Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion Politics

By ‘New York values’ did Cruz mean ‘Jewish’?

Cover of the New Yorker
Cover of the New Yorker

Cover of the New Yorker

Now there’s a question for you. And I have the chops to answer it.

I’m Jewish. And while it’s true I wasn’t born in New York City to native New York parents — which according to English Common Law precludes my being considered a natural-born New Yorker — I grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, from which my father commuted into the City every day to work, eventually at the New York Times.

I know from New York values.

So Ted Cruz goes on Massachusetts radio and says that Donald Trump “embodies” them. And at last night’s Republican debate, he doubles down and says that “everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal or pro-abortion or pro- gay-marriage, focus around money and the media.” Trump wins the hand by playing the 9/11 card: “When the World Trade Center came down, I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York…” All Cruz can do is lamely clap.

“New York” certainly can serve as code for “Jew” throughout what the New Yorker‘s Saul Steinberg (yes, a Jew) famously portrayed as the American Outback — in national politics no less than in other venues.

To Jesse Jackson, the city was ipso facto a Jewish place called Hymietown. As he confided to the Washington Post‘s Milton Coleman when he was running for president in 1984, “That’s all Hymie wants to talk about, is Israel; every time you go to Hymietown, that’s all they want to talk about.” When Coleman reported the remark, all hell broke loose.

Or take the iconic TV show “West Wing,” which in its inaugural episode had an irate Christian conservative say to Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman, “It was only a matter of time with you, Josh. That New York sense of humor was just a little…” Later, Communications Director Toby Ziegler says to Lyman, “She meant Jewish. When she said New York sense of humor, she was talking about you and me.”

Now I don’t think Cruz was referring to Trump as having a Jewish sense of humor, though I must confess that when I hear his voice I sometimes think I’m listening to Billy Crystal. Nor was the junior senator from Texas denigrating New York for being all about Israel — since when it comes to foreign policy Cruz is all about Israel himself.

No, the key term in his debate explanation is “money.” You’ll find plenty of social liberalism in, say, Cambridge, Mass., where I was born and went to college and, like Cruz, earned my professional degree. Cambridge is not notably Jewish. But that “focus around money and the media”? That was “New York = Jews” all the way. Don’t kid yourself.


About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service


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  • Great column, Mark. When I saw the title, my first thought was, “I should write a comment recommending that West Wing episode” – and there it was, in your column!

    As a fellow Jew (well, it’s been several generations in my family since anyone identified as a religious Jew, and I went to the Unitarian church over in Paramus – not that many miles from where you grew up in Montclair – my first 11 years – so can I say I’m actually Jewish? Boy the rules are changing about natural born New Yorkers, citizens and maybe even Jews!

    I was once sitting around a dinner table with a group of people discussing prejudice, and one of the folks was saying that he really didn’t have any prejudice against any group, except “New York Jews” …

    I thought Toby Ziegler caught the meaning very well, but i have to say, I don’t think Cruz was necessarily even consciously referring to Jews. I’ve been living down south (buckle of the Bible Belt and all that) since about 6 weeks after 9/11…

  • Comment #2: Jan (my wife) was a few blocks away when the towers were hit, and we figured, ok, that’s probably a sign it’s time to leave.”

    In the deep south, we’ve found that many, if not most natives, have a very negative view of New Yorkers. If you happen to find an honest (well, loud-enough-mouthed) one, you’ll hear a litany of complaints about liberals, blacks, Puerto Ricans, and, yes, Jews, but I think it’s a general feeling about loud, brash, liberal New Yorkers – and sometimes (not as often as I would have thought, having watched so many movies with negative Southern stereotypes) they realize – quite correctly – that New Yorkers, and northerners in general, have very negative images of Southerners.

    I’ve seen this in people from Texas as well, so I could easily imagine that Cruz just picked this up as part of the culture.

    Though I would guess he’s ALSO anti-semitic, but isn’t that just part of the culture of – this is going to get me in trouble – being a…

  • To say nothing of plain old human kindness Mr. Cruz.

    How dare he treat New York’s citizenry as if they were, uh, uh, nothing more than, well you know (like those people south of our border). He pulls a Trump and generalizes all of the amazing people of New York. Wow.

    He could at least have said, “and some of them, I’m sure, are fine people”
    But no he insists on alienating himself from an entire state, amassing them together into his little card board box of liberal agenda pushers.

