For Shmuly Yanklowitz, it was a matter of loyalty from one community organizer to another.
"As an Orthodox rabbinical student, I voted for Barack Obama with deep religious fervor," said Yanklowitz, founder of Uri L'Tzedek, a group espousing Jewish values and ethics and rabbinical candidate at Yeshiva Chovevei Torah. "His platform and leadership will best ensure that our nation remains focused on the Biblical mandates to ensure the rights of those most vulnerable.
"As a community organizer by training and disposition, I take tremendous pride in knowing that one with a commitment to that level of grassroots activism can rise to the highest office in this great country."
But another Orthodox rabbinical student, Yigal M. Gross, saw things differently.
"We need a president who exemplifies national service — who has dedicated his life to our country and its citizens — and can restore honor and dignity to the presidency," said Gross, a Lawrence, L.I., resident who attends Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and Cornell Law School. "John McCain is that man."
Across the New York area on Tuesday Jewish voters, often within the same communities and denominations, offered starkly contrasting views on the major party candidates on a day that would see the historic, landslide election of the nation's first African American president.
Overall, Jews as expected overwhelmingly supported Obama, with an estimated 78 percent choosing the Democrat candidate, according to exit polls. McCain's showing — 21 percent — was a few percentage points below what George W. Bush garnered in 2004.
Not surprisingly, a large share of voters polled by The Jewish Week cited the struggling economy and worldwide financial crisis as a top concern, if not the deciding factor.
"We need an experienced leader to deal with the economic crisis," said Gross. "Taxing the wealthy discourages the investment needed to reinvigorate Wall Street and Main Street."
In Borough Park, Brooklyn, Stephen Silverstein, said: "The economy was on the top of my mind" as he left I.S. 223 on 16th Avenue after casting his vote for Obama.
Silverstein said he was not deterred by a persistent anti-Obama campaign painting him as an anti-Israel, secret Muslim.
"I wasn't fazed by that, I think it's a lot of talk because both sides brought up a lot of dirt. I'm voting since 1972, I only voted Republican once, in 1980. I think it's time for a black president. I would have preferred Hillary [Clinton]."
Also in Borough Park, Menachem Fischel, said, "Definitely the economy [was the biggest issue] as I sell electronics online. It's being affected, definitely; things people don't need [as much as] food they don't buy now. Barack Obama has better views [on the economy]."
But Adam Steiner, an attorney from Cedarhurst, L.I., said: "McCain's economic plan makes more sense than Obama's. Higher taxes lead to decreased growth, investment, and fewer jobs. Cutting the corporate tax rate, to use but one example, will encourage investment, make the United States more competitive, and create jobs."
As he unchained his bicycle after voting at the West Hempstead library in Nassau County, Adam Flug, 30, an ophthalmologist, said he backed McCain because "I'm conservative and believe in fiscal conservatism. I think that Obama has a bit of a socialist slant on his agenda and no record or experience."
Another West Hempstead resident, Irwin Bressler, a retired CPA, said he favored McCain because "Two people came to me to help them get a job. I looked at their records, one who has served his country for many years and tried to regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the Democrats wouldn't let him do it and the other guy whose whole resume is that he can give a good speech."
But Ann Binda, 94, a Lower East Side voter, said she favored Obama's fiscal plan.
"I like the way he [Obama] is going to cut taxes, give each family a $1,000 refund and cut capital gains." She said she did not believe all the negative rumors about Obama: "He's not a Muslim. His advisers don't hate Israel," she said.
At Candlewood Middle School in Suffolk's Dix Hills, Alex Kaganowicz also backed McCain's economic policies. "I don't believe Obama will deliver what he's talking about. I don't find him 100 percent honest. I just came back from Israel and I think he's not going to provide enough security for Israel, and he's weak on international affairs. He's totally inexperienced in that area."
The Wright Stuff
Among those supporting McCain, Obama's associations with controversial figures and questions regarding his judgment were frequently cited.
"I don't trust Obama," said Richard Grant, 64, who voted for McCain on the Lower East Side. "He's a Muslim, a socialist and an anti-Semite. McCain's going to lose, but he's more of a man to run the country."
A 40-ish member of the Forest Hills Orthodox community said he voted for McCain because of "security concerns," domestic and in the Middle East.
"The people who surround Obama make me nervous," particularly "Rev. [Jeremiah] Wright," Obama's former pastor in Chicago, "and his hate speech," said the man who would not give his name. "Some of the far left people around Obama seem to have an influence on him."
