With help from generous funders, Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life was recently able to send two Hillel students, one Democrat and one Republican, to their party's national conventions in Colorado and Minnesota.
The Democratic National Convention, held from August 25-28, 2008 in Denver, Colorado while the Republican National Convention was held September 1-4 in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.
Below, both students share their experiences:
University of Colorado at Boulder, 2009
Major(s): Political Science, Women and Gender Studies, and Peace and Conflict Studies
“Oh, look there’s Obama,” I overheard someone say in an excited whisper.
In an instant, the stadium at Invesco Field (Denver, Colorado) erupted in cheering, clapping, and stomping. The noise was deafening, as if July 4th had come early. Scanning the field, I was overwhelmed by hundreds of American flags, waving signs, people hugging and even crying. I remember feeling anxious, excited, and curious. It was - just as a banner in the distance read - “history in the making."
I was raised in a progressive household; my mother was adamant about making sure that her household embraced diversity, self, and social exploration. More so, I was raised in a household where civic engagement was commonplace. I remember watching my father write speeches for open-space projects; I remember watching my mother build non-violence and anti-bullying programs. Regardless of its time and place, a certain level of political activity and awareness always surrounded me.
As a college freshman at the University of Washington in Seattle, I served as vice president of events for the UW Young Democrats, a group working to engage youth political participation. Off-campus, I also dove into local politics which - at the time - involved canvassing for Congressional hopeful Darcy Burner and U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell.
After two years in Seattle, I transferred to the University of Colorado. By that point, politics had become my life. I continued to find ways to feed my political fascination and am currently interning with both the Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence and Hillel.
Hillel gave me the cultural foundation I was looking for in that it made Judaism personally political. Talking about conflict in the Middle East all of a sudden had new meaning, as for the first time in my life I was really connecting to Judaism.
When Hillel President Wayne Firestone offered me a ticket to the DNC, I was not only honored, but also ecstatic to explore such a monumental political event as a Jewish college student.
It seemed like fate that one of the first people I met at the convention was a man named Gabriel who worked for the Israel Project.
We ended up discussing Israel and the relationship between religion and politics. Part of what we uncovered together is the familial quality of politics. Much like Judaism, politics embraces the process of self-enlightenment and exploration. We both came to the conclusion that whether the journey is out of Egypt or into the voting booth, politics is as much a journey - a way of life - as is religion.
University of Minnesota, 2010
Major: Political Science
I am a Jewish Republican. Typically, that introduction (in any conversation with friends and classmates) is met with hostile reactions, and disbelief. But for the first week of September, it was my ticket to witnessing the greatest political assembly in Minnesota in my lifetime.
Minnesota is my home; it's where I was born and where I decided to go to school. I have been active in Minnesota politics (literally) since birth. My father was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives three months after I was born and served for 18 years. When this election cycle started, I knew that it was time to become assertive on my own. I ran to become a delegate and made it through the process all the way to the Minnesota State Convention.
Going to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul was one of the most unique experiences of my life, and representing Hillel made the event even more special. I was surprised by the Jewish presence on the floor. There were numerous Jews serving as delegates, some wearing traditional Jewish dress on the convention floor. The main group of Jewish Republicans that I interact with is my family, and friends of our family. I was able to witness first hand that there are more Jewish Republicans than my small circle, and best of all they’re active!
On Wednesday night, after Sarah Palin introduced herself to the world, I was walking around the Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minnesota) and I ran into a man from the New Jersey delegation wearing a kippah (Jewish skullcap). I stopped him and introduced myself and told him that I was a representative of Hillel there to observe the events, and asked him why he was there.
Alexander Abrams' view of the Republican National Convention.
He responded that he was a first time delegate, and this election cycle was the first that he had participated in the conventions. We proceeded to compare stories about how we went through the process of being delegates, and it was fascinating to hear a story that contrasted so much with my own.
As we proceeded to talk, we discussed the Republican Party in our home states and how it was reflected in our personal religious interactions. He seemed amazed when I informed him about the Jewish Republican community in Minnesota compared to his at home.
He spoke of how he and his friends’ families are active campaigners and fundraisers for Republican candidates.
I found the convention to be an enlightening experience. Nothing can compare to the excitement and enjoyment I felt while watching Jews on the convention floor fully participating in the festivities. I no longer feel alone, for now I know that in the national arena of politics, I am not the only Jewish Republican.