Election Day is exactly three months away, so it is perhaps not entirely a coincidence that the White House has, under the banner of community outreach, invited a delegation of Russian-American Jews for high-level briefings this afternoon on a range of issues, including national security and healthcare reform.
It’s the first time Jews who emigrated from the former Soviet Union have been accorded their own special audience, by any administration. Organized under the auspices of New York’s Jewish Community Relations Council, the invitees include more than a dozen community activists and business leaders — some of whom have been active in Republican politics in prior election cycles.
“We feel it’s extremely important to establish this relationship and begin a conversation with the White House,” said Daniel Igor Branovan, a Stanford-trained otolaryngologist who, along with being actively involved in established Jewish groups like the American Jewish Committee and the World Zionist Organization, started a group called Russian American Jews for Bush in 2004. “We would like to stress how important Israel is to our community and how important it remains to Russian-speaking voters.”
Russian Jews have tended to vote far more conservatively in presidential elections than American Jews as a whole, but there is evidence that members of the younger, American-born generation might be drifting left. And, more importantly — and as Branovan clearly understands — whatever people actually do in the privacy of the voting booth, the way to get ahead in Washington is to be perceived as a potentially swingable constituency with sway beyond deep blue New York and New Jersey. “There are large Russian-speaking communities in Florida, which is a significant battleground state, and also in Ohio,” he told me. “So there are other states where the Russian vote is not inconsequential.”
So it’s one afternoon outing for the participants, several of whom have visited 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue before with other groups, but perhaps a giant leap for a constituency whose most prominent national political player to date has been “birther queen” Orly Taitz. (They have, however, already had their own Lifetime reality show, last year’s Russian Dolls.) “I’m just glad the Russians are getting together to have involvement in the political process,” said Rabbi Yisroel Feldstein, who will represent Sinai Academy, a Jewish high school in Brooklyn that is overwhelmingly Russian. “It’s a small step from the immigrant mentality to the citizen mentality.”