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Jewish Journal

What a Week

At the Democratic Convention, it's suddenly cool to be a Jew.

by Tom Tugend

August 17, 2000 | 8:00 pm

Members of the Texas delegation cheer President Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention Monday night.

Members of the Texas delegation cheer President Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention Monday night.

The official agenda of the Democratic Party may be to nominate Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman, but the real business all week seemed to be to party from morn til morn, raise zillions of dollars and tell the Jews what wonderful folks they are.

President Clinton, addressing nearly 4,000 Jews at an outdoor rally on Sunday afternoon (see p. 7), quoted comedian Red Buttons that "in Los Angeles, the Democrats are changing their theme song from 'Happy Days Are Here Again' to 'Hava Nagila.'"Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) keynoted an elegant fundraiser for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Saturday night and wound up a somewhat disjointed speech by declaring, "I wish I were a Jew."

Between Saturday and Thursday, there are an estimated 100 convention parties a day, 80 percent by private invitation only.

Somewhere near the top in cachet and money-raising prowess was the $100,000-a-couple brunch to benefit the Clinton Library, held at Barbra Streisand's Malibu digs Sunday morning.Even more exclusive were the small parties thrown by billionaires David Geffen and Gary Winnick, presumably for friends of similar financial standing.

Or you could have been one of the fortunate, flush few to score serious face time by joining the president on the links at the Riviera Country Club, as did mayoral candidate Steve Soboroff.

At the Beverly Hills home of Franklin Mint owners Stewart and Lynda Resnick, about 300 well-heeled Democrats like Hollywood producer Mike Medavoy feted Sen. Dianne Feinstein but saved their greatest applause for former President Jimmy Carter, whose remarks lauded core Democratic values.

For the merely affluent, plastic surgeon Dr. Steven Teitelbaum, a new player, threw a $1,000-a-head party for and with Hillary Rodham Clinton, to aid her Senate race in New York.

As early as Sunday evening, the pace was beginning to tell on Howard Welinsky, a tireless Democratic activist but not a man of exceptional wealth, who had received 35 party invitations and counting. Activist Stanley Sheinbaum reported receiving several times that amount.

But SunAmerica chairman Eli Broad may hold the invitation record. The 67-year-old Bronx-born only child of a house painter and a seamstress is credited with bringing the whole shebang to L.A. His 340 convention party invitations included a private Spago dinner with the Clintons, Winnick and Staples Center builder Ed Roski.

Some parties combined conviviality with a more serious purpose, such as the one at the home of Mel Levine, a Gore foreign policy adviser, who gave his guests a chance to engage in dialogue with Leon Fuerth, the vice president's longtime national security aide.

At the party, actor Richard Dreyfuss praised the Lieberman candidacy as "fabulous," even agreeing with some of the senator's criticism of Hollywood, which has raised hackles elsewhere in the entertainment industry.

Yuval Rabin popped up at the Mel Levine party, quietly approaching some well-heeled Democrats to raise funds for the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies, to be built in the Ramat Aviv section of Tel Aviv as a kind of presidential library and educational center honoring his father.

The American Jewish Committee's (AJC) party Sunday at the home of Cathy Mendelson Siegel in Beverly Hills was a private affair, more or less for friends and family of the AJC. National head Bruce Ramer was there, as was Richard Volpert, the West Coast president, and Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, the West Coast executive director. District Attorney Gil Garcetti dropped by, too.

At Paramount Studios, the Latino Committee 2000 threw a brunch complete with band, congressmen, Latino families and a host of speakers. Among the guests was Paramount Studio chief Sherry Lansing. "We owe her so much," a Latino filmmaker said. "She gave the green light to 'Resurrection Blvd.' "

About 300 guests at the AIPAC party at the splendid Beverly Hills home of Herb and Beverly Gelfand. presided over by the Gelfands and Ruth Singer, were ecstatic about Gore's selection of Lieberman as a validation and empowerment of American Jewry. Around a sumptuous poolside ("I always wanted to live in a house like this," Rockefeller said) gathered Andrew Cuomo, Sen. Chuck Robb (D-Va.), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and former Rep. Jane Harman.At Leo Baeck Temple, a forum sponsored by The Nation magazine brought together a panel of writers, activists and legislators. The synagogue was jammed. "Everyone in this room," said the lead speaker, California Sen. Tom Hayden, "is not far removed from relatives who were immi-grants struggling to make a place for themselves in America. What we have to do is connect back to those early memories and recognize that it's important to struggle, to protest for just causes, and, yes, even important to get arrested." As several people in the audience jumped up, thrust their fists forward and yelled, "Right on!" it was easy to imagine another convention, in another time and place.

The biggest Jewish communal party happened to be free. That was the one Aug. 13 at Sony Pictures Studios (formerly MGM), addressed by both Clintons. The hosts were the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), AIPAC, United Jewish Communities and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.The NJDC took the opportunity to debut its new campaign button, with photos of the Democratic and Republican presidential contenders. The photo of the Democrat is identified as "Gore" and the photo of a puffy-cheeked George W. Bush as gornisht (nothing). Democrats for Israel weighed in with buttons in which Gore's name was spelled out in Hebrew characters.

Standing before a massive crowd that filled the studio's faux Main Street set, Jewish Federation chairman Todd Morgan dramatically held up remarks he had penned days before the Lieberman nomination, then tore them in half.

"How was I to know... the Jewish world and the American political scene would change so dramatically?" he said. "For the first time, we can look at the faces of our children and our grandchildren and say, 'You, too, could be president.' This is an historic moment, and we should embrace it. A barrier has been broken."Most effusive was Andrew Cuomo, U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development, speaking at the Sony studio rally. "We share your joy," he told the crowd, "because if the Jews can make it, then Italian Americans can make it, Hispanic Americans can make it and African Americans can make it."

"For all of us who care about this election and who care about this extraordinary ticket of Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, we need to speak with one clear voice," said Hillary Rodham Clinton.

VIPs ranging from former AIPAC chair Larry Weinberg to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), California Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman either spoke or waited in the hot sun as Clinton's arrival was pushed back about an hour. Ellis Island Klezmer Band and a mariachi band provided a very Angeleno Klez-Mex entertainment.

When Clinton did finally appear - to a huge ovation - he first thanked the Jewish community for its support over the eight years of his administration. He said Americans would come to respect Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman's strict observance of the Jewish Sabbath. "More and more people will respect the fact that he gives up his entire Sabbath away from all work and politics on a day that coincidentally happens to be the best politicking day in the American political system. I think this will be a good thing for America," Clinton said.

The president also spoke about the Middle East peace process. "I won't sugar-coat it," he said. "I wanted an agreement and we didn't get one. But significant progress was made at Camp David," he said, urging continued Jewish support for the peace process.

Clinton focused the rest of his remarks on the need to overcome the fear of "the other." Speaking without notes or teleprompter, he touched on the shootings at the North Valley JCC, the Oklahoma City bombings, and the blossoming of human connections he said he witnessed among Palestinian and Israeli negotiators at Camp David ("They even told jokes to one another about their own leaders," said Clinton.)

Echoing the remarks of innumerable speakers before him, Clinton said the Lieberman nomination proves to the world that the Democratic Party and America itself have proven that they put accomplishment and character ahead of race, creed or color.

He said Lieberman was a "a little bit of an iconoclast," which was needed in politics.

"Most important of all," Clinton said, "he will be a living embodi-ment, along with [his wife,] Hadassah, who is the child of Holocaust survivors, of America's continuing commitment to build one national community, to embrace people across all the lines that divide us."

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