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The Pleasure of Politics

Jewish Women on the Campaign Trail

Joan Roth, peripatetic photographer, knows the fighting spirit, power and pleasure women bring to politics right now. With her camera, she followed the presidential primary campaigns from state to state. Jewish women were notably and energetically involved especially in Hillary Clinton’s campaign, but visible in the Obama and McCain camps too. The challenge will be to ensure that these voters — and others — stay energized through the election itself, and that the powerful feelings generated by candidates transfer to the issues.

Newly appointed Democratic Committeewoman Rosa Serota originally stuck two historic signs into the front lawn of her Pennsylvania home: one Clinton, one Obama. One showing her support for the first woman candidate with a shot at becoming the Democratic nominee for president; the other, her husband’s support for the first African- American male candidate.

Then, Serota said, she turned on the TV and caught Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech on race and politics. After that she read Obama’s second best-seller book, Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. By the time Obama’s “On Track for Change” whistle-stop train tour pulled into Wynnewood station, Serota and her husband had waited three hours on the platform, along with hundreds of other supporters, to hear his electrifying 45-minute speech. Afterwards, only Obama’s sign remained standing on her lawn.

1. Ann Lewis, White House communications director from 1997 to 2000, and Senior Advisor to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, manages operations everywhere, 24/7, simultaneously answering calls, typing text messages and sending Hillgrams to supporters. I caught up with her at the “All Voices Count” Women’s Tour Kickoff reception in Columbia, South Carolina.

“We are going to make sure that women’s voices are heard in the political debate, and that women voters understand the difference between the parties on issues important to them and their families,” Lewis announced to the crowd.

On Passover, Lewis attended the second-night seder held for more than 40 staff and volunteers; they wore pins that read “Hillary” — in Hebrew. “It wasn’t just the presence of top advisers and dedicated volunteers at the table that made it clear it was a Clinton event; it was also what was on the table itself: the seder plates all had oranges,” reports Hilary Leila Kraiger, a Jerusalem Post correspondent in Philadelphia, in an article entitled “Next Year In The White House.” Lawyer Heather Capell, on leave from her firm to volunteer for the campaign, announced, “A woman should be in the White House as much as an orange should be on the seder plate.”

2. At an Ardmore, Pennsylvania, “visibility street action,” Sue Greenstein (left) said she believes “Hillary can fix things. That’s why I love her.” Artist Audrey Hiatt-Sims, a 26-year army veteran — who hails from a family of army veterans that includes her daughter, a major in the Reserves — assured me her own military background qualifies her to endorse Clinton as the next Commander-in-Chief.

3. Jewish women are coming out for Hillary Clinton because, “It’s time qualified women be given their due,” said Fredrica Mann Breidenstein, who earned her Ph.D. in psychology at Harvard and made $6,000 dollars less per year at her job than the man in the same position. (The Pennsylvania primary was also national “Equal Pay Day,” begun in 1996 to highlight the gender wage gap.)

“I have never before seen so many affluent suburban women cancel nail appointments, tennis dates and shopping trips to campaign for another woman.”

Breidenstein’s mother-in-law, former president of the American Association of University Women, is an 86-year-old Catholic and outspoken Republican who plans, so far, to vote for John McCain. Secretly though, she told Freddy, should Clinton become the Democrat’s nominee, she would cross party lines to cast the first vote for a woman president.

4. Bobbi Shaffner (page 18) wrote the Yiddish song, “Now Hillary is the Show” with her husband, Henry. The late John Wallowitch, a Catholic, performs the song on YouTube in perfect Yiddish.

5. In February, New York Democratic State Committeewomen Trudy Mason, representing Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and Debra Cooper (with phone), representing the Upper West Side, hosted a debate-watching party and campaign update for Clinton supporters in Cooper’s living room, like parlor meetings women were holding around the country. Both women’s constituents happen to be predominantly Jewish.

After the debate, the women listened in on a conference call with Judith Hope, former Democratic State Chair. “As good Jewish women we turned the debate party into a fundraiser,” bragged Mason.

“I always say, don’t discriminate against me, or any woman, because I am a woman and, don’t support me because I am a woman, but if all things are equal, then support the woman!

6. Obama supporters at a polling place on Pennsylvania’s Primary Day.

7. The only woman representative among Pennsylvania’s 21- member congressional delegation, Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz endorsed Hillary Clinton in the primary and vigorously campaigned for her throughout the state.

“Let me be absolutely clear,” shouted Schwartz at the celebration after Clinton won the Pennsylvania primary. “In case you didn’t get the message yet: this was a huge, transformative victory for Hillary Clinton, for Pennsylvania, and for this nation.”

 8. Following a political career, in which she served as a regional director at the Department of Health and Human Services in the Clinton Administration, Alison Greene signed onto the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign as a full-time volunteer — a traveling “roadie.”

“I first met Hillary in her black headband days. I was a lawyer for legal aid and knew someone on her advance team who, at the last minute, asked if my husband and I would host a lunch in our home. Hillary stood in front of the living room fireplace, seamlessly speaking about Bill for president. Everyone there thought Hillary was fabulous. It was her first public address in Westchester County. We became her base and got her elected to the Senate.”

 9. Because the Democratic nomination remained unresolved after February’s Super Tuesday, three energetic women suddenly realized that, they could effect a big win for Clinton. State Senator Connie Williams, Democratic leader and Committee woman Bonnie Squires, and president of the Pennsylvania Jewish Action Committee Nancy Gordon pooled their resources and contact lists to open their own “HILLARYLAND” storefront, totally volunteer-staffed, in the once- WASP and now- Jewish suburb of Ardmore. “These Pennsylvania County women accomplished an amazing feat. In a community once counted out, they wound up winning 51-49, after organizing only a month before primary day,” explained Trudy Mason.

10. At the October 2007 launch of the National Council of Civic Leaders for Hillary for President, Council Chair Susie Stern, past president of United Jewish Communities National Women’s Philanthropy, seemed to voice the elation many of her peers felt when she announced, “We are ready to make history and make Hillary Clinton the next President of the United States.”

At a meeting of Jewish leaders in Pennsylvania, Stern said her 2002 and 2005 trips to Israel with Senator Clinton heartened Israelis. One example: a press conference held at Sbarro’s pizzeria, re-built after a Jerusalem terrorist bombing. Clinton asked her people to stay and buy pizza, reported Bonnie Squires in the Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

 11. Miriam Camitta, Democratic Committeewoman from Pennsylvania’s Lower Merion Township, was torn between Clinton and Obama, both remarkable candidates with different strengths and messages she found deeply — and equally — compelling but she kept her indecision to herself. “It’s important to preserve party unity.The primary goal for Democrats is to beat McCain. The stakes have never been higher — and the need for real leadership has never been greater.“

Waiting her turn in front of the voting booth, Camitta confided her conflict to an old-guard Republican woman poll worker. Her advice? “Vote for the man, darling.”

12. An “in-the-closet” Republican among the Liberal Democrats in her Manhattan social circle, Dr. Elizabeth Schultz admits that when she talks politics, her friends can’t bear to listen to her. She has lost friends of 25 years and more. At a recent dinner party, Schultz, a radiologist, declared that while she doesn’t agree with everything Republican (she’s pro choice, for example), she’s supporting John McCain. Two young women left the table in tears.

A former 1960’s Democrat, Schultz showed me an old photo of her grandfather — a veteran of the Spanish-American War and ardent Democratic Party functionary — as proof of her political heritage. It’s the Democratic Party that changed, Schultz said, first and foremost regarding Israel. “The reason I changed parties has nothing to do with me.”