Pale ales n politics: Young Jews invited to watch debate in S.F. sports bar

The day before Yom Kippur begins, the presidential candidates will meet a second time in Nashville, Tenn.

More than 2,300 miles away in San Francisco, a handful of Bay Area Jewish agencies are hoping to gather hundreds of young adults in a sports bar — with pub food and 13 beers on tap — for Debate Watch 2008 on Tuesday, Oct. 7.

“It’s a meaningful coincidence, but it actually makes sense,” said Heidi Winig of American Jewish World Service. She’s one of the coordinators for the nonpartisan event.

“We usually don’t plan events during [the Jewish holidays], but it does make sense given what the holidays are about and what our mission is,” she added. “We’re trying to get people to think about who they are and what kind of world they believe in, and how they want to take part in making the world a better place.”

Debate Watch will take place at Jillian’s (noted for its 50-foot video wall) at the Metreon in San Francisco starting at 5:30 p.m. The debate is set to begin at 6 p.m.

The event will include election trivia, voter registration, free appetizers and a special Rosh Hashanah cocktail (free for the first 100 people to arrive). Attendees can also play political bingo during the debate, marking off spots when the candidates say various buzzwords and phrases such as “reform,” “global warming,” “change” and “maverick.”

“Because we’re a 501c3, we can’t say who to vote for, and we’re not,” Winig said. “But what we are saying to folks is that it’s a Jewish responsibility to get yourself educated and to have your voice heard — and one of the ways to do that is to vote.”

Following the debate, a panel of local activists and policy experts — moderated by Rabbi Sydney Mintz — will speak about local and statewide ballot measures, making recommendations to those in attendance.

The panel is being organized by Progressive Jewish Alliance, an agency that can make recommendations on ballot issues.

“A cornerstone of Jewish tradition has always been communal responsibility,” said Sarah Leiber Church of PJA. “Having a ballot in your hand is a moment to live that communal responsibility, and to live your Jewish values by being civically engaged and informed.”

Shayna Gelender, a field organizer for the ACLU in San Francisco, will speak about Proposition 5 (vote yes, she says) and Proposition 8 (vote no, she says).

Gelender, who is Jewish, said she’s thrilled to participate in Debate Watch.

“I think it’s refreshing, and exciting, because I know that our community really has a lot to offer in the political process,” she said. “I admire and appreciate that people are taking time to come together and learn about the issues that really affect us.”

The gathering at Jillian’s is one of six happening simultaneously across the United States, each coordinated by AJWS-AVODAH and various local Jewish agencies. An expected total of 1,000 young adult Jews will gather in Chicago, Boston, Washington, D.C., New York and Los Angeles.

In the Bay Area, Debate Watch is being hosted by the AJWS-AVODAH Partner-ship, Progressive Jewish Alliance, The Hub at JCCSF and Congregation Emanu-El’s Young Adults Community.

Dena Stern, program coordinator for The Hub, said she’s excited to explore politics through a Jewish lens.

“I like the idea that we, as Jewish young adults, have this important role in shaping our community by being active, by choosing the leadership. It doesn’t matter who you choose or how you vote, but that you’re getting active, making a choice and voting.”

Debate Watch 2008 begins at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 7 at Jillian’s at the Metreon,

101 4th St., San Francisco. No admission charge. For more information or to pre-register, check

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.