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DNC Protest Puts Jewish Values First

Jewish dissenters say the party no longer represents their values.

by Ruth Andrew Ellenson

August 17, 2000 | 8:00 pm

A group of about 20 young Jewish protesters joined other demonstrators in a march from Pershing Square to Staples Center on Monday, the first day of the Democratic National Convention. They were led by Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, right, a professor at University of Judaism.

A group of about 20 young Jewish protesters joined other demonstrators in a march from Pershing Square to Staples Center on Monday, the first day of the Democratic National Convention. They were led by Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, right, a professor at University of Judaism.

On the first day of the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, a small group of Jewish men and women used the occasion to raise their voices in protest against what they saw as the growing economic divide in this country and the increasingly centrist policies of the Democratic Party.

The group consisted of about 20 young adults, who began their march to Staples Center with a meeting in Pershing Square. Joining thousands of other protesters in the march down Broadway, they waved homemade signs with slogans such as "Minimum Wage Does Not Meet Minimum Need" and quotations from biblical passages condemning corruption and greed, condemnations the protesters felt were at the core of Jewish concerns and values.

The need for a Jewish voice committed to social justice and supporting the needs of the underprivileged at the DNC was seen as essential to all in the group. As one protester, David Rubenstein, put it, "The problems and need for a voice are pretty self-evident. To have a Jewish voice [at the protests] felt really important."

The presence of Jewish protesters was especially notable at this year's convention with the impending nomination of Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, as Al Gore's running mate. Though happy about this boundary being broken, the protesters still felt the Democratic Party as a whole no longer represented their values.

"I feel abandoned by the Democratic party," said protester Adam Rubin, who teaches Jewish history at Hebrew Union College. "What used to be thought of as standard liberal, Democratic positions are now thought of as far left. "

Aryeh Cohen, one of the organizers of the demonstration and a professor at the University of Judaism, said, "A landsman is the nominee for vice president, so why are we still kvetching? We are here because we think our Torah has a place in the streets. This is a Jewish issue because the Talmud defines the first obligation of good citizenship as setting up sufficient resources for the poor."

The original idea for the protest stemmed from a workshop led by United for a Fair Economy, a nonpartisan organization, and co-sponsored by the Workmen's Circle and the Shtibl Minyan, a congregation that meets at the Workmen's Circle, to discuss the growing divide between wealth and poverty in this country.

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