I was born a Democrat. In fact, there was most likely a prayer for Franklin D. Roosevelt at my circumcision, although I failed to utter even an amen, being more concerned with my own down-ballot news tip at the moment.
I grew up in Chicago’s Lawndale neighborhood as Richard J. Daley (the father) was still building his political machine. Contrary to its name, Lawndale never had any lawns, and was designed as a neighborhood of single-family homes to keep out people like me, Jews.
Despite the best efforts of gentiles, Lawndale ended up with the greatest concentration of Jews per square mile anywhere in the world. Some 70 percent of the residents were foreign born. Everyone spoke English, but Yiddish often became the language of commerce in mom-and-pop stores.
I met my first Republican when I was 8-years-old. He was the rent collector for our huge apartment building. My grandmother was negotiating with him the price for the sale of her vote. She entered the same negotiations with the Democratic precinct captain and at the polling place threw a fit in a mixture of peasant-Russian and Yiddish and allowed no one except my mother with her in the polling booth, where she voted straight Democratic.
In my world, there were Jews and Catholics. I was a teenager before I met my first Protestant. It was when we moved from Lawndale to a Swedish enclave called North Park. There was a codicil in the deed of the bungalow we bought that said we could not transform the property into a tavern. My father tried to explain to me that our Swedish neighbors didn’t drink. Lawndale, in the gentile areas, had a bar on nearly every block. I could not fathom the idea of gentiles who did not drink and were Lutheran Protestants, not Catholics. What a strange world we had moved into.