By E.J. Kessler

Published July 16, 2004, issue of July 16, 2004.
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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].”

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