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Jewish Demos revel in confidence

Sunday, August 24. The Day Before.

Anticipation. Excitement. Dread.

Police officers, sheriff deputies and security guards in crisp uniforms.


Visitors and Denverites trying out Light Rail for the first time. Visitors asking Denverites for directions. Visitors impressed.

Protesters. Placards. Bullhorns. Traffic jams.

The day before the Democratic National Convention officially began, Denver was abuzz with activities, arrivals and reunions.

For one looking for a “Jewish angle,” Sunday delivered — from morning ‘til night.

Blind rabbi, candidate for Congress

Dennis Shulman is a psychologist. He’s also a rabbi. He’s running for the US House of Representatives.

And he’s blind.

Shulman is the Democratic candidate for New Jersey’s heavily Republican 5th District. There are almost twice as many registered Republicans as Democrats, but that doesn’t stop Dennis Shulman, who is riding the wave of Barack Obama’s call for change, as he tries to unseat incumbent Scott Garrett.

On Sunday morning, Rabbi Steven and Joyce Foster hosted a small fundraiser for their fellow Democrat and rabbinical colleague who was in town for the DNC.

Shulman told the gathering of “the moral change needed to bring our country out of the hands of special interests.” He spoke of his “outrage” over the direction in which the Bush Administration has taken the country.

And he recounted his personal journey that led him to seek elected office.

Shulman has spent his entire life confronting and surmounting challenges. He grew up in a working class family and lost his sight at a young age. Some predicted he would never graduate high school.

He showed them.

Shulman graduated from Brandeis University in 1972, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. That same year, Shulman’s volunteer activities on behalf of the developmentally disabled earned him a special commendation from the White House.

Shulman went on to Harvard University for a PhD in clinical psychology. Two years into the program, he won a training fellowship from the National Institute for Mental Health, and married his college sweetheart, medical student Pam Tropper. He also began what has become an extended series of teaching positions, postdoctoral studies professional publications and speaking engagements.

After graduating from Harvard, Shulman began his career as a clinical psychologist and educator.

Concurrent with his growth as a mental health professional was Shulman’s growth as a Jew.

While teaching for seven years in a kollel program at Hebrew Union College in New York, Shulman began studying for the rabbinate — at a time when his two children were themselves in college. In fact, because all of the major rabbinic programs require a year in Israel — something Shulman couldn’t do because of his family obligations — he studied and was ordained privately in 2003 at the age of 53.

“I became a rabbi and remained a psychologist,” Shulman told the Intermountain Jewish News. In fact, he combined his two loves for his rabbinic dissertation and subsequent book, The Genius of Genesis: A Psychoanalyst and Rabbi Examines the First Book of the Bible.

He names the late Abraham Joshua Heschel (d. 1972) as his “spiritual advisor and political advisor.”

He leads a Shabbat minyan, Chavurah Beth Shalom, in Alpine, NJ, and maintains his private practice, which he has curtailed while running for Congress. Shulman believes his storied background makes him a perfect candidate for Congress.

“I am running for Congress not as a career politician, but as a concerned citizen. I believe that Congress could use more candor and more people with diverse life experiences. We keep sending career politicians to Washington and what do we have to show for it? A big mess. It may very well take a blind man to show Congress the light.”

Shulman is seeking to make history: “I will be the first ordained rabbi in Congress, and the first blind person in Congress in 70 years.”

If elected, what will Rabbi Dr. Congressman Dennis Shulman be sworn-in on?

“A Hebrew Braille Bible, course!”

Jews for Obama

If anyone were ever concerned that Barack Obama’s Muslim sounding name would be detriment to Jewish support, they needed only to be in the Mesa Ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Tech Center, along with 500 Jewish Obamaniacs.

Billed as a Jewish kickoff event for Obama, the program was simple. Community leader and real estate magnate Micky Miller introduced Obama’s Middle East advisor and Jewish community liaison, Eric Lynn, who spoke about the candidate’s recent trip to Israel.

Lynn, in turn, introduced the morning’s main speaker, Cong. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida.

Lynn told the crowd that during Obama’s trip to Israel last month, Israeli President Shimon Peres gave the presumptive presidential candidate his blessing: “We are waiting for a great president of the US. You will be a great president of the US,” Peres reportedly told Obama.

Obama’s position on Israel is clear, according to Lynn. He’s been quoted as saying, “Israel’s security is sacrosanct.”

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-FloridaWasserman Schultz, the first Jewish woman to represent Florida in Congress, is a rising star in Jewish Democratic circles. She is active in the National Jewish Democratic Council.

She and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) were the driving forces behind the resolution that declares every May “Jewish American Heritage Month.”

Wasserman Schultz originally backed Hillary Clinton for president, but shifted her support to Obama when he became the presumptive nominee.

She told the crowd that Obama’s support for Israel is “deep and sincere.

“He will always, always stand by Israel.”

