WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (JTA) – They may be small in numbers, but Jewish Republicans were out in full force during Inauguration weekend, partying as George W. Bush was sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States.
The Republican Jewish Coalition and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee co-sponsored a reception Friday at L’Etoile, a kosher French restaurant in downtown Washington. RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks called the event an “insiders’ briefing.”
New White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and the editor of the Weekly Standard, William Kristol, addressed the audience, mostly donors to the RJC and similar organizations, as well as influential Jews in the Republican Party.
Brooks said it was an opportunity for the audience to ask questions about issues of concern to them: how active a role Bush would play in the Middle East peace process and how much interaction he would have with the Jewish community.
The atmosphere was light and jovial, as the speakers – including former Republican National Committee chair Haley Barbour and Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) – joked with the audience.
Outside the reception hall, Bruce Bialosky sat on a couch and spoke to old friends. A contributor to Republican causes, he said Republican Jews may be relatively few, but they still wield power.
“There’s enough people in there with enough money to assert their influence over George W. Bush, if that’s what they wanted,” Bialosky said, motioning to the ballroom. “Jews have a big influence on Republicans. Bush knows all of them.”
An accountant and real estate broker from Los Angeles, Bialosky said he hopes the younger generations of Jews realize they don’t have to be Democrats.
“The values of the Democratic Party have moved away from traditional Jewish values,” he said. “Individual responsibility is a basic precept of Judaism.”
Noah Doyle walked over to Bialosky with a plate full of food, and the two ate together.
Doyle, a 20-year-old Cornell University student from Long Island, said that too many people simply assume Jews will vote Democratic.
“Most Jews are bipartisan,” Doyle said. “But they’re afraid of the Christian Coalition.”
That sentiment was repeated throughout the event. Republican Jews indeed seem weary of the Christian Coalition and its perceived grip on the GOP, but they also want to bring the Republican Party to the Jewish community and emphasize the party’s inclusiveness.
Steven Some, a lobbyist and chairman of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, said many things about the Republican Party should appeal to Jews, such as the party’s economic views, stance on national defense and support for Israel. But the Jewish community is turned off by Republican positions on domestic issues like abortion, he acknowledged.
“The perception that the religious right has some hold on the Republican Party concerns me,” Some said.
Despite the political discussions, the focus of the weekend was on celebration. Guests rattled off long lists of receptions, events and balls they were attending.
Dale Robinowitz, a Dallas dentist who had come up from Texas for the weekend, called Bush “an old friend” and said she had high hopes for the next administration.
“I think he’s going to listen and he’s going to care,” she said.