Ariel Rosenzweig, a Washington Heights resident, said he backed McCain but added, "Neither candidate for president has much of a platform or incredible promise as president of our country. I feel as though I am choosing the better of two evils. Obama's relationships with Rev. [Jeremiah] Wright, [Palestinian Columbia professor] Rashid Khalidi, and his march with Louis Farrakhan in the Million-Man March are just too much for me to bear."
Yefim Ivanov, 78, a Brighton Beach resident who arrived here 17 years ago from Kiev, and is a registered Republican, said he is backing McCain primarily because, "Obama surrounds himself with dangerous leftists."
In West Hempstead, Ben and Helen Rosenstock said they never considered voting for Obama because he has "too much baggage. ACORN [voter registration group], Wright, [former ‘60s terrorist William] Ayers." Of Obama's long membership at the Chicago church of Rev. Wright, despite the controversial speeches made by the pastor, Helen Rosenstock asked: "He didn't walk out for 20 years," while her husband asked, "Do I look stupid?"
One Borough Park voter, who did not give her name, said: "Frankly, I don't go for Muslims, they've done enough damage without being in office."
At least one voter who had reservations about Obama based on those associations, however, overcame them.
"I was really concerned as a Jew because of the associations of the Democratic candidate," said Esther Bogin, voting in Dix Hills. " Rev. Wright, Farrakhan and the rest. But I had two sets of friends from Israel, one who said Israelis are anti-Obama and another who hooked me up to Chicago Jews and I realized he was supported by members of the Chicago Jewish community. So I felt comfortable with him."
Among those not concerned about Obama's policies on Israel were Paul Schrieber, who braved a long line at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew on West 86th Street. "We all have friends and family in Israel and it's nonsense to think we're voting to endanger Israel," said Schrieber. "The policies of the last eight years have nothing but empowered Iran — it's time for something new."
Added Jenny Lefcourt, 38, an Obama supporter on the Upper Wet Side, "Obama is the kid of person who's really going to talk and negotiate European-style politics instead of bullying. What Israel needs is talking and he's the right person for that."
At P.S. 9 in Brooklyn Heights, there seemed to be a groundswell of resentment against the tactics of McCain and his supporters against Obama.
"I thought the lies and smears against him were pretty outrageous," said Lee Warshavsky, 50, who is counsel to a not-for-profit that develops affordable housing, and voted for "Obama, enthusiastically. There is not much of a difference in their positions towards Israel as far as I can tell. In my opinion, the Republican approach has been so damaging that it made [Israel] worse off. "
Gregory Trautman, 41, is owner of a local bar in Prospect Heights and voted for Obama. "There was an attempt to play up the mythology of his Muslim roots," said Trautman. "I thought it was interesting politics, but I'm very comfortable with Obama's support for Israel."
Ellen Kaltman, 60, a bank compliance officer who also voted for Obama, said, "There was nothing about the campaign waged by McCain that was honorable. It was totally down and dirty, not at all based on what McCain would do for the American people. I do not believe that Obama is anti-Israel. I don't see any evidence there. He might be more even-handed in his approach than McCain would be to Israel, but I don't have any problem with that. There needs to be compromise on both sides."
Many Jewish voters referred to McCain's sacrifice during the Vietnam War, when the former Navy pilot was held as a prisoner of war and tortured for more than five years after being shot down.
"He displayed honor for our country and has foreign policy experience," said Yosef Brickman, a student at Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in Staten Island. " He's the more capable candidate."
Barry Dolinger, a law student at Fordham University and a resident of North Bellmore, L.I., said McCain's experience made him better suited to be commander-in-chief.
"Not only has he demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice himself for the country but he has consistently been right in his methods for fighting the war on terror," said Dolinger. "John McCain was perhaps the Senate's biggest advocate of the surge which completely turned around a then-failing war in Iraq, while Obama called for withdrawal the whole time."
Support for McCain was much stronger in Orthodox neighborhoods and among immigrants.
"McCain has much more experience," said Fanya, from Ukraine, standing outside Forest Hills High School, in Queens, with her husband Miya. Retirees, they declined to give their last name.
Most of their fellow émigrés from the former Soviet Union also favored McCain, for the same reason, she said.
Carla Visser, in her 40s, said her circle of friends in Forest Hills, not part of the Orthodox community, "are praying for Obama" to be elected. "Across the board — all different races. Because they feel he will bring change, a completely different point of view in diplomacy.
"Both [McCain and Obama] are pro-Israel," Visser said. "The difference [between them] is in [other] international, and domestic issues."
