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On the Campaign Trail: Live from San Diego; Jewish Tidbits at the Convention

August 15, 1996
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With the nearest kosher restaurant miles away from the site of the Republican National Convention here, planners of the kickoff reception for Jewish activists and delegates reluctantly settled on an outside caterer to bring food into a hotel ballroom for the 500-plus people expected to attend.

Then a local businessman came to the rescue.

David Cohn, owner of seven downtown restaurants, opened his posh Dakota Grill and Spirits on Sunday to a rabbi with a propane tank in tow to torch the kitchen so that the chefs could prepare kosher food served at the Gas Lamp district restaurant.

Guests raved about the breaded chicken sticks and salsa tortilla rounds. They used plastic plates and utensils.

The most prominent honoree of all those assembled, vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp, came and went without sampling the food. After the two-hour reception, Cohn reopened the restaurant to outside guests, rendering the mashgiach’s work obsolete.

A non-Jesus benediction

Clergy at the first three convention sessions offered benedictions and invocations that prompted little reaction from delegates. That was until Rabbi Daniel Lapin, director of Toward Tradition, took to the podium Tuesday night to close the session.

With an audience charged by Rep. Susan Molinari’s keynote address, Lapin, a favorite of many Christian Coalition activists, drew cheers and applause from many of the delegates as he thundered, “What we think of God is less important that what God thinks of us.”

Lapin was the first to offer a prayer without evoking the name of “Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Face to face came easy

It took months of calls and diplomatic negotiations rivaling the Middle East peace process to bring the Anti-Defamation League and the Christian Coalition to speaking terms after the Jewish defense organization’s scathing 1994 report, “The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America.”

No such elaborate plans were used to set up a brief encounter between the ADL’s Washington director, Jess Hordes, and the coalition’s founder Pat Robertson and executive director Ralph Reed at Sunday’s kosher reception. The three found themselves face to face when the coalition’s top brass dropped by the gala, which was sponsored by the National Jewish Coalition and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

“We had a nice talk,” said Hordes.

All the way from Williamsburg

The obstructed view of the podium, muffled audio system and darkened section of the convention hall did not deter Joseph Goldberger and Joseph Mesczer from cheering on their party’s nominee in the convention hall. With peyos and black yarmulkes, the two Josephs were among a tiny Orthodox presence here. Although not official delegates, the supporters of New York Gov. George Pataki and Sen. Alfonse D’Amato wanted to extend their support to the Dole camp.

Arab Americans claim victory

Many Jewish delegates measured their influence in the party by the dignitaries who gathered at their receptions and the staunch pro-Israel language in the GOP’s platform. Arab Americans, who mixed among vintage and thoroughly modern automobiles Tuesday night at a reception in Chrysler’s pavilion erected for the convention, are just beginning their quest for recognition in the Republican Party.

Attending only their second Republican convention, Arab activists hailed Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s address at the convention as a milestone for their community.

It turns out that until Tuesday, Gingrich has only spoken of churches and synagogues when discussing religion. In an address from the podium at convention hall, Gingrich added “mosques,” drawing high praise from many Muslim Americans.

“He said the magic word for us,” beamed Abdul Rahman Alamoudi, executive director of the American Muslim Council.

Jewish Democrats put in two cents

Not to be outdone by their Republican colleagues, the National Jewish Democratic Council wanted its voice heard to protest the message coming from the convention hall.

Whether anyone was listening was another matter.

The San Diego Jewish Democrats gathered at 7 a.m. for a rally at the convention’s “free speech zone.” With most delegates still sleeping from Tuesday night’s festivities and the next convention session 10 hours away, the 30 or so Democratic diehards largely preached to the choir — along with two Jewish Journalists.

Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.), who is Jewish, joined the rally and remarked about how the bagels and cream cheese assembled for the protesters reminded him of his mother’s victuals from 1950s and 1960s civil rights rallies.

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