Daniel Livingston, a John McCain supporter who's all of 13, is frustrated that he won't get to cast a ballot in this year's election. In fact, in 2012, he'll only be 17, so he won't have the chance to vote for president until 2016.
Wearing a slightly oversized Flyers jacket, which was a Bar Mitzvah present, the student in the Hebrew school at Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park said that he follows the daily political news cycle as closely as he follows Philly sports teams — especially the World Champion Phillies. (He's the son of Michael Livingston, who was briefly a Republican candidate for Congress.)
Exactly one week before Election Day, Livingston and some of his classmates hung out in the synagogue and munched on kosher turkey sandwiches as they waited for the start of a presidential candidates' forum geared specifically for the school's students. That program, attended by about 50 students, including a handful from neighboring Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, featured representatives of the Republican Jewish Coalition and the National Jewish Democratic Council.
As they waited, Livingston and 15-year-old Joe Liss, a self-described Independent who's all for Obama, talked about everything from abortion to the merits of liberal and conservative views, and the horse-racing element of the presidential contest.
"I think McCain still has a shot," asserted Livingston.
The two might have gone on indefinitely if they hadn't had to attend the event. David Cohen, senior congressional fellow for the Council for a Livable World, a group that alerts citizens to the dangers posed by nuclear weaponry, made the pitch for Obama, and Scott Feigelstein, RJC's regional director, provided the McCain perspective.
Debbie Miner, director of religious instruction at the congregation, said that students had used class time to prepare a series of questions on topics including energy, the environment, education, Israel, Iran, Iraq, abortion and the overall negative tone of the campaign. During the program, Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom selected some of the students' questions and posed them to the speakers.
Perhaps the most heated exchange occurred concerning the question of whether or not the Oslo process had been a mistake. Cohen argued that the impetus behind the peace process was sound, and it was only because of Yasser Arafat that it failed, while Feigelstein said that history has proven that the land-for-peace formula is misguided.
Afterwards, Liss, the Obama supporter, said that Feigelstein had made an eloquent argument for McCain, but it didn't change his mind.
"For me, personally, Sen. Obama passed the Israel litmus test," Liss wrote in a follow-up e-mail, adding that, as the grandchild of a Holocaust survivor, the issue is one of paramount of importance to him. "Beyond Israel, I respect Obama's views on foreign policy … on taxes — where he knows you must get real money to spend real money — and on his qualities as a leader."
Livingston, for his part, wrote in an e-mail that Cohen sounded "more pro-Arab than Israeli."
He expressed support for McCain and the Republican party. "Conservative ideas take in the realism of the world."
While many of their classmates might not be political junkies, they nevertheless have followed the election.
Emma Tischler, 14, noted that she's very concerned about preserving the legal right to have an abortion and appreciated hearing the speaker clarify the positions of the presidential contenders. While she disagrees with McCain's pro-life stance, she nevertheless said she remains undecided.
Ben Weilerstein, also 14, emphasized that he's not a political person. When it comes to McCain and Obama, he's not sure whom he prefers.
"I agree with McCain on Israel — and Obama on more or less everything else."