She added that Obama’s choice of Sen. Joe Biden for his running mate sends a loud clear message that the bond between the US and Israel is “unbeatable — yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

Wasserman Schultz said Obama is attuned to the threat posed by Iran toward Israel, and that her candidate plans to deal with Iran with “strong diplomacy, followed by sanctions to choke off Iran, while leaving the possibility of military action on the table.”

In response to an audience question about the status of Jerusalem, the congresswoman said Obama “supports Jerusalem 100% as the eternal capital of Jerusalem.” While Obama believes in the two-state solution, “Jerusalem must never return to the barbed-wire division of 1948-1967,” she said.

Faith and Politics

Critics accuse the Democratic Party of being “secular progressive.”

Among Leah Daughtry’s goals as CEO of the DNC and an ordained pastor, was to take the “secular” out of “secular progressive.”

She did that by staging the first-ever interfaith gathering to kickoff the convention in Denver.

Faith in Action attracted 3,000 spiritual types who saw a side of the Democratic Party that’s a far cry from the image of radical atheism that critics on the right portray, despite a peaceful protest outside the Colorado Convention Center calling for the complete separation of church and state, and politics and religion.

Daughtry called Faith in Action the first official event of the DNC, and no sooner than right after the first gospel-style song was performed, did a protester yell out from the floor of the Wells Fargo Theater, “Obama is a baby killer!”

He was escorted out by security. Another gospel song was followed by another anti-abortion outburst. And a third song, followed by a third and final protest and subsequent removal.

The program then proceeded uninterrupted.

Prayer readers and speakers included representatives of most major religions, including Judaism, Christianity, Native American, Islam and Buddhism.

Jewish participants included Rabbi Steven Foster of Congregation Emanuel, Rabbi Amy Schwartzman of Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Va., Rabbi Marc Schneier of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding in New York, and Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, who delivered one of four keynote addresses.

Rabbi Weinreb’s topic was “Our Sacred Responsibility to our Neighbors.”

Other keynote speakers and their subjects were “Our Sacred Responsibility to our Children,” by Bishop Charles E. Blake, The Church of G-d in Christ; “Our Sacred Responsibility to our Nation,” by Sister Helen Prejean, author, Dead Man Walking; and “Our Sacred Responsibility to Our World,” by Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president, Islamic Society of North America.

Rabbi Weinreb told the crowd about the sage Hillel’s famous response when he was asked to recite the entire teaching of the Torah while standing on one foot: “That which is hateful to you, do not do unto your neighbor. The rest is commentary.”

“The Jewish people,” Rabbi Weinreb said, “have been studying that commentary for 2,000 years, and in doing so, we have learned who our neighbor is.”

He said the Jews have learned that their neighbor can be right next door or as far away as where a tsunami hits, or in Darfur, or in the republic of Georgia.

People may be different “culturally, ideologically, in color, race, language or dress, but each and every one is our neighbor.”

Rabbi Weinreb explained that the Jewish view of “loving” one’s neighbor is not the typical definition of “love” — meaning “affection” — but indicates the responsibility to feed and clothe the poor.

This extends to providing education and employment for all segments of society, he said.

On a lighter note, Rabbi Weinreb’s thoughtful statements were answered with spirited “ay-mens” from the audience. He asked the audience to say it in Hebrew, “O-main.”

“Thank you, I feel more at home now,” he chuckled.

Good as Golda

Some 300 Denverites and out-of-town convention guests got a lesson in leadership, politics and idealism from none other than Golda Meir.

Well, not exactly Golda herself, but a pretty convincing likeness of the late Israeli prime minister who appeared on the big screen through the talent of actress Valerie Harper in the film “Golda’s Balcony.”

The film was screened in the St. Cajetan’s Center on the Auraria Campus, right next door to the Golda Meir House, the modest duplex where Golda’s flames of Zionist passion were first fanned.

The event was put on by the Colorado chapter of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

In the film, Harper portrays Golda, as well as Golda role-playing all the people in her life.

Golda tells the story of her life, never veering far from the greatest challenge and the greatest heartbreak of her life — the events surrounding the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Golda tells us just how close she came to dropping nuclear bombs on Syria and how writhingly painful it was for her to lose young Israeli soldiers, and even worse yet, to have those young Israeli soldiers kill their enemies. Frank Lautenberg, Democrat New Jersey

Golda was forced to become a warrior trapped in a pacifist’s body.

Harper and her husband Tony Caciotti, who produced “Golda’s Balcony,” sat in the front row of the audience and answered questions after the film.

The party moved to the lawn in front the Golda Meir House for a reception for the Jewish Democratic members of the Senate and House of Representatives in town for the DNC.

Jewish Democratic Congresspeople at the reception included Sen. Carl Levin (Mich.), Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), Sen. Frank Lautenberg, (NJ), the dean of Jewish Congress members Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), Rep. Shelley Berkely (Nev.), Rep. Paul Hodes (NH), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (NY).

NJDC Executive Director Ira Forman addressed the crowd, followed by Valerie Harper.

Harper described how it felt to be in Denver and walk through the very halls of the house where her alter ego Golda Meir first learned about the Zionist dream.

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IJN Associate Editor | larry@ijn.com

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