I just got back from a meeting with Jay Footlik, and he may be the Jewiest congressional candidate we have seen in a long time.
Wearing a red “bendel” – otherwise known as a kabbalah string – around his wrist, Footlik met with me at a restaurant a couple of doors down from his campaign headquarters in Highland Park and ran down his Jewish credentials.
He grew up in the uber Jewish neighborhood of Skokie, studied the Middle East/Israeli-Arab conflict at UCLA, and was tapped by Bill Clinton as his liaison to the Jewish community. After the Clinton White House expired, he was on a speaking tour of Jewish organizations, when Shimon Peres asked him to work for a think tank he was starting. He lived in Israel for four years, in the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Bazel, and met and married an Israeli.
Two days after Footlik and his wife were married, John Kerry tapped him as his liaison to the Jews. “Short honeymoon,” Footlik joked at lunch.
Sure, the restaurant was treif. But Footlik, who had the sniffles, ordered a chicken soup. “It just sounds perfect right now,” he told the waiter.
Footlik is something of a rags to middle class story. His father walked out on the family when Jay’s mother, Koreene, was pregnant, and Jay was only 4. But Jay got into acting as a kid and had a fair degree of success and was able to earn a living – he made more than his mom, when he was a kid (did you like Teen Wolf?).
And he paid for part of his bar mitzvah with the salary. (The parsha was Vayigash.)
He says he see running for Congress to help change the world for the better as a reflection of his Jewish values and identity.
Our meeting came on the same day that one of the local papers gave its endorsement to Footlik’s opponent, Dan Seals. The paper chastised Fotlik for “poking fun” at his Jewish heritage citing a mailer Footlik sent out that used the word “meshuga.”
Footlik shot back today, essentially saying that anyone who would questioned the seriousness of his Jewish identity is meshuga.
“I make no apologies for communicating with my own community, the Jewish community,” he said. “Just like I make no apologies for communicating with the Hispanic community in Waukegan or the Asian community in Northbrook.”
“I was Bill Clinton’s Jewish liaison I lived and worked in Israel during a time when most people weren’t visiting Israel because buses and cafes were blowing up. My wife is Israeli and served in the IDF,” Footlik said. To boot, he added, his business partner is Yuval Rabin – son of the slain prime minister.
Footlik has an uphill battle. Seals released a statement saying that in a poll of 303 people, he had a lead over Footlik of 58 percent to 10 percent among Democratic voters.
Can Footlik make up the ground by the Feb. 5 primary?
“B’ezrat Hashem,” he said, with a smile.