Meet ‘Jews 4 Joe,’ The Jewish Student Movement Fighting to Get Biden Elected

May 13, 2020
From left: Ethan Wolf, Eva Wyner and Ben Kanas. Photos courtesy of Jews 4 Joe.

One of the biggest questions former Vice President and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden faces is whether he can snag younger voters in November. Three Jewish college students are pushing to make sure he does.

Ohio State University (OSU) junior Ethan Wolf, 20, OSU graduate Ben Kanas, 21, and Columbia University senior Eva Wyner, 22, are the creators behind the political movement Jews 4 Joe.

“Among the three of us we are really involved within our Jewish communities and progressive politics,” Wyner told the Journal. “With Jews 4 Joe, we wanted to figure out how to translate our skills in community organizing and do it in a virtual space that relies on grassroots efforts.”

At the beginning of March, Wolf, Kanas and Wyner reached out on Twitter and Instagram, and connected with influential Jewish figures across the country including former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (not related).

“They led us to what our goals are and what our angle is,” Wolf said. “[Jews 4 Joe is for] Ben and Eva, who [are] graduating college, somebody like me still in college, and students fighting for progressive values within the community.”

On April 23, Josh Shapiro tweeted, “Young people stepping up to be the change in our politics and our world is exactly what we need. [applause emoji] for this new generation of leaders from @Jews4Joe for doing their part.”

According to a Gallup Poll from August 2019, since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, 68% of Jews identify as Democrats or as independents and lean toward the Democratic Party, while 28% identify as or lean Republican.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, American Jews have favored Democratic candidates, with 71% of Jewish voters choosing Democratic candidates and only 25% choosing Republicans since 1968.

While Jewish voters historically lean left, there is still an urgency to get young Jewish voters to the polls as well as young moderate voters. Many young Jews aligned themselves via other Jews 4 groups including those for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Bernie Sanders, before Biden became the front-runner.

Students participate in a Jews 4 Joe Zoom call as part of their Soul Shabbat initiative. Photo courtesy of Jews 4 Joe.

“We tried to create a big support network ranging from the most liberal people to conservatives members,” Wolf said. “We started during primary season where it was still Bernie and Joe, then we started having conversations with directors of Jews 4 Bernie, Jews 4 Yang as well as Jews 4 Warren to better understand their viewpoints and how can we encompass their support going forward. In terms of more conservative voters, we are doing the same thing. What is their voice? What is their story? When we have that understanding we are able to have a dialogue and determine that ultimately Joe [Biden] is the better candidate because he brings that wide stretch in views that is necessary for a U.S. president.”

Jews 4 Joe also has been organizing events on social media and connecting with more than 100 Jewish high school students, college students and young professionals in addition to political leaders to spread the word about Biden’s platform. It also has performed outreach to the Jewish Democratic Council for America (JDCA) and the Democratic Majority for Israel. The group told the Journal they also are working with the Michigan Jewish Democratic Caucus and Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania to mobilize the Jewish community in the two swing states.

On April 26, the college students participated in a nationwide “Soul Shabbat” campaign on social media, which coincided with Biden’s “Soul Saturday” campaign. “We saw the effort Joe Biden’s campaign team was undertaking that Saturday to restore the soul of our nation and we wanted to do our own version in an accessible way for the Jewish community,” Wolf said. “We took time to thank those on the front lines fighting the coronavirus, called our grandparents to check in on them and called our synagogues to ask our rabbis what we could do to help.”

On May 14, Jews 4 Joe is partnering with Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) and former Rep. Steve Israel of New York for a discussion on Biden, Israel and Jewish issues in the upcoming election.

“This is our first major surrogate call and we are thrilled it is with such influential Jewish public servants,” Kanas said.

Photo courtesy of Jews 4 Joe

Wyner added that in addition to supporting progressive values, Zionism and calling out anti-Semitism on the right and left, a major reason Jews 4 Joe backs Biden is because Biden believes in tikkun olam. Wolf, Kanas and Wyner said that it is Biden’s commitment to upholding justice, truth and peace [Pirkei Avot, 1:18 as noted on Jews 4 Joe’s website] that inspires them and can propel Jewish voters to show up for him.

JDCA also applauded Biden for his commitment to tikkun olam in a letter to Biden on April 24 that read in part: “You share the Jewish community’s commitment to the principle of tikkun olam, healing the world, in addition to our commitment to combating the rise of anti-Semitism and supporting a strong US-Israel relationship.”

“In the last four years we’ve seen divisive rhetoric, hateful rhetoric from the White House and the Jews have not been spared. Joe Biden is going to be the restorer of our souls and the person who puts the country back together.” — Ethan Wolf

In addition to the JDCA, J Street and Democratic Majority for Israel also endorsed Biden for president. JDCA Executive Director Halie Soifer told the Journal that young voters will play a critical role in this year’s election. Like Wolf, Kanas and Wyner, many of them are part of the generation that have experienced mass school shootings, joined the fight for climate change initiatives and were deprived of graduations and other social activities because of the coronavirus. Gun control, climate change and COVID-19 are now major talking points in this election and are important to young voters.

“We’re happy to see the emergence of groups like Jews 4 Joe,” Soifer said in an email to the Journal. “We know based on data that when younger and newly-eligible voters turn out, Democrats win. That’s exactly what we are working toward in November, when the overwhelming majority of Jewish voters will support candidates who share our values, including Joe Biden.”

Wolf, who was a junior in high school during the 2016 election was too young to vote and remembers watching the news and exit polls the night Trump became president. He hopes that Jews 4 Joe will have an impact on this election and believes that Biden has what it takes to win.

“In the last four years we’ve seen divisive rhetoric, hateful rhetoric from the White House that has been horrible to all marginalized groups and all different minority groups and the Jews have not been spared,” Wolf said. “We’ve seen it again and again. Joe Biden is going to be the restorer of our souls and be the person who puts the country back together.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story suggested AIPAC endorsed Joe Biden and attributed a quote to the organization, which was from the JDCA’s endorsement letter.

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