Nationwide effort under way to get Jews to the polls

WASHINGTON — Last-ditch efforts to get Jewish voters to the polls are taking different forms in different places, but the message is essentially the same to all: The Jewish vote is important and your vote can make a difference.

Whether the mode is a voter guide or a "meet and greet the candidates" event, synagogues, Jewish organizations and community groups are trying to encourage everyone they can to vote on Nov. 7.

Because of their tax-exempt status, Jewish nonprofit organizations are prohibited from supporting or opposing candidates, but they are permitted to engage in voter registration and "get-out-the-vote" efforts.

Among the activities taking place across the country:

*In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Jewish Community Relations Committee assembled and mailed out a pamphlet to synagogues and Jewish community organizations urging a no vote on school voucher Proposition 38. (While nonprofits cannot support candidates, they are allowed to endorse or condemn propositions.)

The JCRC also enlisted members of the Jewish community to campaign for Prop. 39 and San Francisco Prop. D, and hosted a number of community forums, including a debate between state Senate candidates Richard Rainey and Tom Torlakson held at the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center in Walnut Creek.

Meanwhile, the Peninsula wing of the JCRC put out a voter guide for local races, polling the candidates' responses on 12 questions on subjects such as school prayer, campaign finance reform and school vouchers.

*In Rhode Island, a community relations council forum drew a crowd of more than 100 people to hear the local candidates for the House and U.S. Senate, according to Amy Gross, director of community relations for the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island. The council also helped organize a voter registration drive and is involved in an initiative to get people to pledge that they will vote in the upcoming election.

*In New York, the Jewish Community Relations Council is working with neighborhood-based Jewish organizations to reach out to the Russian-speaking communities.

*In Los Angeles, the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles joined with the local board of rabbis to encourage rabbis across Southern California to include in their sermons this week a message encouraging congregants to vote. The council also coordinated with senior centers to send absentee ballots to those elderly citizens who are unable to get to the polls.

*In New Albany, Ohio, Temple Beth Shalom sponsored a candidates' debate and there are "vote" signs posted right inside the synagogue. Rabbi Howard Apothaker said voter registration forms were made available during the High Holy Days.

Getting out the vote has become a normal synagogue activity, according to Sarrae Crane, director of social action and public policy for United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Some Jewish groups also have issued voter guides. All four streams of Judaism joined together to develop a voting guide and action manual that was sent out to every affiliated synagogue in the country.

The guide, prepared by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, details reasons why Jews should vote as well as practical points about voter registration and other forms of participation.

The guide discusses general guidelines to planning activities such as candidate forums and candidate questionnaires.

Also included are sample letters for synagogue bulletins and suggested talking points to be included in sermons that deal with voter registration and the effect of the Jewish vote.

"There is great interest in the community," said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. "We have to funnel that interest and get people to the polls."