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Obama and the Jews: Voter-Generated Content Adds Context

BY Micah L. Sifry | Friday, May 23 2008

It's one thing to read about an event in the newspaper; it's another thing to watch the event in its unexpurgated form as raw, unedited video. And as more people carry video cameras or video-enabled mobile phones, it's a safe bet that high-, medium- and even low-visibility political events are going to be recorded by participants and find their way to the web. Not every video will be a "macaca" moment, but these primary documents have their own power to persuade or affect opinions precisely because they're so organically real.

This morning I went looking for raw video of Barack Obama's visit yesterday to a Boca Raton synagogue, where he was making a direct appeal to Florida's important bloc of Jewish voters to set aside some of their concerns or fears about his candidacy. The report I read in this morning's New York Times made it sound like he had a mixed reception, which bothered me personally. (Let me just say as a aside that as an American Jew with progressive leanings who has often felt estranged from the "mainstream" American Jewish leadership, the stories of older American Jews expressing their belief in all kinds of misinformation about Obama's religion or doubts about his support for Israel or, worse, outright racism, really pain me.)

As I suspected, there's good stuff out there. Watch this nine-minute video made by a person who attended the synagogue event:

I learned two things from watching this. One, that Obama seems to have won over his audience pretty effectively, judging from the loud applause and standing ovation he gets at the end. Two, he has a very funny way of disarming people who have been getting those viral emails claiming that he is a Muslim. At about the 6:00 mark in the video, he asks them "If you get an email from a Nigerian who says you can make a lot of money is you send him a $1000, don't send your money." The crowd starts to laugh knowingly. They roar as he continues, "We don't believe stuff when there are advertisements that say we can enhance your ... then why would you believe an email that says stuff about me?

On this othervideo, which was taped by someone who recorded part of the live TV coverage of Obama's appearance, it's interesting to see that the audience actually applauds appreciatively when he explains that his name, Barack, actually comes from the same root and has the same meaning of the Hebrew name, "Baruch," which means blessed. Corny, but effective, perhaps.

These are not the kinds of things you will see in a 532-word story from the trail, but they add color and substance that make a complicated story a bit richer and more telling.