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Why Cruz went to that matzoh bakery

It was a December day in New Jersey, and Ted Cruz was keeping the rabbi waiting.

Cruz was tardy, Rabbi Zev Reichman would later learn, because he was finishing up a meal with bacon, and he didn’t want to bring the treyf into the rabbi’s car for a ride to a fundraiser with pro-Israel donors.

The gesture impressed Reichman, an influential rabbi at an Orthodox synagogue in Englewood, N.J., he recalled in an interview this week. And the dietary demonstration of respect paid off: The rabbi, who is also a program director at Manhattan’s Yeshiva University, is now helping to spearhead Cruz’s outreach to Orthodox Republican Jews in New York.

Cruz — who visited a matzoh bakery in Brooklyn on Thursday afternoon, rolling out the unleavened bread and joining in singing the Passover song “Dayenu” — has been wooing the Orthodox Jewish community since well before he ran for president. And as the Republican primary comes to New York on April 19, Cruz is hoping he can turn long-cultivated support into the race’s scarcest resource: delegates.

There are 95 delegates at stake in New York, Donald Trump’s home state, and one where he boasts a double-digit lead in statewide polls. But of the 95 delegates, only 14 go to the statewide winner, while 81 are handed out based on results at the congressional district level. And if Cruz can turn out Orthodox supporters in Brooklyn and other heavily Jewish districts, he may be able to improve his delegate tally in a state that was always going to be an uphill battle.

The Republican Orthodox community is small, but in heavily Democratic districts in and around New York City with few Republicans, even a small group can help win delegates—and in fact, smaller groups are easier to target.

“I think there’s some cleverness there,” said Rep. Peter King, who represents Long Island and is otherwise a vehement Cruz critic. “…Districts that have a low number of Republicans, it’s easier to appeal to them.”

Cruz, a Southern Baptist evangelical Christian himself, would seem a world apart from New York’s Orthodox Jewish Republican community, but there’s significant ideological overlap.

Orthodox Jews tend to be more conservative than their predominantly liberal, more secular co-religionists, and are more likely to appreciate Cruz’s conservative message on social issues, and in particular on religious freedom.

There’s also common ground on national security, particularly when it comes to Israel. Cruz first came onto the Orthodox radar in a significant way in 2014, when attendees at a Middle Eastern Christian conference, at which he was speaking, began to boo Israel. “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you,” he said, remarks that went viral in the Orthodox world.

Since then he has kept up a steady dialogue with community leaders and donors, attending fundraisers, speaking at synagogues—including in wealthy enclaves like Beverly Hills and in the Hamptons– and further burnishing his pro-Israel credentials. He once faced stiff competition in the conservative Orthodox world from Marco Rubio, but is now enjoying a clearer path.

“Rubio was organized as well, they were definitely the top two,” said Nathan Diament, the head of the Orthodox Union. “Cruz has been the beneficiary since Rubio [left.]”

One former Rubio donor, who is now backing Cruz, said, “Cruz will win the Orthodox community. I am almost convinced of that, he will win those congressional districts.”

Cruz is competing for a relatively small pool: According to leaders in the community, the bulk of Orthodox Jews in New York are registered as Democrats so that they can vote in local and state primaries, even if they are more likely than other Jews are to vote Republican in general elections at the presidential level. They can’t participate in New York’s GOP primary unless they have changed their registration.

“If you look at the presidential returns over the past few cycles, obviously Democrats won New York, but Republicans won Orthodox areas in Brooklyn,” Diament said. “It’s possible some of them have registered, or will register, as Republicans. It could really help him with his effort to capture delegates.”

On Thursday, Cruz visited a neighborhood that offered just that potential, taking a tour of the matzoh bakery, located in the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn, with religious Jewish adults and kids who cheered his matzoh-making skills.

Brighton Beach has both an Orthodox community and a sizable Russian-Jewish community, which is less religious but also more Republican than other corners of the New York’s Orthodox Jewish world, said Reichman, who has helped make introductions to leaders in the religious community.

And a longtime and critical Cruz emissary to the Orthodox world is on the senator’s staff: Nick Muzin, a senior adviser to Cruz, is himself an Orthodox Jew and has strong ties to religious and community leaders, as well as to the Jewish donor world, Orthodox and less observant alike.

In December, Cruz announced the support of 25 Orthodox rabbis from around the country, and in February rolled out a Jewish leadership coalition that includes Orthodox leaders and donors, as well as less observant supporters.

But how he does in the broader New York Republican Jewish community — and with the deep-pocketed donors from that world previously backing Rubio — is another question, the Rubio-turned-Cruz donor said, noting that many have concerns about Cruz’s hardline conservative positions on social issues. Some more moderately inclined Jewish Republicans will vote for John Kasich, the source said, while noting that Trump appears to appeal to some in the ultra-Orthodox, black-hat-wearing community (the source will be reaching out to some in the latter category to dissuade them from backing Trump).

Trump, whose speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee went over better than many predicted, has nonetheless turned off many in the pro-Israel Jewish Republican community—which includes religious and less observant Jews—for saying he would be “neutral” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (remarks he walked back the day he addressed AIPAC), and for taking a variety of positions regarding whether he supports providing Israel with foreign aid.

But some Republican Jewish New Yorkers also have qualms about Cruz: Some of their closest congressional allies have also historically been some of Cruz’s biggest critics.

“They’ve had everybody from [John] Boehner to Lindsey Graham — Graham is the apple of that world’s eye — who have spent the last four years explaining that if you elect Ted Cruz, the Republican Party is going to get destroyed,” the Republican continued. “You’ve got four years of built-in bias there…I’m yet to meet a donor, someone who’s gone to a Cruz event, who hasn’t walked away impressed. For as many times as they’ve spoken to Cruz, they’ve seen the Grahams of the world a hundred times more often.”

But Graham is now backing Cruz, and headlined a fundraiser for him last month with prominent pro-Israel donors during the AIPAC conference. The South Carolina senator has also said that Cruz is better than Trump on Israel.

Cruz is working to broaden his appeal, within the Republican Party in general, as well as with a cross-section of Jewish voters and donors, and will meet with Jewish Republicans from varying levels of observance this weekend at the Republican Jewish Coalition, where he is making a big push.

“He respects the Jewish tradition,” Reichman said. “He respects me, as a rabbi, not to eat pork in my car. He gets it.”

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