In Williamsburg, the Brooklyn neighborhood that is home to the Satmar chasidim and other haredi groups, Mike Levin, a student, said he voted — for the first time —for McCain "mainly because of morality" issues. Levin said he opposes Obama's support for abortion.
Standing outside a seniors community center, businessman Benjamin Landau said he voted for McCain "because McCain is much more experienced."
Magda Goldstein, a retiree, said she voted for McCain "because he is an honest, decent, truthful man.
"I don't want to spread the wealth," she said of Obama's economic policies. "I don't want to bring the troops back from Iraq before they're finished" bringing peace to the Arab nation.
At the Shorefront Y just off the Boardwalk in Brighton Beach, Russian-Jewish voters seemed to be going for McCain over Obama by about a 2-to-1 margin.
Yet among the mainly elderly population flocking the polling station in larger numbers, support for McCain seemed driven far more by antipathy to Obama than love for McCain.
"I see McCain as the lesser of two evils," said Esther Ochikovskaya, a 69-year-old former teacher who moved here from the Moldovan city of Bendery in 1984. "I think McCain is too old to be president, but at least he is trustworthy and highly experienced. I think Obama is a demagogue. He speaks well, but who knows what he will do if he becomes president."
Ochikovskaya's 73-year-old husband Mikhail added, "I have nothing against Obama for being black, but am very afraid that if he wins there will be a big rise in crime in our area committed by blacks from Coney Island. That's how it was here when [David] Dinkins was mayor."
The Ochikovskayas, who identified themselves as Democrats, were among several Russian-speakers at Shorefront who told a reporter they were voting for McCain but also supporting Democratic State Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, the first Russian-speaker elected to high office, for re-election.
Alla Patlakh, 50, a microbiologist, said she trusts McCain to deal with the economic situation better than Obama. "The idea that increasing taxes on the wealthy will help the poor and middle class is a mistake. I grew up in the Soviet Union, so I know where that kind of socialist thinking can lead," she said.
Eduard Vaks, 67, who worked for 25 years at Katz's Deli in Manhattan before retiring four years ago, said he voted for Obama because, "He is sympathetic to the old and the poor, and I fit into both categories. I am living on a very small pension and I need all the help I can get. Obama will try to help his fellow African-Americans and some of that aid may reach me as well."
Another Obama supporter in her 70s, who gave her name only as Larissa, said, "I decided to vote for Obama when McCain came out strongly for Georgia during the Russian-Georgian war last August. My son and his family still live in Moscow, so I have a strong interest that there should be decent relations between the U.S. and Russia."
The Palin Factor
Matti Dancziger, 21, who voted for McCain at Amalgamated Housing on the Lower East Side, said she considered Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, "very smart and accomplished."
But several other voters expressed concern about McCain's choice of running mates, questioning whether Palin had what it takes to be commander in chief.
"I looked at the vice presidential candidate," said Ellen Koller, voting at P.S. 24 in the Willowbrook section of Staten Island. "If something would happen to Obama, I can live with Joe Biden. But I could not live with Sarah Palin. That woman has no substance at all."
Becky Lazinger went even further as she left Amalgamated Housing.
"We hate Sarah Palin," said Lazinger, accompanied by a friend, David Shamoon; they are both in their 30s.
Added Shamoon: "I think she's an anti-Semite, probably never heard of Israel until three weeks ago. I would vote Mickey Mouse over McCain and Palin."
In Dix Hills, Ellen Grebstein said "McCain is not a bad person; I think he showed poor judgment with his choice of running mate."
Similarly, Elza Weinman, 82, a refugee from Europe who came here in 1942, said she voted for Obama because she didn't trust Palin.
"Biden is not so impressive, but has more experience," said Weinman while enjoying a frozen dessert at a Tasti D-Lite on the Upper West Side. After some conversation, Weinman said, "I really don't like either of them to tell you the truth. I really hope [Obama] doesn't screw us with Israel."
Many voters cited their decision-making process in terms of Jewish values. But Dovid Winiarz, director of Survival Through Education, a not-for-profit dedicated to providing a healthy sense of Jewish pride and identity for Jews of all affiliations through exposure to Jewish heritage, history and culture, said his decision to support McCain had nothing to do with religion.
"The Republicans have a better idea of what's best for our country," said Winiarz. "People often vote for the candidate they think is good for the Jews. But it's not for us to try to change world opinion."
With reporting by Stewart Ain, Debra Nussbaum Cohen, Steve Lipman, Walter Ruby, Randi Sherman, Carolyn Slutsky, Tamar Snyder and Sharon Udasin.