By several accounts, the Obama folks are keeping a tight rein on who is allowed to speak for the campaign (though we certainly can’t complain about our access to the candidate himself). But they may be shooting themselves in the foot as a result. Case in point: I visited Obama’s campaign office in the Philadelphia suburb of Wynnewood over the weekend. Turns out the office is being run by one Chaim Safran. Hy, as he is known, would make the perfect poster boy for Obama in the Jewish community. He’s young, Jewishly committed – Jewish pre-school, day school and a joint degree from JTS and Columbia – and couldn’t be more passionate about Obama.
But we had to go through some hoops to get the green light to talk. Turns out the 23-year-old Detroit-area native has been closely following Obama since before he even stepped into the political spotlight. Soon after Obama entered the race, Hy cut short his post-graduate explorations in Israel to volunteer for the campaign. “I went from Israel to Iowa; I was in Cedar Rapids before I knew it,” he says.
Now he’s a paid staffer, traveling from state to state to set up local primary operations. Obama represents a “once in a generation, once in a lifetime opportunity for the country politically,” Hy says. “I’m not a single-issue voter,” he adds, “but I do have a litmus test when it comes to Israel” and Obama “passes with flying colors.”
He likes not only the candidate’s positions – he cites Obama’s leadership in the Senate to condemn the Hezbollah rocket attacks during the 2006 War in Lebanon – but his willingness to listen. “I’m a committed Jew and a Zionist,” he stresses. “I am very comfortable with Barack’s religious beliefs, I’m thrilled with his attitude toward Jewish issues and I’m comfortable with his positions on Israel.”
Even non-paid backers are reluctant to talk without the proper permission. Rick Horowitz, another committed guy – both Jewishly and to Obama – was nice enough to give up an hour of his Sunday afternoon to meet me at that same Obama office, a former bank building. But apparently he hadn’t gone to the proper authorities and asked after the fact that it be off the record. Rick, the president of a private equity firm, is a member of Obama’s national finance committee, which must mean he’s done some serious fundraising for him. And he’s working in the Jewish community to get the pro-Obama message out. What could he possibly say that would reflect badly? Here were his talking points: He was so inspired by Obama’s books that he decided he was going to be involved in the campaign; it’s the first time in his adult life that he’s “had this kind of excitement and emotion about a candidate” and he is so committed that he took his 14-year-old son to New Hampshire to canvass before that pivotal primary.
Who else are the Obama powers hiding while there are still so many serious questions floating out there among Jews about the man who would be president?