, right now.”

MDJC seeks to “provide a voice for Michigan’s Jewish community within the Democratic Party, to empower and mobilize Jewish Michiganders on behalf of candidates, causes and issues we believe in,” Arbit said. 

MDJC, he added, is the only Jewish organization in Michigan that endorses candidates for state and federal office and helps raise money for them.

Gov. Whitmer
Gov. Whitmer

“The Jewish community has enthusiastically supported our movement,” Arbit said, noting that MDJC has endorsed 50 candidates, raised nearly $200,000, recruited nearly 3,000 members and held more than 40 public events. 

On Aug. 1, MDJC added to its fundraising totals when board members and other volunteers helped Arbit host a “Summer Simcha.” Elected Democrats, several of them Jewish, gave speeches before an enthusiastic, partisan crowd on the grounds of a Bloomfield Township home overlooking shimmering Wing Lake. 

This second Summer Simcha picked up from where it left off after last year’s cancellation. About 200 attended in 2019, but “this one was bigger,” Arbit said. “We had to cap turnout at 300,” said Troy Zukowski-Serlin of Kalamazoo, MDJC’s Southwest Michigan chair. 

With admission pegged at different levels, “we raised $50,000,” Arbit said. “$40,000 will go to support the campaigns of Gov. Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel.” 

Both Michigan leaders, up for reelection in 2022, spoke to the crowd; top givers had guaranteed access to meet them.

“The Jewish community is caught between the right and left in politics,” said Arbit in his introductory remarks. “We [MDJC] organize on our own terms with adherence to Jewish values. We are a voting block beyond Israel. We want to get our elected officials on the record, addressing issues of importance to our community.”

Hate Crimes Unit

Nessel said she was surprised during her campaign by the attacks she received for being Jewish, more than for being gay. “When I got into office, one of the things I wanted to address was the exponential rise in hate crimes and rise in antisemitism,” she said. “I created a Hate Crimes Division to target actions that were biased-related, motivated by hate against certain groups. 

“Little did I know that soon we would have to expand the division to Hate Crimes and Domestic Terrorism. I’m proud that our department is charging cases against these extremist groups that traffic in hate.”

McDonald said, “We are in a disturbing moment” about the increase in antisemitic incidents in Oakland County over the last four years. The Hate Crimes Unit she established has “a dedicated prosecutor” determining whether reported crimes are racially or ethnically motivated. “We are spending money to teach officers to recognize what is a hate crime, when a crime has that dimension.” 

Noah Arbit
Noah Arbit

Defeating domestic terrorism is an urgent matter for Nessel, among several speakers who referenced the storming of the state capital building in Lansing on April 30, 2020. State Sen. Jeremy Moss, the only Jewish member of the Michigan Senate, decried that lessons “weren’t learned” from the armed “mini-insurrection,” which foreshadowed the violent breach of the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6. 

“Antisemitism was there on that day,” recalled Rep. Haley Stevens (11th Congressional District). 

Discussing voting rights, Nessel said the issue at stake is “not only to uphold the right to vote but to uphold the integrity of our electoral systems in its entirety. We must hold responsible elected officials who are opponents of fair elections.” 

Gov. Whitmer and Rep. Debbie Dingell (12th District) were among those paying tribute to the late Sen. Carl Levin, who died on July 29. Katie Costello brought greetings on behalf of his nephew, Rep. Andy Levin (9th District). Also addressing the audience were Rep. Elissa Slotkin (8th District), Rep. Brenda Lawrence (14th District), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus of Black-Jewish Relations, and state Rep. Samantha Steckloff (37th District), the only Jewish member of Michigan’s House.

“It was so inspiring to hear from the mostly women politicians,” said Leah Klein of West Bloomfield after the event. “I really appreciated the emphasis on working against hatred — especially antisemitism.” 

Her daughter, Rebecca Berenbon, said, “I’m really proud of Michigan Democrats for talking about not just how we can fight hate against Jews, but how we as Jews can fight hate against all people.”

Michelle Zukowski-Serlin of Kalamazoo said, “We always hear about antisemitism and the terrible things happening. That’s why it’s so important that the Democratic Jewish Caucus is really successful. People need to realize that we need to go forward.” 

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