Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=100733
Story Retrieval Date: 5/23/2013 6:59:12 PM CST
WASHINGTON – Grandkids, about 100 of them, made quick trips to Florida last weekend to visit their Jewish grandparents. Not for the bingo, not for the shuffleboard, not even for the brisket. Instead, they wanted to convince their elders that Barack Obama should be the next president.
Inspired by a popular Web video starring comedian Sarah Silverman, these dedicated Obama supporters traveled to the Sunshine State for the so-called “Great Schlep.”
In the spot, Silverman urges young Jews to schlep -- Yiddish for an aggravating trip -- to Florida to help their grandparents get over any qualms they have about voting for Obama. She jokes about the similarities of blacks and older Jews. For example, “they both say ‘yo’ all the time, or Jews go right-to-left, ‘oy.’”
Bill Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said older voters in general, and Jewish voters in particular, “are having a hard time getting their arms around an Obama candidacy.” One reason why, according to Galston: Many did not grow up in a multicultural society.
“I do think humor can go a long way towards raising an issue without making it toxic,” he said. “From that standpoint, I think Sarah Silverman has done us all a service.”
Winning Jewish voters is a key to scoring the swing state’s 27 electoral votes. Jews comprise 5 percent of the electorate there, and turn out at higher rates than other groups. Obama is leading John McCain among Jewish voters, but is less popular with Jews than was John Kerry at the same time in 2004 or Al Gore in 2000, according to a recent survey by the nonpartisan American Jewish Committee.
“If Barack Obama doesn’t become the next president of the United States I’m going to blame the Jews,” Silverman jokes.
While Silverman may be the public face of the Great Schlep, the movement is the brainchild of Ari Wallach, 33, and Mik Moore, 34, co-executive directors of the New York-based political group JewsVote.org. They launched the campaign last weekend, urging young Jews to visit their grandparents wherever they live – but especially if they live in Florida -- to make sure they vote for Obama.
The schlep “has become something much larger than we envisioned,” said Wallach. Millions of people have viewed Silverman’s irreverent video, and a Facebook page devoted to the movement has more than 21,000 fans. And while far fewer numbers of people are actually traveling for the Great Schlep, thousands have made phone calls and sent e-mails encouraging relatives to support Obama, according to Wallach.
He did make the trek to Florida, however, to convince elderly voters to choose the Democratic candidate. In the south Florida city of Tamarac, Wallach said, “we thought that the primary concern was going to be Israel.” Instead, he said, voters were more interested in questions concerning Obama’s identity, and the false rumors that the candidate is Muslim. (Obama is Christian).
Wallach said he also came across many lifelong Democrats and Hillary Clinton supporters who were planning to skip the election this year. After a little while, though, “they recognized that sitting out was the equivalent of voting McCain at the end of the day,” Wallach said.
Cobin Dopkeen, a 20-year-old computer science student at Tufts University, traveled to Miami from his campus in Somerville, Mass. With his grandparents already supporting Obama, Dopkeen turned his sites on undecided voters in the area.
Dopkeen said he was able to sway one woman, who was concerned about Obama’s readiness, by getting her to realize that the Illinois senator “is intelligent and has performed well in interviews.”
The trip was an expensive one, “but at this point I think it’s worth it to try to really change something,” he said. “I just don’t want another person like Bush.”