When Studio City entertainment lawyer Susan Rabin told her daughter that she planned to attend a convention for Jewish Republicans, her liberal offspring told her to have fun with "the other Jewish Republican."
Little did she know....
Some 150 energetic, enthusiastic and mostly middle-age men and women gathered recently at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Newport Beach for the first Republican Jewish Coalition All-California Conference. Hailing from the state's nine RJC chapters, they networked, knoshed and heard from Orange County Congressman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), radio talk-show host Michael Medved and Dr. Yuval Steinitz, Israeli Knesset chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
The party of Lincoln has indeed made some inroads with its strong support for Israel and an assertive foreign policy. For many at this November gathering, the terror attacks of Sept. 11 and the radical left's strident rhetoric against Israel led them to do the formerly unthinkable.
Entertainment lawyer Rabin said she had been a lifelong liberal until Sept. 11. A former Mill Valley resident who once held a coffee fundraiser for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Rabin said she felt shock and then revulsion as San Francisco Democrats suggested that America's unstinting support for Israel was somehow responsible for the World Trade Center attacks. In other words, the United States and Israel -- but not Al Qaeda -- were to blame for the murders of 3,000 Americans.
Rabin became a Republican not long afterward. And in this roomful of fellow travelers, she could feel the love: "I feel not so strange and not so isolated."
Same with Mark Gibson, who changed teams after witnessing Israel's vulnerability up close and personal. A 48-year-old teacher, Gibson was at Hebrew University in 2002, when one of his colleagues was among those killed by a bomber. The bloody attack only reinforced Gibson's support for the Jewish state.
Back home, though, his liberal friends blamed suicide bombing, which had nearly taken his life, on Israeli repression. That, coupled with President Bush's stalwart support for Israel, led him to register Republican.
At brunch, the official fare was yogurt, fresh fruit and cereal, but speaker Wayne Allyn Root laid on the red meat. The author of the recently released "Millionaire Republican: Why Rich Republicans Get Rich -- and How You Can Too!" (Tarcher) took both teachers' unions and the poor of New Orleans to task. Leave it to Democrats, he said, to favor handouts and government policies that stifle individual initiative and the creation of wealth. Republicans, on the other hand, he continued, take risks, create jobs, get rich and fuel America's booming entrepreneurial economy. Simply put: Republicans are winners; Democrats are losers.
"They are play-it-safers. They work for somebody else. They want a safe paycheck. They want a safe job," he said, later adding that "if you have no hope at all and the flame has been extinguished, then you're a Democrat."
Root had hit a comfort zone with these political party animals, who greeted his remarks with loud applause.
Although they dressed down -- mostly khakis and cotton shirts for the men; summer dresses and casual ensembles for the women -- the luxury wristwatches (real ones, not knockoffs) suggested high-wage earners. No white wine in paper cups for this crowd.
The engaged, well-educated RJCers politely peppered speakers with incisive questions, which sometimes betrayed their distrust of the "liberal media" (especially the Los Angeles Times), Hollywood and big government.
One participant asked former "West Wing" writer Mark Goffman whether he thought ABC began airing "Commander in Chief," a new drama starring actress Geena Davis as the president, to somehow benefit Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-N.Y.) presumed future presidential run. Goffman, the sole Republican writer on the "West Wing" staff during his tenure, smiled. He said Hollywood studios care much more about ratings than political statements.
Five years ago, the California RJC didn't exist. Today, it has more than 5,000 members. The group's success, fundraising ability and growing influence inspired the national RJC to open new branches in such battleground states as Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, group leaders said.
"This is definitely a growing movement," said Dr. Joel Geiderman, RJC California chairman, breaking into a wide grin. "We're coming out of the phone booth and out of the closet, and this meeting is definitely testimony to that."
A Los Angeles Times exit poll found that 20 percent of California Jews voted for Bush's reelection in 2004, up from 15 percent four years earlier. Nationally, the Times said the president won at least 26 percent of the Jewish vote, up from 19 percent.
But that still leaves an awful lot of Jewish Democrats, and radio talk-show host Medved explained why. He believes many Jews are obsessed with seeing themselves as victims, despite their academic, economic and social successes. This mindset makes them perfect foot soldiers for the Democrats, "a party very much in tune with the sanctity of victimhood."
The Jewish cult of victimization, he added, alienates young Jews by obscuring the religion's beauty and defining Judaism as little more than a burden to bear. The tens of millions of dollars that go to the Anti-Defamation League to combat the exaggerated problem of American anti-Semitism could instead fund Jewish day schools or other worthy Jewish causes, Medved said.
Another speaker, Knesset member Steinitz, warned of Iran's nuclear ambitions and an Egyptian "massive" military buildup that he said threatens Israel.
Perhaps no one has played a bigger role in fueling local Jewish Republican growth than Larry Greenfield, the recently promoted RJC California director. The indefatigable Berkeley-and-Georgetown law graduate has given more than 200 speeches at venues ranging from temples to country clubs to high schools to spread his almost messianic belief in the positive leadership of the Republican Party.
Greenfield said the Republican Party's stalwart support for Israel, for promoting democracy abroad and for free markets have made it more attractive to Jews. Given the left's increased anti-Semitism, he added, masked as anti-Zionism, Republicans should continue to pick up more and more Jewish voters.
"We want to be the party of reform, ideas and liberty," he said.
The era of the monolithic Jewish voter has ended as historical ties to the New Deal agenda have faded over time, and Jews have grown more affluent and less unionized, said Joel Kotkin, senior fellow with the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C.
"Many of the most articulate voices in the Republican Party are, in fact, Jewish, including Dennis Prager, Norman Podhoretz, Michael Medved and Max Boot," said Kotkin, himself a moderate Democrat. "Once upon a time, a conservative Jewish intellectual was like finding a rabid capitalist in Stalinist Russia. Now, it's become relatively common."
Still, there are those thorny issues that make the Republican party a tough sell for many Jews: opposition to abortion and stem-cell research, efforts to weaken church/state separation and the conflict in Iraq.
In the view of Democratic consultant Bill Carrick, the Republican Party has moved "out into right field," losing appeal not only among many Jews, but also other voters, as well. He cited the example of Bush's sagging poll numbers and the defeat of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's November ballot initiatives.
Not to worry, Greenfield said.
"Tired leftist economic and foreign-policy programs have failed," he said. "It's a new day and a new Republican Party, which is warmly welcoming thoughtful Jewish support."