Two young Jews talk politics

Two young Jews talk politics

Acting on our commitment to reflect the total political landscape, The Jewish Standard sought out younger voters with divergent views, We found Daniel Mark and Avi Smolen. Both students agree that political activism is important.

"It forces you to educate yourself and to engage the best arguments on the other side," said Mark, a ‘7-year-old Princeton graduate student raised in Englewood and a self-described conservative Republican.

Daniel Mark

Avi Smolen

"Politics is not just focused on one thing but affects people in every aspect of their life," said Smolen, a ‘0-year-old junior at Rutgers and a Democrat. "If you follow political developments, you understand trends in the economy" and in other aspects of national life.

Smolen, raised in New Milford, is president and community-service coordinator of Rutgers Hillel and is majoring in political science and psychology. As part of the Rutgers Voting Coalition, he said, he plays a role in "promoting, advertising, and helping to create events to raise political awareness" on campus.

Mark — who attended the Ramaz School in Manhattan for high school and spent a year in Israel before going to Princeton, where he majored in politics and earned a certificate in political economy as well as teaching certification — is pursuing a doctorate in public law and political theory. His involvement in politics on campus is "informal," he said.

Both students said they knew they were interested in politics before going to college, but that their interest crystallized as their knowledge grew. And both agree that the upcoming presidential election should be of vital importance to their fellow students.

While the issues of major concern to most students on campus are the war, national security, and health care, said Mark, he is concerned that issues such as taxes and spending are not being discussed outside of class.

"I find [McCain’s candidacy] attractive because of his declared intention to get congressional spending under control," said Mark, who writes for the Princeton Tory, the campus conservative magazine, admitting that the topic "is not very sexy."

"What’s good about the university setting," he said, "is the opportunity for serious discussion, although it is issues of social policy that really get people "wound up."

Smolen noted that the upcoming election, with dynamic candidates on the Democratic side," is getting students increasingly interested.

"In our generation," he said, "there’s more [of a] feeling of advocacy. Obama addressed young people and capitalized on this in Iowa." He added that research shows young people tend to prefer Obama, while older voters favor Clinton.

"I think that the campaigns should speak more to young people, but I also understand that they speak to the people who vote, and older people vote more. So the cycle perpetuates itself."

Smolen said that while he is not working on either campaign, he is assisting friends in both camps. "I go back and forth but I can’t decide between the two" Democratic candidates, he said.

Mark said that while he, too, is not actively participating in the upcoming presidential campaign, he is considering future involvement. He acknowledged that while his Republican affiliation places him in the minority, his conservative views take him even further out of the mainstream. Still, he said, "there’s a wonderful corps of conservative students on campus."

Smolen said his political involvement on campus began last semester with an internship at the University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics.

During this time, he participated in the Rutgers University Voting Program, an initiative to promote voting awareness and participation. He points out that even before this, during the summer of ‘007, he worked as an intern in the district office of Rep. Steven Rothman (Dist. 9).

Calling his involvement in politics "both academic and personal," Smolen said his work with the institute involved "finding ways to reach out to students in order to provide them with information — for example, how to register, what a primary is, and how it works." In addition, in January he moderated a panel discussion, bringing to campus representatives from six presidential campaigns.

Smolen, now an undergraduate associate of the institute, wrote questions for the panel, focusing on issues — such as funding for higher education, global warming and the environment, health care, and the war in Iraq — of concern to college students.

Calling New Jersey "a one-party state," Mark said he wished he could have found a way to be involved in politics sooner. "I knew my political views instinctively in early high school, but I didn’t think through the issues or have sufficient knowledge to act on them," he said. He added that when one party has an overwhelming advantage, "as do the Democrats in Bergen County — just look at the electoral returns," political discussions become "an echo chamber."

Supporters "suffer from this lack of challenge," he said, "losing an opportunity for critical intellectual engagement." Still, he noted, political discussions on campus — while they can become heated — are generally civil.

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