The loveliest moment of Sunday night’s panel discussion on American (Jewish) values came toward the end, when Rep. Eric Cantor—who had spent most of the evening talking politics, criticizing Obama’s jobs plan, etc.—told Birthright founder and outspoken philanthropist Michael Steinhardt that his two eldest children participated in Birthright trips and “both came home seeking more.” If Birthright’s goal (as Steinhardt had asserted) is to create deeply knowledgeable Jewish youths, Cantor added, “you’ve hit a homerun with my two.”
Birthright shout-outs, panelist love, and baseball metaphors? It was a movingly unguarded moment during the largely formulaic event, which was moderated by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and brought the conservative House Majority Leader to that bastion of liberal, urban Jewry, the Upper West Side. Though there was some early politically-charged raucousness from the crowded sanctuary of the West Side Institutional Synagogue, which Boteach quickly silenced, the event was mostly free from controversy, save for a “Fox News” comment yelled by an audience member when Cantor later said the media was “self-professedly to the left.”
The real surprise for some came when Cantor first spoke, revealing an unmistakably Southern accent that ricocheted through the speakers and reminded the crowd that, unlike the Brooklyn-born Steinhardt, this panelist was hardly a local. But there Cantor was, far from D.C. on a Sunday night, explaining his political positions to a crowd that while veering conservative (judging by the excited applause when he referenced the recent NY-9 Republican upset) is far from his usual supporter base. It begs the question (again) of just what Cantor’s political plans might be.