    And so, the Democrat-loving media he loves so much was just handed a golden goose egg.

    How to loose an election? Mr. Cruz–just be yourself.
    And PS. You can just forget that invitation to host Saturday Night Live.

  • Hey Glenn – great comment, but I think Republicans have a long history of quite happily alienating all of New York. I don’t know if you’re old enough to recall Gerald Ford’s comment (which was a full front page headline in the Daily News back in the 70s)

    Ford to New York: “Drop Dead!”

  • I don’t have that Gerald Ford memory Don, but it does sounds like much of the same.

    It’s just a matter of time before any and all Wall Street connections–New York bank loans, family members, cats and dogs, belonging to Mr. Cruz magically show up for us all to see.

    Perhaps one of his grade school teachers will come forward and make him write,
    “I love New York Citizens and I am from Canada” on the black board (white board) left board/right board, until and after Trump has taken the nomination. A ruler across the knuckles would not be out of order.

  • I heard Cruz’s comment and it just leaped out: “New York values” means Jews. Does anyone believe for a moment that people in Texas or Nebraska or Alabama are not interested in money and media?

    Cruz is a domionist. “A Public Policy Polling (PPP) national survey conducted between February 20th and February 22nd of Republican voters, found that an astonishing 57 percent of Republicans want to dismantle the Constitution, and establish Christianity as the official national religion. Only 30 percent oppose making Christianity the national religion.”

    Not only is dominionism not good for Jews, Mormons, Hindus, athiests, agnostics, etc., etc., it it not good for Christians. Dominionists want their kind of Christianity to be the law of the land, so if you’re not a particular brand of fundamentalist then your beliefs will be trampled as well.

  • Did he also mean to invoke Wall Street? Which would be rich of course, since his wife worked for Goldman Sacs, and his senate campaign benefited from a nice loan for that firm.

    Good gracious, Cruz went to Princeton then Harvard Law. It is laughable that he still understands himself as the guy with Des Moines sensibilities.

  • In addition to all of the above, could “New York Values” also obliquely refer to a possible future opponent–namely, Hillary Clinton, the former Senator from New York State?

  • Regarding “For what it’s worth”‘s comment:

    Yes, Cruz’ chief of staff may be Jewish. I wonder if you have ever lived in the south? The relationship of evangelicals to Jews is very interesting.

    When we first moved to Greenville, SC, we were standing in line at the supermarket checkout. We heard something we couldn’t quite believe at the next checkout – the cashier said to the woman in line, “Are you Jewish?”

    The woman, who had gotten used to being asked this in Greenville, immediately replied, ‘Do you go to Bob Jones U?”

    “Why yes,” the cashier answered. “We’re studying your people, and think you’re wonderful.’

    Why do evangelicals think Jews are great? Because when the last Jew returns to Jerusalem, all of the “saved” Christians (i.e. Baptists) will rise up into the sky, enjoy the spectacle of the billions unsaved (Including all Jews, like Cruz chief of staff) being engulfed in flames and descending to hell after which the saved will descend and…

  • (to continue): descend and enjoy the return of Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven.

    Versions differ – some versions I have heard have the “ascended” Christians/Baptists literally licking their lips, smugly proud of their saved status and tisk tisking all the heathen (particularly those proud, arrogant, all-too-resistant Jews) who didn’t listen to the Baptists’ warnings.

    I imagine that Cruz as a dominionist Christian has very similar views – and perhaps even worse….

  • I wish I could believe your take on it, Elledra. The whole “socially liberal” “pro abortion” “pro gay marriage” thing could describe many New Yorkers, but I think most people in the evangelical community – at least the ones down here who didn’t know I was Jewish and felt they could talk freely about this to me – know quite well that “the Jews control the banks and the media” – so I don’t think it takes much for most of Cruz’ supporters to know those were quite direct references to Jewish New Yorkers.

    Also, Cruz – Harvard debater that he was – usually chooses his words VERY carefully and I’d be very surprised if he was not aware that “money and media” + New York values = “Jews” for most evangelicals, especially those in Iowa whose votes he is so desperate for.

    I’m also quite convinced if Iowa voters were pro gay marriage and he could get away with it, he would pivot on a dime and change his tune. He has absolutely no core.

