Jewish Representation in Congress Declines

By Jilian Fama

Dec 11, 2012 12:20pm

In the midst of the Hanukkah season, Washington DC welcomed the festival of lights on Sunday marking the eight-day Hanukkah celebration. The lighting of the National Menorah is a tradition that dates back to 1979 when President Jimmy Carter participated in the ceremony  at nearby Lafayette Park, but this year no major political bigwigs showed face at the high profile event marking the beginning of the holiday season.

The menorah lighting event was not the only thing lacking Jewish representation recently. There has also been a decline in the number of Jews representing in the halls of Congress too.

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The Jewish religion is the third most represented denomination in Congress, trailing behind the Protestants and the Catholics, but since 2008, the numbers of Jews serving have been declining.

According to a study done by the Pew Forum, only 2 percent of the adult population in the United States is Jewish but representation in the House and Senate was much higher than that in the 112th Congress.

Jewish representation accounts for 7 percent of Congress as a whole and 12 percent of the Senate which is a considerably high percentage.

But while Jewish representation outstrips the Jewish population, there are eight fewer Jewish members in the 112th Congress than there were in the 111th. The session that ended in 2011 had 31 Jewish members in the House and 14 in the Senate, a one-percentage-point decline.

In 2008 the largest number of Jewish members served. That year Congress hosted 45 Jewish members but since then there has been fluctuating trends and Congress has not seen as hearty representation.

Senators Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Frank Lautenberg D-N.J., and Al Franken D-Minn., are some of the Jewish senators serving in this Congress.

Of the 11 Jewish senators, two are not Democrats. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont serves as an Independent, but caucuses with Democrats on procedural issues. He was reelected to another term in November. Sen.  Joe Lieberman, who was Democrats’ candidate for vice president in 2000, is retiring from the Senate in January. He is also, however, an Independent, after losing a Democratic primary in 2006. Lieberman went on to keep the seat, although Lieberman too has continued to caucus as a Democrat.

The Jewish/Democratic demographic is even more prominent in the House with 26 Jewish members, all of whom are Democrats aside from Eric Cantor, a Republican who serves as the House Majority leader.

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