Voting With Their Feet

May 11 was a beautiful Saturday; the kind of day that reminds you why you want to live in Minnesota despite the winter – which has extended to this date in years past. It was a perfect day for a long walk, which four members of the modern orthodox community in St. Louis Park did  – 5 miles each way to Minneapolis South High School – only to spend much of the day indoors. Such is the desire to be a part of democracy. 

Rafi Geretz, Ed Rapoport, Tamar Ribnick and Nisso Khabi were delegates for the 5th Congressional District Convention, there to support Don Samuels; the former Minneapolis City Councilmember is challenging Rep. Ilhan Omar for the second straight election.

Geretz and Rapoport each have been active for many years in DFL politics. Geretz said that he goes to precinct caucuses and senate district conventions every two years.

“Usually, it’s pretty boring,” Geretz said. “But there’s a lot going on that affects the Jewish community this time around. A lot of people in the Jewish community, including me, are unhappy with Ilhan Omar with her record with her lack of support for Israel.”

The efforts of these four – and dozens of others – weren’t enough to give Samuels the party endorsement ahead of the August primary. Omar won on the first ballot, 133-85. Getting the endorsement requires getting 60% of the support from the elected delegates; Omar got 60.5%, in large part thanks to the superdelegates – party leaders and other elected officials, who made up 21% of her support. In 2022, Omar needed a second ballot to reach the required threshold. 

“The Democratic Party has been taken over by a lot of anti-Israel rhetoric and we’re seeing it on the college campuses. We’re seeing it on the progressive side of the Democratic Party,” Geretz said. “This is really an opportunity for myself and a lot of Jewish people to say, ‘Hey, we’re Democrats too, and we are pro-Israel,’ and this is our chance to try to influence the party to be pro-Israel.

“The party activists tend to be the people at the extremes. And my philosophy my entire adult life has been ‘I’m not extreme. I’m rational.’ I should have a say in where the party goes. So that’s really what this is about.”

Rapoport said that he’s been attending political conventions for more than 30 years. While some may question the activity on Shabbat, he said he got the OK from a rabbi, and the interpretation of why it’s acceptable comes from the Talmud. According to Shabbat 150a verse 12, “One may attend to activities necessary for saving a life or for communal needs on Shabbat, and one may go to a synagogue to attend to communal affairs on Shabbat.”

“It’s actually phrased in terms of theater and circus, those being non-Jewish public meetings in Roman times, where there’s a community interest at stake,” he said. “I think at that time the community interest at stake was rabble-rousing for a pogrom.”

Geretz recruited like-minded friends to join him at the convention. But being shomer shabbos, it meant long walks to and from South High School, and – importantly – it meant making arrangements for lunch. The group wasn’t allowed to carry anything with them – books, food, and water, included.

“We made arrangements with someone who’s not Jewish to bring to bring some food and drink and also some books for us to the convention,” Geretz said. “When we walk to South High School, we’ll meet up with that person who will give us our stuff.”

In recent years, the DFL has instituted a prayer break in the convention proceedings, for the Muslim crowd. The orthodox group are using that to their advantage to have a hot meal. The day before the convention, Geretz drove over a crockpot of cholent to a home three blocks from South High School who was letting the group plug it in, come for lunch with other kosher-keeping Jews, and then return after the break.

Showing up at conventions is a big time commitment, in part because things move at the pace they move. But showing up is a requirement to move through the process to become a delegate at the State Convention.

“It’s not that the loudest voice wins, it’s whoever shows up wins. And it’s a big commitment,” Geretz said. In Senate District 46, where Geretz lives, there were 200 people at the Senate District convention, and only 15 delegates from CD5 make the cut to move on to the next level. 

“There’s always more people who want to be delegates than there are delegates spots at that level,” he said. “We worked hard, and the way that we got more people was just by showing up and getting more people to show up. Not by not by being loud. It’s really just about showing up and getting people to show up and getting people to stick around until the end because sometimes people get tired and they leave and important business gets conducted at the end.”