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The Great Schlep


It’s Rosh Hoshannah today: schools in New York are closed for the Jewish holiday. Seems a perfect time, then, to point those readers who’ve yet to see it or hear about it to the Great Schlep, an initiative that encourages Americans of Jewish descent to travel to Florida, an important swing state (remember 2000 and all those hanging chads?), visit their GrandParents (it’s not just a myth: a whole generation of American Jews retired to Florida) and encourage them to vote for Barack Obama. And if that sounds a little serious and highbrow, well, you’ve yet to see the pitch video by comedienne Sarah Silverman.
Be warned: Sarah has a famously “potty” mouth.

I was first sent the link to the Great Schlep late last week, but my Inbox being overloaded with electioneering, didn’t get to follow it until speaking with a Jewish friend at the weekend. We were discussing the first Presidential Debate and Obama’s relative lack of fire – the absence of the “rock star” charisma that had so many people registering to vote (for him) in the Primaries. I can put it down to his need, in the debates, to focus not on the hard core, but on the undecided voters, especially those who have a phobia about voting for a black man. To win those “sceptics” over, he has to present himself as a calm, composed, collected Commander-in-Chief, and to that extent, I would say his performance against McCain was a success. In fact, I was left feeling that the next campaign ad should read: Who do you want sitting in the White House with their finger on the button? A calm black man? Or an angry white man? Because that’s the choice we’re faced with.

Anyway, I was expressing to my friend a certain sense of alienation – as in, New York always goes Democrat, which means we don’t get the campaign ads, the personal visits from the candidates; we don’t get to feel the energy. I wanted to be assured that there still exists that energy for Obama elsewhere, especially in the all-important Battleground States. And that’s when he pointed to the Great Schlep.

I don’t have time to go too much deeper into this right now, but the wariness that exists between Jews and blacks in America is a relatively recent construct. This is something I’ve become extremely aware of while researching and writing my book on the history of the New York City music scene. There are reasons that wariness came out, and there are forces that bear responsibility for it, and again, that’s too detailed a tangent to take off on right now. But what’s important to remember – for the elderly Jewish folks in Florida to remember, or be reminded of by their children and grandchildren – is that it’s not a historical contagion. That’s one reason I trust that the Great Schlep will prove a success. Happy Rosh Hoshannah. And get schlepping.

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