By E.J. Kessler

Published July 16, 2004, issue of July 16, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

As Democrats deal with labor unrest and the possibility of inadequate facilities at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, observant Jewish delegates are contending with a different set of challenges: The first days of the convention fall within the traditional Jewish “Nine Days” of mourning for the lost Temples of ancient Jerusalem. Tisha B’Av, the fast day commemorating the Temples’ destruction, falls on July 27, the convention’s second day.

The fast and the somber mood of the “Nine Days” is necessitating a variety of accommodations during the convention, including arrangements for the “community celebration” welcoming Jewish convention delegates, to be held at Boston’s World Trade Center on July 25, according to one of the party’s hosts.

In deference to the religious rules governing the “Nine Days,” the communal event is “not going to be quite as festive,” said the president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, Barry Shrage. “Everybody’s consulting with rabbis,” he said.

Meanwhile, with the international media in town, several leading Jewish organizations saw a chance to dramatize communal concerns: They are sponsoring a rally at Christopher Columbus Park on July 25 in hopes of drawing 3,000 people to protest the toll that terrorism has taken on Israel and Argentina.

The number and scope of the Jewish-related activities at the convention underscored the importance of the role of Jews in the Democratic Party. As one Kerry supporter, former DNC chairman Steve Grossman, pointed out: “No Republican presidential candidate has cracked 20% of the Jewish vote since 1988, making Jews one of the pillars of the Democratic Party.” Even so, Jews, a high-turnout group concentrated in key battleground states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, are the target of fervent Republican attentions. Grossman and others said they were trying to keep President Bush, who garnered 19% of the Jewish vote in 2000, to something close to that figure with a series of educational efforts spearheaded by the National Jewish Democratic Council, which is planning two convention events: a luncheon in honor of Senator Joseph Lieberman and a panel on countering Republican inroads into the community.

Democrats also pointed to the expected presence of presumptive vice presidential nominee John Edwards at the Jewish communal party as evidence of the importance Democrats place on the community, given the value of Edwards’s convention time. “I think that’s a statement in and of itself,” said David Harris, deputy executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the National Jewish Democratic Council and the charitable roof body, United Jewish Communities, are sponsoring the communal party.

The chairman of the New York State delegation, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, an Orthodox Jew, is holding a before-fast meal and a break-fast meal “for a few friends” at the delegation’s seat, the Park Plaza Hotel. Silver told the Forward that he also is hoping to organize an “appropriate service” for reading “Lamentations,” the scroll traditionally recited on the fast day, which starts at sundown July 26.

As convention arrangements were being finalized, Kerry’s brother, Cameron, a convert to Judaism, was on a trip to Israel sponsored by the American Israel Educational Foundation, an Aipac-linked group, to meet with Prime Minister Sharon and other officials.

At the same time, the DNC was working on a 38-page draft of the Democratic National Platform that Jewish Democratic activists were hailing as “unprecedented” for the specificity of its pro-Israel positions. The draft enshrines language similar to that adopted in a pro-Israel resolution of Congress last month, including statements precluding any Palestinian’s “right of return” to Israel and deeming a return on the part of Israel to the 1949 armistices lines “unrealistic.” It also asserts that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, calls a nuclear-armed Iran “an unacceptable risk to us and our allies,” and demands an end to the administration’s “kid-glove approach to the supply and laundering of terrorist money,” which Democrats said was aimed at Saudi Arabia. Some Jewish organizations grumbled that the platform did not mention Israel’s security fence, but Democrats pointed them to a recent Kerry policy paper with strongly pro-fence language that allowed Kerry more room to express his views.

“The unprecedented specificity of the positions — the fact that in a party platform cut down to 38 pages… you have ‘no right of return’ and ‘no return to the 1949 boundaries’ — tells you something about Kerry’s vision,” Harris said.

The convention also is highlighting the importance of the coterie of Jewish New England Democrats around Kerry. (For more on this group, please visit Alan Solomont, a prominent Boston-area Jewish philanthropist who is Kerry’s New England finance chairman, drew a glowing profile in The Boston Globe, which billed him as the “$4 million man” for “a record-setting fund raiser… [that] relied primarily on small donations.”

“In his 22 years as an elected official, there hasn’t been any elected official any closer to the Jewish community in the state than John Kerry,” Solomont said in an interview with the Forward, adding, “With George Bush, you can’t make that case, because George Bush comes out of a political party that describes America as a Christian nation. …. If you think about the things our community believes and the kinds of concerns we bring to the public arena, I can’t think of any candidate who lines up better [than Kerry].”

Find us on Facebook!
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  •'s Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.