  • I heard part of the “New York Values” before the debate and I only caught part of that section of the debate. I honestly didn’t know what Cruz was referring to. I knew it wasn’t complimentary. I’ve never lived in the south and I’m not Jewish so I don’t have anything resembling experiences.

    My best guess had been an anti gay reference. Implying degeneracy. But that didn’t feel right.

    Instead it’s the classic “Jew York” attack. All the slurs that go with it. Combining anger at Wall St with “Jets control the banks” those decades old, at least, and other attacks.

    Your reasoning expanding on the author unfortunately makes sense. Unfortunately because a U.S. Senator and Presidential candidate would appeal to a segment of our country like that. I think he’s in a sect that thinks Jesus can’t come back until the Jews are gone from Israel. He is so dangerous in so many ways opposition will be hard to coalesce against him. Opposition groups won’t agree on what issue to…

  • New York values means Wall Street, Ivy League degrees, and immigrants of any religion or hue, and welfare “takers” to Cruz’s base and the Republican white working class who have seen their jobs destroyed by financial interests. I was born and raised in New York and have lived in red areas and this is what New York values as a symbol meant to them. On the other hand the reds seemed to like the stray New Yorker who could talk about intellectual things with them with sounding superior. Even when they disagreed.

  • “Flyover state.” Quite a demeaning insult. In other parts of the country that term is something many people think New Yorkers say all the time. And that phrase is deeply resented.

  • By your standard, Cruz meets three of the four criteria of New York values: His wife works for a Wall Street Firm (Goldman Sachs), he’s got degrees from Princeton and Harvard, and he’s from an immigrant family. So I guess he’s got New York values too.

  • Yes, but in his public persona he’s man of the angry people, a populist for the little guy. He’s a hypocrite and an opportunist who knows how to pander to his base.

  • Another irksome thing about that people “out there” know about New Yorkers: The media lreports on the almost pornographic way New Yorkers drive their kids into hysteria to get into the right kindergarten, the right primary school, the right private high school and the right college. From a distance this seems to be deranged. It also seems to be the formation of a new aristocracy. The old – and especially the new – aristocracy of the Republican rich know how to exploit this resentment better than the Democrats.

  • The way that ancient history and headline was explained to me, the Daily News was throwing a tantrum over President Ford’s initial denial of loan guarantees to help bail out New York City from the inevitable consequences of its violating every law of finance and economics, spending dollars it didn’t have on programs that made things worse, while destroying its revenue base by taxing productive people into oblivion, leading to a mass exodus to other states.

    In the end, NY got its loan guarantees to stave off bankruptcy, thus rewarding bad behavior, but the good news is that for the next 4 decades, the city was, for the most part, much better governed by a series of competent and dedicated mayors.

  • Mark, this is silly. The association of NY with money long predated any significant presence of Jews there. And the reason is clear: NY was always America’s financial capital. Human nature being what it is, cities, like people, tend to worship what they have. So NY worships money, as Washington, DC worships power, and Boston worships intellect & knowledge (give its world-class universities).

    Cruz’s statement was bone-headed, of course, but rather than showing anti-Semitism, it shows how even smart people can be stupid at times.

    Moreover, the simple fact is that Cruz was going after Trump not Jews. And Trump’s not Jewish — he’s part German, part Scot, and nominally Presbyterian.

    Since there’s nothing else about Cruz that seems to point to anti-Semitism, you haven’t come close to making the case.

    And no, being a conservative does not make one an anti-Semite, unless you believe that all liberals are Jews and all Jews liberal.

  • No, that’s not enough to prove the charge of anti-Semitism, since NY was about money long, long before a significant Jewish presence was established there. The reason is right in front of us: NY was always America’s financial capital, just as DC has been our political capital since its construction in the 1790s and Boston our intellectual or knowledge capital. What we have, we humans tend to worship — so NY worships money, DC power, and Boston intellect and knowledge.

    At the risk of sounding like I’m worshipping intellect, I think we all need to do more critical thinking before writing or responding to blog entries.

    Mark, you get a D- in critical thinking for this post; you can do much better.

  • Nowadays, every Christian who’s not an absolutist on separation of religion and state is now called a dominionist. Dominionism is indeed a political dangerous (not to mention theologically heretical) doctrine because it advocates theocracy, but to support religious as well as non-religious expression in the public square is light years away from advocating the overthrow of the Constitution.

