Ted Cruz is a passionate evangelical Christian, and seems to sincerely share the evangelical love of Israel and its people.
So maybe it wasn’t so surprising that Cruz made a last-minute visit to a Brooklyn matzo factory yesterday, just weeks before Passover begins later this month. The entire experience was awkward and fast-paced, so politics probably played a role in the scheduling calculus. But there was time for some unrushed, deeply human moments as well.
Cruz arrived twenty minutes late, entering the room after the morah, or teacher, explained in painstaking detail how to make flour from wheat to try to keep the assembled engaged while they were waiting. That wasn’t a concern once the candidate got there.
If you’ve ever been to a kiddush, a casual post-services meal at synagogue, you understand what it’s like to stand between a Jew and what they want. In this analogy, the matzo factory is the kiddush room, and Senator Cruz is a piece of rugelach. Immediately the crowd swarmed around the Texan, and he got a Russian-Jewish-Brooklyn welcome, which can only be described as overwhelming enthusiasm.
After baking matzo, Cruz and his entourage high-tailed it over to the Jewish Center for another hastily planned short speech and press meet-and-greet. Like the matzo factory, the crush of press and excited Russian Jews was almost suffocating in its intensity. Cruz’s press crew, along with volunteers at the Jewish Center, worked to admit fans and press into the building as the crush of people overwhelmed the doors.
In the crowd I spotted an acquaintance, Dovie Eisner, whose wheelchair was being shoved by the crowd of people behind him. Friends got Dovie past the entrance, but unfortunately, the building isn’t handicapped accessible, and Dovie couldn’t go down into the small auditorium to hear Cruz’s speech.
I went around the other entrance of the auditorium to see if there was another door with a ramp. On my way, I ran into Catherine Frazier, Cruz’s National Press Secretary, who was busy preparing a one-on-one interview for the Senator with CNN’s Dana Bash immediately following his remarks. When I told Frazier the situation after I accidentally barged into the interview room, she stopped what she was doing and tried to help me find a handicapped-accessible entrance. Finding none, she offered for Dovie to wait in the back hallway, where Cruz would be passing by before his CNN interview, so he could get a one-on-one picture with the Senator. I left Dovie with Frazier and went to listen to Cruz’s remarks, which touched on school choice and religious liberty.
After the event, I asked Dovie if he got his picture. Not only did he get one, but because his cell phone camera was inaccessible when Cruz passed by, the campaign took one for him, with the candidate on bended knee, and sent it along to him within hours.
Contrast this behavior, for a moment, with that of the Trump campaign. During a campaign stop in November, Trump famously took the time to mock the physical disability of a New York Times reporter. He has continued to employ a man charged with battery, also against a reporter.
It was clear from the hour I spent covering Cruz in the thick of Jewish Brooklyn that the candidate is largely over his head in the Jewish world. Asked questions about the Talmud and aspects of the Passover Seder, Cruz balked. Despite the fact that he might not know what a mensch is, it seems important to the candidate to conduct himself as such, and expect the same of his staff. Much is said of Cruz’s awkward temperament, which was on display in the large group at the matzo factory. One-on-one, however, Cruz showed his ability to win the hearts and minds of even those opposed to him.
Of his experience Eisner wrote, “I still have my political differences with Ted Cruz, which is why he was my fourth choice for the nomination, but I no longer dislike the man personally, and I will vote for him on April 19 with a light heart.”