The Sarasota County Democratic Jewish Caucus will host guest speaker, Dr. Mark Paul, an assistant professor of economics and environmental studies at New College and a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. It’s part of SCJDC’s commitment to address the grassroots concerns of local Jewish Democrats.
(Sarasota, Florida) The Sarasota County Democratic Jewish Caucus (SCDJC) will host guest speaker Dr. Mark Paul in “Climate Change: The Threat and the Opportunities” on Sunday, October 18, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., via the Zoom platform. This virtual meeting is part of SCDJC’s “Nosh and Knowledge” series. Admission is free but registration is required. Visit www.mobilize.us/sarasotacountydec/event/326046/ to sign up. For more information about the SCDJC, call 941-330-9400 or visit www.srqjewishdems.org.
For Dr. Paul, climate change is the global equivalent of a four-alarm fire. He should know. Paul is an assistant professor of economics and environmental studies at New College, and a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. The economics of climate change and inequality is his key concentration of research.
According to Paul, the two issues are intimately connected. He writes that, “The poor are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change — yet under many proposals, they would also bear the biggest burden for attacking it.” His alternative proposal? A tax on carbon emissions. Paul adds that, “We cannot rapidly reduce carbon emissions without aggressively taxing the dirty fuels that produce them.”
Paul makes a compelling argument. But is climate change a Jewish issue?
“It’s a human issue,” says Jerry Fleischer, SCDJC’s president. “That makes it a Jewish issue.”
“Climate change is the greatest problem of the 21st century,” he says. “It’s an existential threat to our economy, our ecosystems and the human race. Although Florida’s subtropical region is especially vulnerable to sea level rise and catastrophic storms, we’ve failed to take action in many areas. We all need to take act now. The Jewish people are no exception.”
This common cause logic defies the narrow assumptions of most interest group organizations. According to Fleischer, that’s the point.
“Single issue politics ignores the grass-roots concerns of Jewish democrats,” says Fleischer. “We’re the first local group to address those concerns. We don’t tell our members what to think. We want to know what they’re thinking. We ask. And we listen.”
How is that working out so far?
According to Fleischer, SCDJC was founded in 2019 and has now grown to 203 members. “We provide a local forum for Jewish democrats to discuss critical issues with their elected officials and candidates,” he says. “We stress the Jewish values that concur with the principles and policies of the Democratic Party. We also support interfaith relationships to foster understanding and tolerance.”
That sounds like a good idea—not to mention obvious. Why is SCDJC the first local political organization to take this approach?
“I’ll be blunt,” says Fleischer. “The main reason we founded SCDJC was to combat the Republican Party’s shameless pandering for the Jewish vote in Florida. Republican politicians and media pundits typically focus on one single issue: Israel. We support Israel, but we support the rest of the planet as well.”
How does the Sarasota County Democratic Jewish Caucus put that ideal into practice?
“We think globally and act locally,” says Fleischer. “It’s just that simple.”
According to Fleischer, the Sarasota-Manatee area boasts a population of approximately 25,000 Jewish people. “Most of them hold to a strong set of liberal principles,” he says. “They take those principles to the voting booth. Characteristically, 70 percent of Jews vote for Democratic candidates and initiatives.
Fleischer thinks that’s good. But not good enough.
“We hope that the SCDJC will increase our area’s percentage of Jewish Democrats. In today’s America, the Democratic Party best reflects our values. It is a mitzvah for Jews to vote according to our cherished ideals.”
He adds that those ideals are now under attack.
“Anti-Semitism is on the rise, both locally, nationally and around the world,” he says. “It’s a sickening reality for the Jewish people, but have to face it and not turn away. To stand up for what’s right, we have to stand against what’s wrong.”
Thanks to SCDJC’s efforts, a locally produced 70-second video on the recent rise of anti-Semitism and its ties to Trump and white supremacism has been viewed more than 30,000 times on Facebook. Drawing on security camera footage, the video reveals the ideology of hate in practice in two Sarasota houses of worship. Those shocking acts of vandalism took place last spring at Temple Emanu-El and Temple Sinai. The video also provides statistics and gripping photos documenting the rise of anti-Semitic hate crimes. The video was created for the Sarasota County Democratic Jewish Caucus by Shaun Greenspan of Triforce Pictures and Paul Ratner of Radiant Island. Greenspan and Ratner are both co-chairs of SCDJC’s communication committee.
“The rise of anti-Semitism is clearly one of the Jewish community’s greatest concerns,” notes Fleischer. “But Jewish Democrats also care about a whole range of issues, including climate change, the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement, and threats to civil liberties. We don’t have the luxury of cherry picking. We need to act on all of these issues, and act quickly. To paraphrase Hillel, ‘If not now, when? If not me, who?’”