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October 14th, 2008
09:47 AM ET

"Schlep" out the vote

CNN's John Zarrella reports young Jews head to Florida in search of grandparents' votes for Obama.
CNN's John Zarrella reports young Jews head to Florida in search of grandparents' votes for Obama.

John Zarrella | BIO
CNN Miami Correspondent

Mike Bender is young, single. He writes for television and movies out in California. I met him last Thursday night when he flew into Miami from Los Angeles. He had made the trip, at his own expense, to talk politics face to face with his Jewish grandparents Selma and Kenny Furst. More precisely, he came to talk Selma and Kenny into voting for Barack Obama. He had to try he said to bridge the “generation gap” between them. Bender had come to Miami in response to a You-Tube challenge called “The Great Schlep”. I’ll get back to Bender and his schlep in a moment.

When I first heard about this schlep thing I thought it must be a spoof. The comic, Sarah Silverman on You-Tube was rallying young Jews to go down to Florida and convince their Grandparents they had to vote for Barack Obama. The bit was called “The Great Schlep.”

Schlep is a Yiddish word that can have a variety of meanings. In this case schlep means to drag yourself. In other words, it may be difficult but, you’ve got to do it.

Well, it turned out the video was no joke. An organization called “Jews Vote” is in fact behind the video and the effort. They targeted this long Columbus Day weekend for the first “Big Schlep.” Using the grandkids to get to the grandparents made perfect sense says Organizer Ari Wallach, “If you really want to talk to them in a way that will bring them over to the Obama side you want to do it one to one. And the best way to do one to one is with people they know, ideally people they love. And grandparents love no one more than their grand kids. “

So, that’s what brought Mike Bender to Florida. He said he had wanted to do something to get involved in an effort to elect Barack Obama. This he decided was perfect. Long before the “Great Schlep” idea surfaced Bender had been trying in many long distance phone conversations to convince them to vote for Obama. He told me, “I have been working on this since Thanksgiving of last year. Will it be easy? No.”

Why not? There are about 650,000 Jews in Florida. Generally, most vote democratic. But many, especially seniors, are unsure of Obama’s commitment to Israel. Race is an issue too. I was surprised at just how candid Mike’s grandparents were. Selma told me, “Somebody said to me. ‘What to you object about him?’ I said well truthfully, our colors are different.” For Selma it went back to where she was raised, “I grew up with Jewish people and Italian people but I never lived in a neighborhood that was black.” Selma said she even thought about just not voting.

What Mike didn’t know was that all his telephone conversations with his grandparents had paid off before he walked in the door. Both Selma and Kenny had decided that if Mike believed they should vote for Obama they would because they said it’s Mike’s world now and his generation has to make the most of it. Selma added, “I’m kind of changing my old mind and saying to myself people are people and it’s not what their color is it’s what their body is.”

Mike Bender’s schlep weekend was not done. With his grandparents on board, he moved on to their friends. First he went to a local deli where the owner asked him to leave. Some of the patrons didn’t want him in there talking politics. On he moved to the beauty salon where he grandmother at age 87 still works doing nails. There was a different reception here. They all wanted to meet Selma’s successful writer grandson. And they were open to his Obama pitch. He spent much of the time explaining how he believes Obama is a good friend to Israel.

The organizers of the Great Schlep say about one hundred young Jews came to Florida over the holiday weekend. Another one hundred went to other battleground states. They’re even planning now to translate the Sarah Silverman Schlep video into Spanish. And they say they expect young schleppers to continue schlepping to battleground states right up until the election.

Check out our Snapshots from the ‘Schlep’


Filed under: Barack Obama • John McCain • John Zarrella • Raw Politics
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Mary V., Salt Lake City, UT

    I think its a great idea. We need to talk to each other with respect and form one another. Part of the reason that I have such disdain for the Republican-hate-lie-fear-mongers is that you can not talk to them! You are either for them or against them! There is no room for a civil discourse.

    God bless the young people for talking to their grandparents, and for voting! YOUR FUTURE IS AT STAKE!

    October 14, 2008 at 5:28 pm |
  2. Deborah Finlay

    Maybe these guys need to go take a look at the Rev Jackson's statements concerning the future Obama Adminstration concerning the support for Israel.

    Oh yea, they would have to go to another website NOTHING on CNN about the Rev's speech.

    October 14, 2008 at 4:11 pm |
  3. Larry

    Make sure you drop into the local ACORN offices along the way, tho they may have already filled out your grandparents' registration for them.

    October 14, 2008 at 1:29 pm |
  4. lynette phelps

    I feel that blacks and jewish people should all get along! Don't the Jewish people realize that African-Americans and Jews were tortured by the white men? We were slaves back inthe day and they were tortured and killed by genocide by Hitler!!!! They all were foreign white men!! Then for a old jewish lady to get on TV and say it's because of his skin color? Also do they fail to realize that Barack is half white any way you look at it! It outrages me as an African-American college student to here how racism still exist in our country! And we suppose to be the best country in the world give me a break! I love what the younger generations of Jewish people are doing! Schlep on I say! Schlep on!

    October 14, 2008 at 1:26 pm |
  5. Tina

    I don't think religion has a place in politics. Whatever the Jews are doing is their business. I don't dislike religious groups, it's the people who scam their way into money that I dislike.

    October 14, 2008 at 12:06 pm |
  6. Jenny, St. Louis, MO

    Good Job Mike. Way to stand up for what you believe in.

    October 14, 2008 at 12:00 pm |
  7. Annie Kate

    Even if you aren't for Obama you have to admire the organization his campaign has and its many outlets designed to pull in votes. I don't think I have ever seen a campaign with this many ways of outreach to different segments of voters. It makes me wonder with Obama's mastery of internet use in his campaign and all the rest of what his campaign does if we are seeing how campaigns need to be organized in the future to be successful.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    October 14, 2008 at 11:33 am |
  8. Heather,ca

    The great thing about knowing Yiddish is that there are often a variety of meanings for most words. I understand what they are doing, but I also don't think schleping to Florida to give your grandparents a good dose of"Jewish guilt" to convince them to vote for one candidate over the other is a good thing. Yes there is a generation gap, but many who live in Florida came from New York who survived the death camps. They have every right to vote for who they want to. They shouldnt be voting for someone because of the persons looks or not voting because of their looks. The vote is based on what they stand for. I think they have been on this earth and seen enough to know what is best for them. I have never been a fan of Sarah Silverman, however I do believe she is trying to do something good in her own way.

    October 14, 2008 at 11:22 am |
  9. Phyllis - Florida

    Saw Silverman on The View and thought the big Schlep or Shlep was a great idea, it is neat seeing it at work. I am 71 years old and have been following Obama's campaign and need no convincing, but I know many of my neighbors are ardent McCain supporters. I think it is a wonderful thing for young people to be as involved as they appear to be this election - I can only hope they do not lose their idealism and enthusiasm by the next election!

    October 14, 2008 at 10:08 am |