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BEHIND THE HEADLINES Bradley’s Jewish campaign manager views tikkun olam as driving force

New Jersey Jewish News
WHIPPANY, N.J. Oct. 12 (JTA) — Two Hebrew words constitute the most accurate response to the oft-asked question: What is the focus of Democratic candidate Bill Bradley’s presidential campaign? The words are tikkun olam — reparation of the world — and they are the driving force behind former U.S. Sen. Bradley’s national campaign chair, Doug Berman. “The job of president is about setting a principal direction, not as an inflexible ideology but as a compass point,” says 47-year-old Berman, a Montclair, N.J., resident whose roots stretch back to Jewish socialist circles. For him, the political compass of “the most important job in the world” points in the directions of tikkun olam, social consciousness, community responsibility, and the realization that “there are purposes larger than ourselves.” This philosophical framework, which transcends the easy categorizations into which politicians typically fall, has characterized the Bradley campaign, which has gained significant momentum in recent weeks. Bradley, whose campaign is based in West Orange, N.J., is campaigning hard throughout the country, bolstered by polls that show him a strong force in the race against Vice President Al Gore for the Democratic nomination in the 2000 elections. Focusing on Bradley’s ideology, Berman says, “We’re not liberal or conservative. If someone is committed to helping children living in poverty and all children, there may be ideas that come from the left and the right side of the spectrum that could help us figure out how to tackle the challenge. Helping the children is the North Star.” Berman applies this philosophy to the priorities of the Bradley campaign, particularly the issues of poverty stricken children, the lack of health care coverage for all who need it, diversity and race, and campaign finance reform. Berman calls diversity an “issue of the heart” for Bradley and one of the candidate’s biggest priorities. He say Bradley supports affirmative action programs, but the candidate prefers to be more constructive — rather than see diversity as an obstacle, he views it as an “opportunity for richness.” Berman said Bradley is “an extremely strong supporter of the State of Israel. He believes Israelis have to make their own decisions about their future, and he supports the peace process and the effort to secure American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.” Berman said he thinks the “nuances” in the candidates’ positions concerning Israel will define the “battleground of support in the Jewish community.” He added that “while Israel is a fundamental part of how Jewish voters look at a candidate, everyone in this community is also American, and the historic perspective of Jews toward politics is that it is an essential element of social justice. Berman was a participant in the Wexner Heritage program from 1990-92 and is a former vice president of the Board of the Solomon Schechter School of Essex and Union, where he and wife, Karen Rozenberg, sent their two teen-age children. While raised as a secular Jew in a small cooperative community called Usonia in Westchester County, N.Y., Berman said he “absorbed the social activism elements of Jewish life as people saw it in the ’50s and ’60s.” He said his parents worked for Adlai Stevenson and John Kennedy and helped found a school in India. “Most of the people I knew were Jewish, not as active practicing Jews, but the values that coursed through the community are what I interpret as Jewish values.” Berman’s background also paved the way toward his involvement in political life. He served as treasurer for the State of New Jersey from 1990 to 92 under former Gov. Jim Florio as well as campaign manager in Florio’s successful gubernatorial run in 1989. He also was campaign manager for two of Bradley’s successful Senate runs — in 1978 and 1984. He was a senior adviser to Sen. Frank Lautenberg in his 1982 primary and in his general election campaigns for Senate. In one other way, Berman’s circles with Bradley — formerly a forward for the New York Knicks basketball team — and the Jewish community have intersected. Several years ago Berman created and coached an intramural basketball program at Schechter because “so many kids wanted to play. We formed the program so the boys and girls could learn and participate.” Berman’s description of the basketball program sounds as ideological as his vision of the Bradley campaign. “I tried to make it fun,” he says.