Convention scenes: bagels, yarmulkes

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SAN DIEGO — With the nearest kosher restaurant miles from the site of the Republican National Convention here, planners of a kickoff party for Jewish activists and delegates settled on an outside caterer.

Then a local businessman came to the rescue of the 500-person reception.

David Cohn opened his posh Dakota Grill and Spirits in the Gas Lamp district Sunday to a rabbi with a propane tank in order to kosher the kitchen so chefs could prepare kosher food.

Guests raved about the breaded chicken sticks and salsa tortilla rounds, served with plastic plates and utensils.

The most prominent of those assembled, vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp, came and went without sampling the food. After the two-hour reception, Cohn reopened the restaurant to outside guests, rendering the mashgiach's work obsolete.

Ex-ADL head joins right rally

Meanwhile, a former Anti-Defamation League official joined thousands of Christian Coalition activists to celebrate the religious right's "triumphs" at the convention.

"Jews have more to fear from the collapse of Christianity than its resurgence," Gary Polland, a former chairman of the ADL's Houston chapter, told cheering Christian Coalition ralliers.

As they marched into the Christian Coalition Faith and Freedom celebration Wednesday, some 100 coalition activists from Southern California sang, "We take a stand and we declare that America belongs to Jesus."

In addition to the strong anti-abortion GOP platform, the nearly 4,000 coalition activists gathered at the sprawling Balboa Park Organ Pavilion celebrated the fact that 20 percent of GOP delegates said they belong to the group.

And Ralph Reed, the grassroots organization's executive director, announced a new pledge from House Speaker Newt Gingrich to bring a constitutional amendment sanctioning prayer in America's public school classrooms — a measure universally opposed in the Jewish community — to the House floor this fall.

The thousands of ralliers hailed Reed when he praised the GOP platform's strong support of Israel.

Polland, who resigned as chairman of the ADL's Houston chapter after the Jewish defense organization issued a scathing 1994 report attacking the Christian Coalition and other religious right groups as "intolerant," called at Wednesday's rally for Jews and Christians to unite in a coalition to defeat liberalism in America.

A non-Jesus benediction

Clergy at the first three convention sessions offered benedictions and invocations that prompted little reaction from delegates. That was until Rabbi Daniel Lapin, director of Toward Tradition, took to the podium Tuesday night to close the session.

With an audience charged by New York Rep. Susan Molinari's keynote address, Lapin, a favorite of many Christian Coalition activists, drew cheers and applause from many of the delegates as he thundered, "What we think of God is less important that what God thinks of us."

Lapin was the first to offer a prayer without evoking the phrase "Jesus Christ our Lord."

Face to face came easy

It took months of calls and diplomatic negotiations rivaling the Middle East peace process to bring the Anti-Defamation League and the Christian Coalition to speaking terms after the ADL's scathing 1994 report, "The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America."

No such elaborate plans were used to set up a brief encounter between the ADL's Washington, D.C., director Jess Hordes and the coalition's founder Pat Robertson and executive director Ralph Reed at Sunday's kosher reception.

The three found themselves face to face when the coalition's top brass dropped by the gala, which was sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based National Jewish Coalition and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

"We had a nice talk," reported Hordes.

All the way from Williamsburg

The obstructed view of the podium, muffled audio system and darkened section of the convention hall did not deter Joseph Goldberger and Joseph Mesczer from cheering on their party's nominee in the convention hall. With payes and black yarmulkes, the two Josephs were among a tiny Orthodox presence here. Although not official delegates, the supporters of New York Gov. George Pataki and Sen. Alfonse D'Amato wanted to extend their support to the Dole camp.

Arab Americans claim victory

Many Jewish delegates measured their influence in the party by the dignitaries who gathered at their receptions and the staunch pro-Israel language in the GOP's platform. Arab Americans, who mixed among vintage and thoroughly modern automobiles Tuesday night at a reception in Chrysler's pavilion erected for the convention, are just beginning their quest for recognition in the Republican Party.

Attending only their second Republican convention, Arab activists hailed Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich's address at the convention as a milestone for their community.

It turns out that until Tuesday, Gingrich has only spoken of churches and synagogues when discussing religion. In an address from the podium at convention hall, Gingrich added "mosques," drawing high praise from many Muslim Americans.

"He said the magic word for us," beamed Abdul Rahman Alamoudi, executive director of the American Muslim Council.

Jewish Demos put in two cents

Not to be outdone by their Republican colleagues, the Washington, D.C.-based National Jewish Democratic Council wanted its voice heard to protest the message coming from the convention hall.

Whether anyone was listening was another matter.

The Jewish Democrats gathered at 7 a.m. for a rally at the convention's "free speech zone." With most delegates still sleeping from Tuesday night's festivities and the next convention session 10 hours away, some 30 Democratic diehards largely preached to the choir — along with two Jewish journalists.

Rep. Bob Filner (D-San Diego), who is Jewish, joined the rally and remarked that the bagels and cream cheese assembled for the protesters reminded him of his mother's victuals from '50s and '60s civil-rights rallies.