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In L.A., it’s cool to be a Jew

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 14 (JTA) — The official agenda of the Democratic Party may be to nominate Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman, but the real business so far has been to party from morn til morn, raise zillions of dollars and tell the Jews what wonderful folks they are.

President Clinton, addressing nearly 4,000 Jews at an outdoor party on Sunday afternoon, quoted comedian Red Buttons that “in Los Angeles, the Democrats are changing their theme song from ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ to ‘Hava Nagila.’ ”

Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) keynoted an elegant fund-raiser for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Saturday night and wound up a somewhat disjointed speech by declaring, “I wish I were a Jew.”

Between Saturday and Thursday, there are an estimated 100 convention parties a day, 80 percent by private invitation only.

Somewhere near the top in cachet and money-raising prowess was the $100,000-a-couple brunch, to benefit the Clinton Library, at Barbra Streisand’s Malibu digs Sunday morning.

Even more exclusive are the small parties thrown by billionaires David Geffen and Gary Winnick, presumably for friends of similar financial standing.

For the merely affluent, plastic surgeon Steven Teitelbaum, a new player, threw a $1,000-a-head party for and with Hillary Rodham Clinton, to aid her Senate race in New York.

As early as Sunday evening, the pace was beginning to tell on Howard Welinsky, a tireless Democratic activist but not a man of exceptional wealth, who had received 35 party invitations, and counting.

Some parties combined conviviality with a more serious purpose, such as the one at the home of Mel Levine, a Gore foreign policy adviser, who gave his guests a chance to dialogue with Leon Fuerth, the vice president’s longtime national security aide.

There were even some free parties, such as the one at the Sony Pictures movie set (formerly MGM), addressed by both Clintons. The hosts — National Jewish Democratic Council, AIPAC, United Jewish Communities and the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles — proved that Jewish organizations can pull together and even provide soft drinks and a light buffet for the multitudes.

The NJDC took the opportunity to debut its new campaign button, with photos of the Democratic and Republican presidential contenders. The photo of the Democrat is identified as “Gore,” and the photo of a puffy-cheeked George W. Bush as “gornisht” — Yiddish for “nothing.”

Democrats for Israel weighed in with buttons in which Gore’s name was spelled out in Hebrew.

Most of the fund-raising, and spotlight, benefited Bill and Hillary Clinton. But the first couple has promised to leave town after addressing the Democratic convention Monday evening, to the relief of the Gore campaign.

The platform for launching a volley of pro-Jewish encomiums has been the nomination of Lieberman as the Democratic vice presidential candidate.

Guests at the AIPAC party at the splendid Beverly Hills home of Herb and Beverly Gelfand — “I always wanted to live in a house like this,” Rockefeller said — were ecstatic about Gore’s selection of Lieberman as a validation and empowerment of American Jewry.

Actor Richard Dreyfuss, at the Mel Levine party, praised the Lieberman candidacy as “fabulous,” even agreeing with some of the senator’s criticism of Hollywood, which have raised hackles elsewhere in the entertainment industry.

Most effusive was Andrew Cuomo, U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development, speaking at the Sony studio rally. “We share your joy, because if the Jews can make it, then Italian Americans can make it, Hispanic Americans can make it and African Americans can make it,” Cuomo said.

Only a few pessimists ventured, off the record, to throw some cold water on the near universal enthusiasm. They warned that a number of liberals would be turned off by Lieberman’s centrist politics, that many Americans might vent a latent anti- Semitism in the polling booth and even voiced the old tribal fear that excessive Jewish visibility invites later retribution.

An unexpected presence at the weekend’s festivities was the family of the late Yitzhak Rabin. Clinton, who greatly admired him, announced that just before his plane touched down in Los Angeles, he had talked by phone to Leah Rabin, widow of the prime minister, who is in the United States for medical treatment.

Rabin’s son, Yuval, popped up at the Mel Levine party. He has been quietly approaching some well-heeled Democrats to raise funds for the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies, to be built in the Ramat Aviv section of Tel Aviv as a kind of presidential library and educational center.

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