Blue and energized

February 13, 2008 at 6:24 pm | Posted in Announcements + Events | 2 Comments

(Washington Jewish Week)

For Joanna Blotner, Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary was unusual. Instead of voting for the lesser of two evils, she was excited to be choosing between “the better of two greats.”

“They’re both such good candidates, I want to vote for both,” the 22-year-old District resident said on Thursday evening of last week at a happy hour sponsored by the Young Democrats of America Jewish Caucus in the District’s Woodley Park.

Blotner’s inability to choose between Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) just five days before the Potomac Primary was shared by a number of her friends and others in the 150 or so person crowd.

David Turnbull, 25, of the District also said he was still undecided, because both candidates have “very strong plans” on his most important issue climate change.

“In some ways, I can’t go wrong,” he said, adding that he was leaning toward Obama, but “I still could change.”

But there were also plenty of strong supporters for each candidate among the young Jewish professionals, echoing the split among Democratic Jewish voters in general as indicated by last week’s Super Tuesday exit polls. Clinton won big among Jewish voters in New York and New Jersey on Feb. 5 and by a smaller margin in Arizona; Obama triumphed in Connecticut and Massachusetts and beat Clinton by two points in California. (More details on the exit poll numbers are in Beltway, page 13; WJW went to press before results from this week’s elections were available.)

Sarah Feuer, a 26-year-old student who recently spent time in Israel, attended the Obama rally at American University last month and found the senator inspiring.

“As long as I’ve been voting, I’ve been holding my nose,” Feuer said as she sipped on an Obama Rama drink (banana liqueur, vodka and cranberry juice) at Medaterra restaurant. This is the first time that’s not the case and she’s proud to support a candidate, said Feuer.

“He’s never on the attack. There’s something about him I trust him,” she said.

Feuer, like many at the happy hour, said she hadn’t heard much about an e-mail campaign falsely alleging that Obama is a Muslim. But she was initially wary of Obama’s willingness to talk to Iran’s leadership. After thinking about it further, she decided that because the current policy “hasn’t worked, if he thinks he can get something done, let’s give it a shot.”

But Obama’s vote against legislation that would have declared Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group is one reason why Heidi Zansler of the District is backing the former first lady.

The 34-year-old real estate professional noted that Clinton’s vote for the resolution demonstrates her superior preparation for the job that she recognizes Iran is a danger to Israel.

“Her experience is so extensive,” said Zansler, praising how the senator from New York can speak in extensive detail about her policies. That Clinton is a woman who has succeeded in a male-dominated society is “an added bonus.”

As for Obama, he “needs more time to prove himself,” she said. “Inspiration isn’t enough.”

Long before last week’s happy hour, young Jewish Clinton supporters have been gathering around town to work for their candidate. The “Chai for Hillary” group, for young Jewish professionals across the country, asked backers to volunteer for 18 hours and reach out to 18 friends. Last weekend, they gathered to call voters, reminding them to cast ballots for Clinton on Tuesday. These phone banks were a bit nontraditional: Callers, armed with their cell phones, met at supporters’ homes in such neighborhoods as Dupont Circle and Gallery Place to make calls.

Meanwhile, on Saturday night, more than 150 people gathered at the Stars Bistro and Bar in Dupont Circle for a Havdalah service and rally in support of Obama. Titled “Kein Annu Yecholim!” Hebrew for the Obama slogan “Yes We Can” the event featured Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) extolling the virtues of her fellow Chicagoan.

Led by Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda, who stressed he was there as a citizen and not representing his congregation, the Havdalah service was infused with Obamamania. For example, fliers distributed to participants headlined the prayer for the wine with “I can taste an Obama presidency already!” The spice box blessing was titled “Barack adds sweet spice to politics.”

Organizer Rob Levy outlined “why Jews are for Obama.” (Levy’s day job is Washington representative of the Jewish peace group Brit Tzedek V’Shalom, but he also emphasized that he was speaking for himself and not for his organization.)

First, he said that Obama backers must not allow “other Jews [to speak] for us” with the “virulent e-mail campaign” falsely claming he is Muslim. Levy called Obama a “vocal supporter of Israel” who supports its right to self-defense while also believing that “making peace is in Israel and America’s” best interests.

Obama Middle East adviser Eric Lynn also addressed the gathering, quipping that his boss was happy to be identified as “Baruch Obama” for this crowd and defending Obama’s record on Israel.

One person in the crowd suggested that Obama’s efforts to shore up his standing in the Jewish community was alienating Jewish “progressives.”

“There’s more than one Jewish voice,” and that other voice believes in “the need for a just solution [to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict], not just a peaceful solution,” Adams Morgan resident Shira Robinson said to enthusiastic cheers from the crowd.

In an interview, Robinson, a history and international affairs professor at George Washington University, said Obama has “gone out of his way” to placate the “mainstream” community while disappointing “progressives” like herself. Nonetheless, she said she and all the progressive Jews she knew were still planning on voting for the senator.

Schakowsky said she would take Robinson’s message back to the Obama campaign.


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  1. So Israel is counting on US support. Good luck and a long wait. When Iran gets it nuclear solution the US Jewish democrats will rejoice.

    I see that the president wants to negotiate with Iran.

    As far as I am concerned all Muslims are terrorists. There is a range of terrorism. The person that straps on a bomb is at the high end and a Muslim man terrorizing his wife and children is at a low level.

    Israel must take the appropriate steps against Iran right away.

    There are too many naive Jewish persons in the US.



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