BALA CYNWYD, PENNSYLVANIA - A week before the High Holidays, Republican Jews are trying to build on the Democratic National Convention's debacle of removing and then reinstating Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in their party platform. Hundreds of Republican Jewish Coalition volunteers from all over the country, from New York to California, descended over the weekend on three of the swing states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, trying to stir the conversation within the congregations and the kitchen tables of Jewish families.
Democrats booing from the convention floor were a great excuse for the grassroots operation, but the RJC's border chair Sheldon Adelson's generous support of the campaign sure didn't hurt either.
So far the polls do not show any significant shift of the majority of the Jewish community's voting preferences, but the organizers of the grassroots effort in Pennsylvania are convinced that if among about 300,000 Jews there are 10-20% hesitating, then their votes are worth a door-to-door fight. Over the weekend, volunteers plowed through the neighborhoods in the Philadelphia suburbs, targeting Jewish households based on the database assembled by a company specializing in micro-targeting, and handed out over 30,000 leaflets.
By Monday morning, there were only a few neighborhoods left.
At one of the intersections in Bala Cynwyd, three women held a banner reading "Oi Vey, Obama. Had enough?" Some cars passing by honked. All three of these women came to Pennsylvania with RJC's bus from New York. One of them, Nina Smith, described the mission as a personal quest for her a mother: In the current economy, her 22 year-old-son can't find a job.
Maybe not everyone understands what "Oi Vey" means, but people certainly understood the "Obama - had enough?" part.
Ellen Shnidman from New Jersey was satisfied with the reactions: "We get fists and thumbs and honks, and even those who are against us - they are very mild - they might vote for him, but no one would defend Obama with passion today. And that's a triumph. You should see our bus - nobody on the left today can provide the same spirit." She admitted the polls might be discouraging, but said: "We are working long term and making progress, bit by bit. In 20 years, the Jewish vote will go Republican."
Deeper into the neighborhood, at the center of which there is the "Adath Israel" congregation and the "Kohelet Yeshiva" high school, three young Republican Jews were sticking leaflets on doors showing Obama's profile, titled: "Hope is gone, and the change didn't happen...Now we have only buyer's remorse."
These young Republicans hope to get faster results with their method of campaigning. The Obama-Biden signs posted in some yards do not seem discourage them.
Britt Kassler, 27, a student from New Jersey, was amused by some of the reactions they got with their canvassing. "A lot of times people say: 'You know, I am a Republican too' - as if it's a dirty secret or something," he said, adding that he personally cares about Israel a lot and finds it "ridiculous" that Israel's south is shelled, schools are canceled, while the Obama administration does nothing.
"I know he [Obama] doesn't support Israel - and as far as the support for the Iron Dome is considered - it comes from Congress, it doesn't come from him, and it will be hard to find Congressmen that don't support these initiatives," said Kassler. "And his 'no' at the UN for the Palestinian state - it wasn't his ideology to do that. Had he his way - he would have said yes for the Palestinian state at the UN."
John Paul Cassil came all the way from South Carolina to hand out the leaflets in Pennsylvania and spend Shabbat with fellow young conservative Jews. He mentioned several other reasons why he finds it necessary to reject President Obama's candidacy:
"The Jewish community is becoming more and more conservative, they are realizing that this president holds an extreme leftists views that are antithetical to our cultural and religious beliefs. Killing children before they are born - Obama supports it - it goes against Jewish religious conscience. Plus, I have a moral problem with this borrowing money for today that me and my children will have to pay for in the future. Not to mention that he is dangerous to the State of Israel."
Yitz Tendler of Atlanta, Georgia, the third canvasser in this group, is a founding member of an organization called The Young Jewish Conservatives. He told Haaretz he was amazed students actually made an effort to answer the call and come to Pennsylvania at the beginning of the school year.
"They don't have a voice and they felt it's that important," he said, sounding all of a sudden suspiciously similar to the leftist J Street lobby activists who in the past also claimed not to have a voice.
But unlike J Street supporters, Tendler said he could not understand objections to the statement that Republican candidate Mitt Romney made in Jerusalem, linking "cultural differences" between Palestinians and Israelis with the economic success of the two countries.
"I don't understand how anyone could take an issue with this statement - there clearly was a significant amount of savagery as opposed to the Western cultures," Tendler says. "Look at the 1929 riots, before the establishment of the State of Israel. Just look at the rest of the Middle East - it's typically not the place where you find innovation. I don't think there is anything controversial about it. "
If any comparison is problematic, said Scott Feigelstein, RJC's director for the area, it is that Democrats are willing "to make equivalence between terrorists' action and the Israeli reaction."
"This year we will see significant difference in Jewish vote," he said.
Walking down the sunny streets filled with the breeze of early fall was certainly more fun than working the phones at the RJC's temporary headquarters at the "Radisson" hotel in town King of Prussia, another suburb of Philadelphia.
Dozens of volunteers sat at those tables, separated by cardboard screens, going through the lists of Jewish households. The most frequent reaction to their suggestion to discuss the elections seemed to be the other party hanging up the phone.
With the standard opening, volunteers suggest that the person on the other end of the phone remembers that "we all watched with shock and sadness" as Democrats took Jerusalem out of their platform and then brought it back to loud booing, - and then skipping to the "1967 indefensible borders."
Lynn Lechter, a volunteer with a "Mitt-Zvah" button pinned on her red jacket, prefers to make it more personal. "There is a standard opening that I am afraid to use that because people might hang up. I introduce myself, I say that I am from the Republican Jewish Coalition from Philadelphia, and I ask them to spare a couple of minutes of their time and share with me their thoughts on the two most important issues in the upcoming elections," she says.
"Yesterday I did a leaf-dropping, it was fun, I met some old friends and made some new ones. No one was hostile. Today I decided to do phone banking - I know it can be tedious, and people can be nasty, but I am not taking it personally. There were 17 answering machines, no answers, hang ups. Five of those who answered - four were for Romney, two were Democrats who converted to Romney, one was for Obama. And most of the answers of the most important issue was the economy."
She personally "cannot comprehend" how a Jewish person can vote for the Democratic Party (last week on the margins of the Democratic Convention, Jan Schakowsky a Congresswoman from Illinois said it's beyond her comprehension how a Jewish woman can vote for a Republican).
"I cannot comprehend how a Jewish person can vote for this Democratic Party - all they have to do is to look at the way the amendment on Jerusalem at the platform was voted. The audience booed, and they still passed it - it's sort of dictatorship party. They are telling the American people the Muslim Brotherhood is benign, when everybody knows how extreme they are. Or Debbie Wasserman Schultz (DNC chair, Jewish Congresswoman from Florida, NM) saying at the synagogue Barack Obama proved his support of Israel! How can she say that? This woman has no true bone in her body."
Lechter feels there is an additional value to her work as a volunteer: "There are so many Republican Jews who feel they are isolated, alone, who might be the only Jewish Republican in their apartment building, or experience pressure by their family. It's important for them to know there are many more of us. Hopefully they'll join us and our numbers will continue growing. I do not believe polls - it's like Clint Eastwood said at the RNC, there are conservatives at the Hollywood, but they are quiet. I believe Romney will win in a landslide, and the Jewish vote will play a part in it."
The Obama campaign commented on the RJC's campaign, saying, "We are building the largest grassroots campaign in history as evidenced by our ever growing volunteers and small dollar donor base. Whether you look at our Jewish Community Leadership Councils and Neighborhood Team Leader operations in Ohio, Florida or Pennsylvania to name a few, this campaign is engaging and mobilizing the Jewish community through meetings, volunteer trainings and outreach efforts that reach potential voters.”
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