Klutzy Conservative Jewish Outreach at the Values Voter Summit

Conservatives are always trying to win over more Jewish voters. So why do they keep holding a major event on the Jewish holidays?

09.24.14 3:57 PM ET

For all the effort that the conservative movement has put into trying to woo Jewish voters, the timing of the Values Voter Summit, one of the top conservative events of the year, has been a real shanda.

The summit, organized by the Family Research Council, has been held for the past nine years in either September or October at the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington, D.C. The problem is that, in the eight times that the event has been held, it has coincided three times with Rosh Hashanah and twice with Yom Kippur. The event is coming back to D.C. this weekend, where it will once again conflict with Rosh Hashanah.

Bethany Mandel, a former editor at the conservative Commentary, first pointed out this unhappy coincidence on Twitter. Mandel told The Daily Beast that the timing of the conference was very “frustrating.” In her opinion, “a lot of the Value Voter's positions could align with those of Jews, particularly the Orthodox.”

Mandel noted “there's a general unease among Jews about becoming involved in conservative politics and with Christians in particular, because they feel unwelcome and nervous about people just trying to convert them.” Needless to say, scheduling major events on the Jewish High Holidays does nothing to assuage those concerns.

“Evangelicals, and conservatives in general, are really limiting themselves by not looking outside the box and seeking Orthodox Jewish support on common ground issues,” she said.  

But not all Jewish conservatives seemed to mind. Noah Pollak, the executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, shrugged off the issue. “The organizers and attendees of the Values Voter Summit are not just strongly pro-Israel, but genuinely pro-Jewish as well,” said Pollak. “The world would be a better place if more people felt about Jews the way those associated with the Values Voter Summit do and I wish them a successful conference this year."

The Family Research Council, which did not respond to multiple requests for comment, is almost certainly not doing this on purpose. The vagaries of the Jewish calendar, after all, mean that many observant Jews have a difficult time remembering what days that the high holidays fall on. This is not to mention that, regardless of what weekend the conference is held, that most Orthodox Jews would not be able to attend on Shabbos. 

Still, it’s a misstep for a conservative movement that has long kvetched about its inability to woo Jewish voters. Adjusting the date of a conference wouldn’t suddenly change voting patterns among a demographic that, in the words of the late Jewish neoconservative essayist Milton Himmelfarb, “earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.” But it would be better than doing bupkis.