On the Campaign Trail: First Lady Focuses on Family Before Jewish Groups in Chicago

Flanked by sets from Kern and Hammerstein’s Showboat, Hillary Rodham Clinton this week took the presidential campaign directly to more than 1,000 area Jews and delegates in town for the Democratic National Convention.

The 10-month old run of the Mississippi River play here gave way to the first lady and the Chicago Jewish Community Host Committee for the largest gathering of local Jewish residents, officials and delegates this week.

As the crowd noshed on mini-bagels and rugelah, families, seniors, professionals and students flocked into the landmark Auditorium Theater for Clinton’s only address to the Jewish community.

As Nina Ex, an 11-year-old Chicago native anxiously awaited the first lady’s arrival, she summed up the importance of the campaign’s focus on children.

“You can’t just leave out children. Then there would be no grown-ups,” said Ex, who begins the sixth grade next week at the Hawthorne Scholastic Academy, a city public school.

Clinton did not disappoint the many children in the crowd as she focused much of her 27-minute address on the “Families and Children First” agenda of her husband’s campaign.

Standing beside the flags of the United States and Israel, Clinton spoke from a site rich in both political and local Jewish history.

Republicans held their convention there in 1888.

And local Jews proudly point out that the two prominent architects who designed the theater were Jewish. In addition, Roosevelt University, affiliated with the site, was one of the first in the area to hire Jewish academics fleeing Europe at the turn of the century.

In an address heavy on domestic policy, Clinton sounded the convention’s theme of “optimism” and “confidence.”

In remarks that departed from the first lady’s standard stump speech, appearing instead to be tailored to the Jewish community, Clinton said, “We are all in this together.”

“The real question is what do we, who remain healthy and fortunate, owe each other?” she asked.

“Do we have an obligation; are we or are we not our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers?”

We have to stand up to intolerance whenever and wherever we find it,” she added.

Planners moved the event from its originally planned site at the last minute to accommodate the overwhelming demand, officials said.

“When it came time for an appropriate welcome from the Jewish community, it took an auditorium,” David Kahn, president of the American Jewish Congress and a Chicago attorney, said, playing on the theme of Clinton’s highly publicized book, “It Takes a Village.”

The speech struck a chord with Daniel Solow, a Chicago native who saw the first lady for the first time at the Thursday event.

“It’s so important what she said about being willing to help place families in better situations where they can prosper more,” Solow said.

The event took on a serious tone compared to many festive gatherings here this week.

Clinton received a warm welcome and was greeted with four standing ovations during her appearance but the traditional convention hoopla was absent.

“There was a shared tone that it was not a rally, but a serious speech,” said Michael Kotzin, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago. “We came to listen and she came to speak.”

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