June 7, 2001
Jewish, Republican and Proud
Aiming for a more potent voice in local politics, Los Angeles Jewish Republicans met with state party leaders last week to forge closer ties.
As President Bush made his rounds through the state, GOP leaders were seeking to make the "Left Coast" a more comfortable place for Republicans -- 1 million of whom stayed away from the polls in November, according to Shawn Steel, California Republican party chairman.
For the Republican Jewish Coalition's 7-month-old Los Angeles chapter (RJC-LA), the meeting, which took place May 29 at the Skirball Cultural Center, signaled a major step toward making inroads into heavily Democratic Los Angeles. Since its inception in December, the L.A. branch, now numbering 300, has become the "fastest-growing [RJC] chapter in the country," said Matt Brooks, the coalition's national executive director. The group hopes to have 1,000 members by the end of the year, he said.
Bruce Bialosky, RJC-LA president, outlined some of the measures underway to bring the two Republican groups closer, including finding a rabbi to advise the party on issues important to the community. Also, state political conventions will feature Shabbat services, he said. Jews should be Republicans, Bialosky said, because "individual choices and responsibilities are the core values of the Republican party, and those are Jewish values."
Brooks said Jewish involvement in the Republican party could help influence international affairs. "I found a lot of skepticism about Bush when he said he'd be a friend to Israel," he told the group. The RJC took the Texas governor on his first trip to Israel in 1988. While there, Bush toured the country with fellow conservative Ariel Sharon, developing a close rapport that continues today. "Bush understands the vital security issues of the State of Israel," Brooks said.
But if Republicans want to increase their influence in the Jewish community, they have their work cut out for them. Though polls showed that among Jewish voters, almost half supported moderate Republican Richard Riordan for mayor in 1993, other GOP candidates have not fared nearly so well. In 2000, 81 percent of Jewish voters helped reelect California's Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, according to Voter News Service. Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer enjoyed the same percentage in 1998, while Democratic Gov. Gray Davis garnered 83 percent of Jewish votes.
Shannon Reeves, state GOP party board secretary, said numbers like these only make the RJC's role more vital. Reeves, who is president of Oakland's NAACP, urged the Jewish audience not to be deterred: "We may not have 80 percent of the Jewish vote; there may not be many Republicans in your neighborhoods, but we've got to fight on anyhow. Make this a party that reflects what you believe in."
For some, the fact of a gathering of Jewish Republicans was already a victory. As he outlined upcoming events, Reed Wilson, RJC-LA activity chairman, jokingly confessed that previously, "I've always said this in my closet, at 3 in the morning: 'I'm Jewish, and I'm a Republican.'"