September 06, 2012 at 9:10 am
By Jonathan Mattise
Treasure Coast Newspapers
When Rabbi Jonathan Kendall of Stuart first learned he’d be a delegate at the Democratic National Convention this week, he couldn’t help letting his mind drift back a century.
In June, Kendall’s fellow delegates at the Democratic State Convention in Tampa voted to send him to the DNC. Afterward, Kendall hurried back to Sewall’s Point from Tampa and dove into his research. Something specifically clicked about the date of Obama’s DNC roll call in Charlotte, a vote the rabbi made official Wednesday.
Kendall knew his late grandfather, also a rabbi, nominated Teddy Roosevelt as a delegate 100 years ago at the Bull Moose State Convention in Syracuse, N.Y. Roosevelt, a past president running as a progressive candidate against the two-party system, lost that 1912 bid for the presidency to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.
After shuffling through old files, Kendall was shocked to see how the convention dates lined up. He learned his vote forObama would come exactly 100 years, to the day, after his grandfather vouched for Roosevelt.
“That’s the part that gave me the chills,” said Kendall.
Rabbi I.E. Philo died when Kendall was 2 years old, so it’s tough for the rabbi to conjure up family memories with his grandfather. But Kendall said Philo’s ideals still stick with him.
Born in 1879, Philo took the pulpit as a reform rabbi in Youngstown, Ohio, the same town where Kendall grew up. Philo supported unions, women’s suffrage and teamed with other religious clergy to perform interfaith and interracial marriages. Philo laughed off an offer to become a rabbi in a dusty California desert town — soon to be Los Angeles — and instead stuck with his growing Ohio hometown.
“He was caught up in progressivism, which was before Teddy Roosevelt, but Teddy Roosevelt became its leader,” Kendall said.
Roosevelt, who served as a Republican president from 1901 to 1909, broke from the GOP and ran on the short-lived Bull Moose Party ticket in 1912. Roosevelt created the party to push progressive ideals, like “social insurance” for the elderly, minimum wage for women, eight-hour workdays, workman’s compensation, strengthened campaign finance disclosure requirements and a constitutional amendment proposing a federal income tax.
Supporters gave the party its namesake after Roosevelt was shot before giving a campaign speech in Milwaukee, Wis., and still delivered the speech. His response to a reporter about taking a bullet: “I’m as fit as a bull moose.”
Roosevelt scolded both parties when he severed GOP ties to establish the separate political group.
“The old parties are husks, with no real soul within either, divided on artificial lines, boss-ridden and privilege-controlled, each a jumble of incongruous elements, and neither daring to speak out wisely and fearlessly what should be said on the vital issues of the day,” Roosevelt said.
Roosevelt pulled in 27 percent of the popular vote and 88 electoral votes, besting Republican rival William Howard Taft’s eight. Wilson took advantage of the divided Republican base to seal the win.
Kendall still has his grandfather’s delegate pin from the Syracuse convention. He said he still sees infighting over many of the ideas the Bull Moose Party espoused. He’s also a longtime progressive activist, and remembers seeing Martin Luther King Jr. speak in person.
Kendall, now retired as rabbi emeritus, founded Temple Beit HaYam in Stuart in 1995 and preached there until July 2011. Unlike his grandfather, he did make it to California full time. He filled a rabbi role for 10 years in Santa Barbara before leaving for Florida.
Among the throngs of media on-site, Politico, Huffington Post, Roll Call, NPR and other political outlets at the convention have interviewed Kendall about his story. He’s the lone Martin County delegate in Charlotte, and one of seven delegates and two alternates from the Treasure Coast.
With his vote Wednesday, Kendall said his grandfather’s experience has come full circle.
“It only took a century to close the circle,” Kendall said.