While millions of Americans spent their Columbus Day weekend home from work or scoping out one-day sales, more than 100 young Jews trekked down to South Florida, where they scouted out not only their own grandparents, but also hordes of Bubbe and Zeyde’s closest friends.
This was the official weekend of “The Great Schlep,” a campaign that began in early September under the direction of Sen. Barack Obama activists Ari Wallach and Mik Moore, who sought out notorious comedian Sarah Silverman to be the movement’s poster child. Through a virally spreading Internet video campaign, Silverman asked young Jews all over America to stop being lazy and go convince grandparents in the battleground state of Florida to vote for Obama. Wallach and Moore say that the effort will continue through Election Day.
Compared to the number of young Jewish Obama supporters in the Untied States, 100 Schleppers may seem a paltry number. But Wallach and Moore put the best face on it.
“We were excited that anyone bought a ticket and went down to see their grandparents for the weekend,” Wallach said, noting that in addition to the visitors, thousands of young Jews have been phoning their relatives, and more than 23,000 people have already joined The Great Schlep’s Facebook group.
Schlepper Mike Bender, 33, flew from Los Angeles to visit his grandparents, Selma and Kenny Furst, in Tamarac, Fla. At first, his grandmother, 87, was a pretty tough sell.
“About two weeks ago, she was not going to vote at all. When I brought in the idea of The Great Schlep, she started to talk to more people,” Bender said. “Comfort-wise, she had trouble electing a black person into the White House, and she’s now completely over it. Since I left she’s now campaigning for Obama — it’s like a 180-degree shift.”
With his grandmother’s help, Bender said he gathered 150 people in the retirement community’s clubhouse, where his speech transformed formerly hesitant voters into a “Yes We Can” chorus.
Andrew Steinmetz, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania from Westchester County, stared down a tough crowd of his grandparents’ friends over breakfast at a Boynton Beach bagel place.
“I was down there as a 19-year-old talking to these people who have been voters for half a century,” he said. “They would not afford me any credibility — I had to win them over.”
He compared this election to that of 1960, when most of the people sitting at that table chose a youthful John F. Kennedy as president. He also found similarities between Obama’s economic programs and those of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was very popular among this contingency.
“The older generation always has this mindset that the old educate the young,” Steinmetz said. “This election is really turning that convention on its head.”
And Bender’s own grandparents? “They both said that they’re voting in this election for their grandchildren,” he said, pulling the lever for Obama.