In less than two years, the Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus has become a force to be reckoned with throughout the state, hosting events with Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, former Senator Carl Levin, Congresswomen Haley Stevens, Elissa Slotkin and Brenda Lawrence, and the United States’ first “Second Gentleman” to be – and first Jewish spouse – Doug Emhoff.
After working as a field organizer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and then as a staffer for Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2018, MDJC’s 25-year-old founder, Noah Arbit, observed that “there really wasn’t a platform for Jewish Michiganders, Jewish voices, to have a platform and voice of our own.”
In March 2019, with acts of anti-Semitism rising throughout the country, he formed the Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus in part to serve the more than 100,000 diverse members of the Jewish community throughout the state.
“My organization has been, from day one, about getting candidates on the record speaking about things the Jewish community actually wants to know about. That was critical for me. I wasn’t hearing what I needed to be hearing as a politically active Jew from my political candidates.” For decades, Democrats and Republicans have courted the Jewish vote based on their support for Israel, which Arbit says is no longer enough.
Arbit, of Bloomfield Township, grew up “steeped in Jewish communal life,” attending Temple Israel and high school at the Frankel Jewish Academy, and participating in Jewish youth groups as a teen. His family, however, is not politically active, and, he notes, “is not necessarily uniformly Democratic.” He reflects on Clinton’s 2016 concession speech, remembering her telling the young people who worked on her campaign not to give up. “I think about that sometimes, and it just goes to show that you have to be resilient, and you have to pick yourself up and create something new.”
Arbit sees the results of the 2020 election, with the Democratic vote in Michigan helping secure President-elect Joe Biden’s and Kamala Harris’ win, as an indicator of the MDJC’s need.
“For the first time, we had the largest single investment in Jewish voter mobilization in the state of Michigan. This was an existential election for the Jewish people.” This is also reflected in the fact that the MDJC out-funded all other statewide organizations in the country related to Jewish Democrats. “We’re so engaged, so involved. We’re not the largest community by any measure, and we’re certainly not the most liberal. But we have a very unique community here that is so close-knit.”
Arbit sees his work as only having just begun. Arbit and the MDJC are actively working to help elect Democratic senators in the Georgia runoff races in January. Re-electing Michigan leaders like Whitmer and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson in the midterm election two years from now is the next priority.
“We still have a great amount of work to do, and if we’re complacent, we’ll be right back where we started.”