It was conservative heaven. For four days – February 27 to March 2 – 10,000 people milled about the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center outside Washington, DC, for the annual CPAC conference.
Over 350 speakers, including President Donald Trump – who gave a rousing two-hour speech on Saturday – addressed the attendees while dozens of radio and TV shows broadcast live from the conference and numerous famous right-wing personalities walked the hallways, available to anyone brave enough to approach them.
Right across the CPAC conference, however, a different impressive event took place. Approximately 200 people ate Shabbos meals with radio personality Mark Levin, TV host Rabbi Daniel Lapin, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, political activist Laura Loomer, and Bush administration official (and frum Jew) Tevi Troy at the eighth annual Young Jewish Conservatives (YJC) Shabbat at CPAC.
“It’s nice to be around people who have similar theological and political leanings,” said Howie Slugh, 35, a lawyer specializing in religious liberty, who came for his fifth CPAC Shabbaton.
Another attendee, David Malka, 19, said he came to the Shabbaton and CPAC conference to “get a lot more educated.” A psychology major at the University of Central Florida, Malka said most Jews on his campus lean right. That is not the case on many other campuses, however – which is why, in part, YJC was founded.
“The premise of the organization,” YJC co-founder Yitz Tendler (a grandson of longtime Ner Yisroel principal Rabbi Yosef Tendler) explained, “is that young Jews active on the political right feel very isolated from the Jewish community – especially if they’re not Orthodox. Our goal is to show them that there are others who share their political and religious identity.”
The organization’s other co-founder, Rabbi Ben Packer – now director of the Jerusalem Heritage House in Israel – said the organization was conceived almost as a kiruv outfit. Tendler said David Milstein – the organization’s president and Mark Levin’s step-son – is a perfect example of the group’s success. “He was politically conservative but he grew up extremely secular. He came on our inaugural Israel trip and then became very instrumental in building the organization.”
Milstein later worked for Senator Ted Cruz – who, along with Andrew Breitbart, attended the YJC’s first Shabbaton back in 2012 – and today is in Israel learning in yeshiva, having taken a break from his political work in DC.
Politically-conservative Jews are prime material for kiruv efforts, Rabbi Packer explained. They already believe in many traditionally Jewish ideas; it’s just a matter of telling them what they’re supposed to do and many will do it, he said.
On the group’s Israel trips, he said, he will announce, “We’re now davening Minchah,” and many Jews, who never in their lives picked up a siddur on a weekday, will readily do so without resistance.
Rabbi Packer, a baal teshvah himself who used to be a campus rabbi at Duke University and the University of North Carolina, said he would love to grow the organization, and engage a full-time rabbi for its members. “So much more can be done,” he said.