Friday, August 3, 2007

Jewish activists learn the art of the 'meet and greet'

Jerusalem Post:
Welcome to the Red Arrow Diner in downtown Manchester, New Hampshire. This local landmark has taken on national significance as presidential candidates small and large make their quadrennial pilgrimage, or at least pit stop, to this homiest of down-home eateries, trying to woo voters from the tiny state whose first-in-the-nation primary has played an outsized role in selecting the presidential nominees for the two major parties.

On Wednesday afternoon, it was Mitt Romney's turn....And if the candidate had come with a prepared pitch - in Romney's case, for Americans to provide a "surge of support for our troops" in Iraq to accompany the surge in forces there - the diners had come prepared with pointed questions.

One wanted to hear about cuts in military spending, another wanted to know about benefits for retirees, and four wanted to get Romney to back the agenda of the American Jewish World Service.

An organization that applies the Jewish teaching of tikkun olam, or healing the world, to help the developing world, AJWS dispatched three young people to spend the summer in New Hampshire training residents to push candidates on three issues: Darfur, HIV/AIDS prevention and universal education.

Their training includes information about the organization and its three major advocacy issues, but it also includes tips on how to get the candidates' attention in crowded diners and ask quick questions that, ideally, get concrete commitments to which they can then be held accountable.

At the Red Arrow, AJWS tag-teamed Romney to get him talking about HIV/AIDS, and whether he would commit to spending $50 billion dollars to combat the disease. ...

For Stacey Schwartz, a New Hampshire resident and a 33-year-old mother of a three-year-old who also underwent AWJS training, participating in the process is the most important thing.

"I absolutely feel I have an obligation to use my voice, to speak up, if I have access to all the candidates, to use my access to candidates," she said while trying to keep her daughter, Rachel, from making a mess of a piece of chocolate cake taking over a dinner dish. ...

Then she found out about AWJS through her rabbi and learned how to position herself better and how to get the candidate's attention. She wanted to use her Jewish upbringing, where she had learned the value of asking "Why" to ask about issues such as Darfur where the victims were powerless and voiceless.

"I not only found my voice. I found out how to use my voice, and that's what I want to teach my daughter," she said.

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