When we hear the term “Jewish outreach,” most of us automatically assume that it has something to do with kiruv. Translated literally it means “bringing close.” It is the idea of bringing people closer to Judaism and renewing their commitment to the Jewish faith. There are many worthy individuals and organizations dedicated to Jewish outreach and their efforts are to be applauded.
However, there is another type of Jewish outreach that you may not be familiar with—political Jewish outreach and the creation of a new phenomenon in legislative offices wherever there is a significant Jewish population…the “Jewish liaison.” More and more elected officials have come to the conclusion that is necessary to employ an individual whose sole or primary responsibility is serving as a bridge between the office holder and the Jewish community.
Job titles may vary from Director of Jewish Outreach to Community Representative to Director of Public Affairs, but the concept is the same. Tasked with keeping his or her boss apprised of issues relating to the Jewish community, the liaison advises the boss on how to navigate sensitive subjects pertaining to the Jewish community. The liaison is a constant presence at the boss’ side at Jewish community events. If there is a legislative or public policy issue that relates to the Jewish community even in a tangential way, the Jewish liaison plays a role.
President Obama has a Jewish liaison who plays a key role in advising the White House on Jewish issues, domestically and internationally. The president’s Jewish liaison also generally serves as the administration’s first point of contact for Jewish organizations and communal leaders throughout the country. Having a Jewish liaison in the White House is not a new trend by any means—it began with Jimmy Carter, and on through Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush.
There are many elected officials in the tri-state area who have people on their staff who they turn to for advice and counsel on Jewish issues. On the state level, both New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have a Jewish liaison. New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has a staffer who serves as his Jewish liaison, as does Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes.
Jewish liaisons also operate in political campaigns. One of the most talked about campaigns in the metropolitan area so far this year has been the 2013 New York City mayoral race. Democrats Bill de Blasio, Bill Thompson, and John Liu, and Republicans John Catsimatidis and Joe Lhota all have designated people to focus on Jewish outreach. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is currently leading the other Democratic candidates in the polls, is expected to make a major push to shore up Jewish support as well.
So, why do political candidates and public officials spend time and money working with Jewish liaisons? There are several possible answers.
1. VOTES. An integral part of any political campaign is courting voters and shoring up support from the electorate. In areas that are home to a large number of Jewish voters, candidates are wise to show the community that they care and want their future constituents backing.
2. THE JEWISH COMMUNITY HAS ARRIVED. Could it be that the Jewish community has become a potent political force and the level of our political involvement warrants the special attention?
3. UNIQUE JEWISH ISSUES. Do we have such complex issues that we need a designated intermediary to address our concerns? We would like to think that that is not the case, but perhaps there are elected officials who think otherwise.
Many of our elected officials and political hopefuls make an effort to reach out to our community. Our community would be best served if we returned the favor and made an attempt to reach out to our elected officials and establish relationships with them as well. Jewish outreach can certainly be a two-way street.
N. Aaron Troodler is an attorney and a principal of Paul Revere Public Relations, a public relations and political consulting firm. Visit him on the Web at www.PaulReverePR.com or follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/troodler
By N. Aaron Troodler, Esq.