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America Decides 2004 in and About the Convention: a Reporter’s Jewish Notebook

July 27, 2004
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Maxine Goldstein knows how to dress for a political convention. She’s got the earrings with John Kerry’s face on them, the vest with his image silk-screened on the back, and, of course, the purse that resembles a bottle of Heinz ketchup — in honor of Theresa Heinz Kerry, wife of the Democratic nominee for president.

But if you see the 77-year-old delegate from Georgia wandering around here this week, the first thing you will notice is her hat.

“This is my 10th convention and this is my 10th convention hat,” Goldstein, an advisory board member of the Atlanta chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, said before an ADL event for delegates on Monday.

Her straw hat has playing cards around the brim, with a list of all the hot domestic policy issues of the year: Social Security, health care and education. And below an American flag perched atop a mock flagpole in the middle is a sign that reads: “Bush, ya gotta know when to fold ‘! em.”

But that’s not all. The stars that surround the brim light up and are attached to a battery pack protruding from her back pocket.

Of course, with security being the way it is at this year’s convention, Goldstein has run into her share of problems.

She was forced to remove the hat, which is pinned to her head, before going through metal detectors at the ADL event, which featured a foreign policy address by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.).

And then there’s the issue of having a hat that adds more than a few inches to your height.

“I had to ride looking at the floor of the taxi,” she said. “I can tell you every inch of the taxi, but nothing about gorgeous Boston.”

But Goldstein knows that it’s all worth it. Her hats have always gotten attention, often winding up in the Smithsonian Institution. In fact, Monday morning she saw herself on television, in a hat she wore at a previous convention.

“They always show me and the hat,” she said. “And all the Ge! orgia delegation likes to sit next to me.”

Reaching out to th e Jews

Even before the convention officially got off the ground, top Democratic lawmakers appealed to Jewish voters for support, saying their party represented the best interest of Israel and was the natural home for Jews on domestic issues.

Bringing together more than 2,500 local and national activists, delegates and influential politicos, the Sunday-evening reception was hosted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the National Jewish Democratic Council, the United Jewish Communities and Boston Jewish groups.

Those in attendance heard from Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House minority leader, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the convention chairman.

“Never has there been a candidate for president that has been more closely aligned, who is more committed to Israel’s security, than John Kerry,” Richardson said.

Speakers at the reception also emphasized the Democrat’s commit! ment to abortion rights, health care and care for the elderly. Clinton and Lieberman said Kerry would be more successful than President Bush in containing terrorism.

Biden speaks out, too

In his address to the ADL on Monday, Biden said it was the obligation of the next president, whether Kerry or Bush, to reunite the country and the world around a common cause.

“I’m saddened by the way we are viewed, not just by our enemies, but by our friends,” said Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “It’s time to restore America’s soul.”

Biden said Bush has squandered opportunities as president, questioning his actions in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington. He said the United States could have garnered strong international support to fight terrorism.

“They believe allies and treaties are literally more of a burden than a benefit,” he said.

A paranoid bunch?

Ira F! orman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, s ays he’s dealing with a paranoid constituency.

Stealing a line from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Forman said the Jewish community is looking to hear a great deal about Kerry’s Middle East policy.

“We want people to salute the flag a lot,” he said of Jewish voters at an American Jewish Committee forum Monday. “It’s a high bar.”

He said he has been impressed by the Kerry campaign’s frequent statements on Middle East issues, and said he believes they will hear more this fall, when more Jewish voters start paying attention.

Another Jewish first

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) is not the only Jew to enter the record books for his role on a national campaign.

“We checked the records; I am the first Jewish baby brother of someone on a national ticket,” Cameron Kerry proudly declared Monday, before Lieberman was honored at a lunch by the National Jewish Democratic Council.

A link to Madonna

Speaking at the Jewish reception ! Sunday evening, Lieberman said that when he was running for vice president, his wife, Hadassah, was so popular she became a celebrity known only by a single name — “like Madonna,” he said.

He noted with pleasure that an interest in Judaism has led the material girl to adopt the name Esther, the biblical heroine also known as Hadassah.

Terror front and center

Relatives of victims of terrorism shared their stories Sunday in front of more than 1,000 supporters.

In an effort to keep the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the minds of Democratic delegates, participants hoisted signs bearing the faces of victims of terrorism — both in Israel and in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires.

“Only coming together to speak as one voice of the free world will we be able to eradicate terror,” said Ron Kehrmann, father of Tal, who was killed in a 2003 suicide bomb attack in Haifa at the age of 17.

The event, sponsored by the Israel Project, coinci! ded with pro-Israel advertisements broadcast on local television and c able news networks.

Proponents want viewers to draw parallels between terrorist attacks in Israel and in the United States.

Dianne Colter Miller, whose sister, Ruth Colter, died in the Hebrew University suicide bombing attack in 2002, said she believed victims of terrorism have a common bond.

“When I see these photographs, I see my own sister echoed in a thousand faces,” she said.

Speakers placed stones on the podium, a Jewish tradition for remembering the dead.

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