    I guess dominionism is the new bogeyman in the pantheon of examples of American political paranoia and hysteria…..the leftists’ own version of the periodic “red scares” we had in the last century, starting after WW I and re-igniting during the McCarthy era decades later.

    No, dear political paranoics, most evangelical Christians are not theocrats scheming to take down the Constitution. No, we don’t have horns. No we don’t want to destroy the world so Jesus can come back (how silly, since if there’s no world, Jesus has nowhere to return).

  • Spare us the stereotyping. Relations between Jews and evangelicals have progressed far beyond what you’re alluding to. I’ve seen it and am a part of it.

    The problem is that this scares the crap out of people on the left, both liberal Christians and liberal Jews.

    It shouldn’t. When people begin to understand each other across faiths, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. In the case of evangelicals and Jews, it has finally broken through the superficial, and that means stereotypes are receding.

  • “Money and media” refers to NY being a money-and-media center.

    How does this prove anti-Semitism? As I’ve said before, NYC was America’s money center long before the Jewish presence there reached critical mass.

  • Explain how Cruz believes that “Jesus can’t come back until the Jews are gone from Israel.” This is one heck of a bigoted anti-evangelical canard that has circled the country more than once. It’s built on sheer ignorance and laziness concerning what evangelicals even say, let alone believe.

    And it’s irrational…..If the NT teaches that Jesus is coming back to become King of Israel, how in the world can he become King of Israel if “Jews are gone from Israel?” This makes absolutely no sense at all.

    How any intellectual and thoughtful adults can believe such self-contradictory nonsense is frankly beyond me….But through a combination of bigotry, ignorance, and intellectual laziness, I see it is all too common.

  • >>>an astonishing 57 percent of Republicans want to dismantle the Constitution, and establish Christianity as the official national religion.

    There’s no need to be parnoid in the face of reality. There is a very real need to understand what is being said behind flowery words and soft assurances.

  • It’s not just Rabbi Silk who understood what Cruz said, it’s all over the media. SNL had “Cruz” explaining the “New York values” comment by saying that “instead of celebrating Christmas, New Yorkers celebrate a pagan holiday called Festivus. Instead of watching American football, they challenge each other to masturbation contests. In New York, people don’t say hi to their neighbors. They say, ‘Helloooo, Newman.'”

    >>>When one of the moderators points out that the Texas senator is just describing “Seinfeld,” Cruz responds by saying, “Believe me, if I could say ‘liberal Jews,’ I would.”

  • Fred, I don’t understand what you mean> Are you questioning the 57% statistic or saying it would be a good thing to dismantle the constitution to establish Christianity? I’ve heard at least 2 dozen folks in Greenville, SC say exactly that (and I’m quite sure they were all Republicans)

  • Those who want to abolish the Constitution and establish the USA as aChristian nation also support Israel and would be happy to tolerate Judaism, Catholics (even though they are destined for hell and are not real Christians) and secularists. the secularist would not be allowed to hold public office. I’m not sure about Jews, but probably not.

    They would push Israel to have a war with Iran to bring on Armageddon and the second coming of Jesus (per revelation, their favorite book, its vengeful Jesus more important to them than the jesus of the four Gospels. IS holds the same view, war armageddon, and the second coming of the Messiah, the secret greatest Islamic prophet, Jesus.

    Ted Cruz, as God’s appointed President, would start (but not necessarily finish) the process of this conversion to a Christian nation. None of this explains the support for Trump. That’s mainly due to traditional American nativist populism.

  • According to Christian Dominionist theory, the Jews will finally be created. In fact jesus cannot come back until the Jews are converted. Israel would then be ruled by Jewish Christians. The Muslims do not require the conversion of the Jews for Jesus to come back. Watch the spate of Evangelical TV stations. One of them is devoted to the Christian effort to help Jews, including converting them. Part of the effort by the Vatican to establish the principle that Jews are not to be converted is this fear that Israel will be used to precipitate a disastrous war.

  • I cannot vouch for the suggestion that Cruz is anti Semitic. And I am not sure he was deriding New York as a Jewish town. What I do think is that to the extent that he was referring to Jews, it was in the context of “otherness,” an oft repeated claim by some on the right that New Yrk doesn’t really represent America.
    But I also think he was not unaware that a term like “New York values” is a kind of “dog whistle” designed to rouse the anti Jewish feeling that exists in some parts of the country- not necessarily true anti Semitism, but a vague notion that there’s something different and wrong about Jews.