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Notebook: Heard at the convention

BOSTON, July 29 (JTA) — The National Jewish Democratic Council rounded up an all-star lineup at the party’s convention here to convince their own that Jews are not becoming Republican. In a packed ballroom Wednesday, Jewish Democratic political operatives pledged that Jewish voters would grow more comfortable with John Kerry’s positions on the Middle East as the campaign swings into action, and admitted that more must be done to reach out to the community. “When the Jewish community and particularly those who care about Israel learn about John Kerry’s record, they will not only be comforted, they will be really impressed,” said Mel Levine, a former California congressman who will chair one of Kerry’s foreign policy advisory teams. He was joined by Mark Mellman, Kerry’s chief pollster and a top adviser, and Ann Lewis, former Clinton White House communications director and chair of the Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Vote Center. Jonathan Sarna, a professor of Jewish history at Brandeis University, agreed with the overall premise that the majority of Jews will stick with the Democrats. But he also suggesting that Jews are crediting Bush for the greater empathy Americans now have for Israel. The rise in anti-Americanism around the world has led more people in the United States to greater understand the plight of Jews, and he said Democratic interests in increasing ties with Europe could turn off some Jewish voters. Rock the Temples!Young Jewish Democrats attending a bash at one of Boston’s best-known hot spots on Wednesday got treated to a sermon about Tisha B’Av, one of the most mournful days on the Jewish calendar. Rob Kutner, a writer for the award-winning comedy series “The Daily Show,” warmed up the crowd at the Aria event with a few jokes trying to figure out which Jewish holiday most resembles a political convention. He settled on Passover — in both cases, he said, “It takes a week for our digestive systems to recover.” That got laughs at the event sponsored by the National Jewish Democrat Council and kid show mogul Haim Saban , but then Kutner slid into an earnest exegesis of a Talmudic tale related to “sinat hinam,” the reckless hatred among Jews that tradition says helped bring down the ancient temples. He cautioned Democrats never to exhibit such hatred to their opponents, whatever the political season. There was some impatient talk during the mini sermon, and friends of Kutner tried to shush the crowd, but the comedy writer was not aggrieved. “I’m on basic cable, I don’t expect much. Cameron Kerry, the brother of the Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), was also on hand, and regaled the crowd with the tale of his courtship of his wife, Kathy Weinman. “It was basic goy meets girl,” he said. In fact, Kerry’s marriage to Weinman 20 years ago led to his conversion to Judaism, and they are active members of Boston’s Jewish community today. He told the crowd that the only time he felt prouder than his brother’s political rise was at the B’not Mitzvah of his daughters, Jessica and Laura. That led Kutner to quip that not only is John Kerry good for the Jews, he’s so good he contributed his brother to the Jews.”Looking to Florida Florida voters know all eyes are on them. And Jewish activists are ready to make sure what happened in 2000 doesn’t get repeated four years later. But while Jewish Democrats thought they would be running on a platform against the voting irregularities of 2000 this fall, they feel they are better able to showcase Kerry on the merits. “Four years ago, we thought all we would have to run on is anger and frustration,” Stacy Ritter, a state representative in Northwest Broward County and a delegate, said from the convention floor Wednesday evening. “Now, George W. Bush has handed us issues on a silver platter.” Talk of hanging chads and butterfly ballots has been replaced by discussions of healthcare and the war in Iraq, Ritter said, and she said she almost wants to thank Bush for making it easier to court voters. Rep. Peter Deutsch (D-Fla.), who is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), said people are still thinking about four years ago, but mostly because they are far from convinced that the problems will not be repeated this November. “It’s the fact that there’s not been progress,” Deutsch said, noting that state Democrats had to go to court to ensure that voting rolls were re-examined.

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