If Sen. Barack Obama doesn’t win next month’s presidential election, Comedy Central’s foul-mouthed Sarah Silverman thinks she knows whom to blame. And she’s not going to be happy.
“If Barack Obama doesn’t become the next president of the United States, I’m going to blame the Jews — I am,” she said recently on a video produced for The Great Schlep, a campaign for Jewish grandchildren to flock to Florida and convince their grandparents to vote for Obama. “Get your fat Jewish a—s on the plane to Florida,” she added.
But a new American Jewish Committee poll suggests the comedian might do just as well to work on her own peers. The new data, flying in the face of most political assumptions, suggests that older Jews are more inclined to vote for Obama, while the greatest resistance to his candidacy is coming from the under-40 set.
The new data from the AJCommittee Survey of American Jewish Opinion reveals that 61 percent of the 60-plus set favors Obama, while just 49 percent of those under 40 like the Illinois senator. (The survey designers concede that the numbers could be skewed because the group has no breakdown by both religious affiliation and age. In other words, the younger segment could be more heavily Orthodox than the older group.)
Silverman, the self-mocking “Jewish American Princess” who hosts her own eponymous program on cable’s Comedy Central, decided to do the video for The Great Schlep after the group’s co-founders — Ari Wallach and Mik Moore — sought her out, in a networking effort that Wallach describes as “high-level Jewish geography.”
Wallach, 33, and Moore, 34, teamed up four months ago to organize the Jewish Council for Education and Research, a federal political action committee created to dispel what they felt was misinformation about Obama circulating in the Jewish community. Its first project was JewsVote.org, an e-mail campaign launched at the Democratic National Convention to counter rumors about Obama through the same electronic networks in which they began.
Though The Great Schlep began about a month ago, the team’s very blue Sarah Silverman video emerged only last Thursday — a video that has already attracted nearly one million viewers and sold a few hundred T-shirts, according to Wallach. In the same time span, nearly 9,000 people joined the team’s Facebook group, and many will be flying to Florida and other swing states over Columbus Day weekend in an effort to make their grandparents more Obama-friendly.
For Wallach and Moore, Silverman was just the right face to help spread this contagious, crude call to duty.
“We wanted someone who could speak to our target audience — young Jews,” he said. “We needed someone who could do it from a humorous level who was already an Obama supporter. She’s funny, she does things a little off-color.”
In the video, Silverman compares young black men to elderly Jewish voters, explaining that both groups enjoy tracksuits and bling jewelry. She instructs viewers to explain to their grandparents how Obama will protect Social Security and be a better advocate for Israel, while coining a crude term for circumcision as it applies to African Americans.
Is it all too off-color?
“My sense is that grandparents are not offended by the idea of their grandchildren coming to visit them,” Wallach responded, adding, however, that “we also created a bleeped version of the video.”
“Sarah Silverman is a very-high profile Jewish celebrity who incorporates her Judaism into her public persona and could resonate with people that way,” said Jenna Reback, a Stanford University undergraduate who is mobilizing the Stanford Jewish community on its own Great Schlep.
“Something like this has a better chance of working with a group of Jewish people in my mind than with many other groups because it fits right into the general liberal Jewish sense of humor, and I think Sarah Silverman did a very good job with that,” said Brian Kaufman, a Harvard University undergraduate and blogger for the Harvard Democrats group.
Wallach and Moore are encouraging young people to visit their relatives not only Florida, but in other major swing states, including Ohio, Nevada, Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Utilizing Facebook, they are organizing more formal “Schleps” on Columbus Day Weekend, inviting participants to planning parties and instructing them to hold their personal events in mah-jongg parlors, bingo halls and living rooms. Those who cannot travel will partake in a “virtual Schlep.”
“The Great Schlep relies mostly on individuals taking initiative to find the time to actually go down and visit with people whom they’re related to, who live in a swing state and to use the tools that we provide to do persuasive work,” Moore said.
While their organization cannot fund airfare, The Great Schlep is trying to partner with TravelforChange.org and ObamaTravel.org, two private organizations that help fundraise for those who cannot afford campaign-related travels, according to Moore.
And while controversy continues over whether the bubbes and zeydes really are the most resistant to Obama’s candidacy, students across the country are heeding The Great Shlep’s call to action.
Ilana Becker, 25, originally from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but now a resident of New York City, forwarded Silverman’s video to 25 of her relatives, hoping to sway the side of her family that she says “is ‘afraid’ of Obama and wonders why I’m not afraid.”
Marc Hurwitz, 32, who lives in South Beach, is very involved in the Obama campaign and plans to help out with the Schlep. “We’re fighting ignorance here,” Hurwitz said. “This is directly addressing the problem that we’re having with some Jewish voters. They’re voting for McCain because they don’t know these facts about Obama.”
Becca Trabin, a senior at Temple University in Philadelphia, said she and her cousins were already able to convince her grandmother to vote for Obama, but she will be making the Schlep to Florida during Columbus Day weekend regardless.
“My grandmother called me up a few months ago and was really concerned about who I was voting for in the primary,” Trabin said, explaining that her grandmother had thought Obama advocated creation of a Muslim state in America. “I want to find out who is spreading this misinformation to my grandmother and her friends, and I want to set the record straight.”
And until that record is set straight, Sarah Silverman advises young people to use every persuasive method possible.
“You don’t have to use facts, use threats,” Silverman said. “If they vote for Barack Obama, they’re gonna get another visit this year. If not, let’s just hope they stay healthy until next year.”