While a religiously split Jewish community was verbally sparring over which U.S. Senate candidate to support, many notables were putting their money where their mouth was.
They were contributing to what is being considered the most expensive Senate race in history, with about $33 million being spent. At the same time they were looking to support the candidate they felt meshed best with their own interests, whether it be the ultra-Orthodox Jews of Brooklyn or the Conservative and Reform Jews of Manhattan.
Some donors hedged their bets, giving the maximum allowable amount — $2,000 per candidate — to D’Amato and Schumer.
And some got the family into the act, as wives, sons, daughters, in-laws and brothers were also listed as donors, according to Federal Election Commission records examined by The Jewish Week.
The givers included the elite in New York’s Jewish communal and business life, members of secular Manhattan-based organizations to religious institutions in Brooklyn and Queens.
Among Schumer’s biggest contributors were James Tisch, the president of UJA-Federation of New York, co-head of the Loews Corp. and a longtime friend of Schumer’s, who gave $2,000. Wife Merryl also gave $2,000, as did mother Billie Tisch, a former UJA head. This put them at odds with another branch of the Tisch dynasty, Preston and Thomas, who contributed to D’Amato.
Schumer also attracted support from several Mideast doves, including Slim Fast founder S. Daniel Abraham, who started the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation. Abraham and his family contributed $5,000 to Schumer.
Alan Slifka, who operates the Abraham Fund, which promotes Israeli-Arab coexistence, kicked in $2,000, with the rest of his family also contributing thousands.
Multi-millionaire philanthropists Michael and Judy Steinhardt and Jack Bendheim also gave the maximum. Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg, who made the acclaimed Holocaust film “Schindler’s List” and is funding a massive survivors’ oral history project, donated $1,000.
Schumer also received substantial support from Brooklyn’s Syrian community. The Safdeye family kicked in $13,000, and the family of Midwood businessman Joseph Cayre, who hosted President Bill Clinton and Schumer for a fund-raiser last week, contributed $12,000.
The senator-elect also garnered financial support from several former presidents of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations: Leon Levy, Seymour Reich and Julius Berman. The former president of the American Jewish Committee Robert Rifkind gave the maximum.
A few donors usually identified with Brooklyn’s more conservative Orthodox community — thought to be D’Amato country — also gave to Schumer, including the family of former New York City Democratic Deputy Mayor Abraham Biderman, which contributed about $9,000.
The Bronfman family, major Jewish philanthropists who run Seagram’s and MCA, were among those who played both sides of the field.
Edgar Bronfman and his son, Edgar Jr., each donated $1,000 to D’Amato. The elder Bronfman as president of the World Jewish Congress worked closely with D’Amato on successfully getting the Swiss government to agree to restitution to Holocaust survivors for looted gold and other assets seized during World War II. Other members of the family added an additional $2,000.
At the same time, Bronfman gave Schumer $500 and Edgar Jr. contributed $2,000.
D’Amato also garnered support from Dr. Joseph Frager, a leading Jewish activist on the right.