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"Chicago Jewish Community Online":
Rivals with a common goal
Advisers to Bush, Kerry
tickets help candidates reach out to the Jewish community
By CINDY SHER
Associate Managing Editor
No two people appear to feel as
invested in the Jewish vote in the upcoming presidential election as
Jay Footlik and Michael Lebovitz, the Jewish outreach advisers to the
Kerry and Bush campaigns respectively. Theyre rooting for
candidates on opposite sides of the aisle, but their political
activism has grown out of their common Jewish heritage and their
desire to work on behalf of the Jewish people.
Footlik and Lebovitz have cultivated a friendship through the years. That might seem surprising but, in a way, the two advisers are working for the same ultimate goal.
While we might not support the same candidate," says Lebovitz, were supporting [our] candidate for similar reasons, to support Israel and to represent the Jewish people."
Lebovitzs title, simply put, is Jewish outreach" for the Bush campaign, which means outreach to the Jewish community as well as being a liaison between Jews and non-Jews.
In some ways, Im a representative of the Jewish people with a lot of people who arent Jewish," said Lebovitz. With the campaign, I answer a lot of questions about how to deal with the Jewish community. I dont just field questions from the Jewish community, but I help to educate people within the campaign about the community."
Lebovitz hopes to educate people about the Presidents record on Israel and issues of concern to the Jewish people during the last four years.
You have to think about whats most important to you, and youre not going to agree with the candidates on everything," he said. But the worlds a pretty challenging place right now, and Israel is in the middle of a difficult neighborhood. I believe that the survival and the security of Israel is fundamentally important."
Lebovitz downplays his role in the campaign and defers credit to other campaigners, younger and supercharged with the passion which they devote to what theyre doing." As a campaign volunteer, Lebovitzwhos a real estate developer in his professional lifetravels to the nations capital once a week from his home in Chattanooga, Tenn.
As a boy in Chattanooga, Lebovitz was instilled with a strong Jewish background. His political involvement emerged after he grew up watching his father engage in Jewish activism. The political bug first bit Lebovitz at the University of Texas, where he volunteered at the 1984 Republican Convention in Dallas. In addition to being a political activist, Lebovitz has assumed leadership in his Jewish community, including serving as immediate past president of the Jewish Community Federation of Greater Chattanooga.
His friend and colleague, Andy Hochberg, the 2004-2005 chair of JUFs Real Estate Division, describes Lebovitz as a strong leader in the Jewish community. Mike could have turned his back on the community and not helped out at all," says Hochberg, but hes very committed to strengthening the Jewish community and the U.S.-Israel relationship." Hochberg adds, Hes a real class guy."
Growing up in Skokie, Footlik watched his single mom struggle to pay the bills and access proper health care for her family. He says that what he witnessed as a young child drew him to Democratic politics. By age 7, he was volunteering for local political campaigns, including that of then-U.S. Rep. Abner Mikva.
Footliks attraction to politics, he says, has always been tied to his Jewish identity. As both a Jew and as a political activist, he feels a passion for trying to help people. Part of [my interest in politics] is derived out of the nature of the Jewish upbringing and a Jewish household," he explains. Theres the notion of tikkun olamrepairing the worldtrying to leave this place in better shape than we found it when we got here."
Footliks job on John Kerrys presidential campaign links his twin loves of Judaism and politics. Footlik advises Kerry on Middle Eastern affairs, and provides outreach to the American Jewish community. His day job is as partner in a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm.
Kerry isnt the first presidential candidate that Footlik has rallied for. He campaigned for Bill Clinton in 1992, and acted as special assistant to the president during Clintons administration. Footliks first trip to Israel came when he accompanied Clinton to the Jewish state in 1994.
Footlik loved his trip to Israel so much that he moved to Tel Aviv for four years. There, he worked as a consultant in projects related to the Israeli-Arab peace process.
His time in Israel was cut short last year when he received a call from yet another Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn). For Footlik, working on Liebermans campaign was history in the making. It was a historic opportunity to work for the first American Jew running for president," he recalls. It said volumes about who we are in the community and how far weve come, and it says a lot about our country that our community can field such a candidate as Joe Lieberman."
Before starting work on the Kerry campaign in Washington, Footlik returned to Israel to marry Israeli model and actress Grace Mozes.
On a recent trip back to Israel, Footlik accompanied Kerrys brother, Cameron, who converted to Judaism 20 years ago.
No matter where he travels, Footlik has never forgotten his Chicago roots. As Footliks friend Robert M. Schrayer, 2005 JUF General Campaign chairman, puts it, He knows Israeli politics, he knows American politics, and he knows the Jewish community scene, and hes been very helpful to us all."