Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tablet Magazine: Jew for Sarah

Building a political home for conservative Jews who feel that no one speaks for them
Tablet, an American Jewish general interest online magazine, has a rather balanced profile piece on our colleague Benyamin Korn, founder of Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin. Excerpts:
Last weekend, before the nation’s attention was consumed by the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death, was a busy one for Washington’s media society, and no one made more of it than Sarah Palin. First there was a stop with Greta Van Susteren at a power brunch in Georgetown, and later an appearance at a glitzy party hosted by MSNBC. In between the two, while her fellow maybe-candidate Donald Trump was getting skewered by President Barack Obama at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, Palin zipped up to a Marriott in suburban Maryland to headline a $250-a-plate fundraiser for a pro-life group, Heroic Media, best known for controversial billboards aimed at black women. By way of explaining why she had ducked out of the evening’s main event downtown, Palin reportedly told the crowd: “I choose life.”

At the end of Palin’s speech, an Orthodox rabbi named Robert Shechter stood up to give a closing benediction on behalf of a year-old group called Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin, whose supporters had bought three tables at the 300-person dinner. Like Palin herself, the group piggybacked on Heroic Media’s event to stage its own Washington moment: a Shabbat retreat, or shabbaton, for Jewish supporters of Palin. Ten participants gathered at an Aish HaTorah center near the Marriott for a kosher dinner and lunch accompanied by freewheeling discussions about the Obama Administration moderated by the group’s founder, Benyamin Korn.

Korn—who is known to his oldest friends as “Buddy,” but sends his emails as “Bert,” short for Bertram, his English name—is a host on Philadelphia’s conservative WNTP talk radio station, an affiliate of the behemoth Christian broadcaster Salem Communications. At a Friday night service before the retreat, his rich baritone carried the uneven chorus of the regular Aish membership. Korn, who is 55, chanted from memory with his prayer book closed in his hands.

Korn appears to have few direct links to Palin herself—in public, he deferentially refers to the head of her political-action group, Michael Glassner, as “Mr. Glassner”—and he admits he has limited financial resources, though he says he has received support from Saul Fox, a Bay Area private-equity investor who donated last year to Tea Party candidates Sharron Angle and Tom Campbell. (Fox, en route to the Palin event from his California office, was not available for comment.) To the shabbaton participants, Korn insisted that he was not in the market for a job with Palin’s political-action group, or in a future Palin campaign. “I don’t need that tsuris,” he said. But over the past few months, Korn has become a go-to Palin soldier for cable news shows. Federal campaign records show he has never given money to Palin, but he runs a website devoted to aggregating news about her, which he says gets upwards of 10,000 hits a month, including a few dozen from Wasilla, Alaska. (“It could be Joe McGinniss,” Korn says self-deprecatingly, referring to the journalist who spent last summer living next door to the Palins while working on his book about them.)

- JP

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