When A Saturday Caucus Means No Voting For Orthodox Jews A community of observant Jews in Kansas got Republicans to change their Saturday caucus rules, but Democrats haven't changed theirs yet.
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When A Saturday Caucus Means No Voting For Orthodox Jews

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When A Saturday Caucus Means No Voting For Orthodox Jews

When A Saturday Caucus Means No Voting For Orthodox Jews

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Democrats and Republicans in Kansas will choose who they want to be the president tomorrow. Both parties are caucusing on a Saturday this year as a way of accommodating people who might not be able to participate during the work week. But Elle Moxley of member station KCUR reports there is one group that won't be participating - Orthodox Jews.

ELLE MOXLEY, BYLINE: It's a Friday afternoon like any other for Victor Bergman and his wife, Susan. There's a cookbook open to a recipe for Moroccan chicken stew, several braided, golden loaves of challah on the counter.

VICTOR BERGMAN: OK, so one of the things that has to be done before the Sabbath starts is to get the food preparation - anything that needs to be cooked - cooked.

MOXLEY: The Bergmans are among the 15,000 or so Jews who live in Johnson County, Kan.

BERGMAN: Right here in our neighborhood, there are lots of Jewish families and an overrepresentation of Orthodox Jewish families.

MOXLEY: Daniel Rockoff is a Rabbi at the nearby Orthodox synagogue.

DANIEL ROCKOFF: A Sabbath observer in Judaism in the Orthodox tradition is someone who would walk to synagogue on Saturday and Friday night, someone who wouldn't write with a pen or use technology or answer phone calls.

MOXLEY: So no caucusing?

ROCKOFF: Wouldn't be allowed to rip something, to write something, to drive to get to the location we would have to caucus. That's why those technicalities become very real for us.

MARGIE ROBINOW: I’m Margie Robinow. I live in Kansas. I am an observant Jew.

MOXLEY: Robinow was disappointed she couldn't participate in the 2012 caucus, so she called up the Kansas Republican Party.

ROBINOW: They noticed that they probably weren't diverse enough and have made huge efforts to reach out to people.

MOXLEY: Kansas Republicans were already using a ballot at their caucus. It wasn't hard to mail an absentee version.

ROBINOW: I got it, I voted, and I mailed it in.

MOXLEY: But the Kansas Democrats do it differently - think standing in the high school gymnasium rallying for your preferred candidate. There's no ballot. You have to come in person. That upsets Mark Levin, a Reform rabbi.

MARK LEVIN: Some people think religious means Orthodox. I consider myself to be a very religious person.

MOXLEY: Levin, who describes his politics as Bernie Sanders-esque, isn't Sabbath-observant in the traditional sense. He'll drive to synagogue and go out to eat with friends after. But he generally reserves the day for rest and reflection.

LEVIN: I have heard no one say that they're feeling discriminated against because they can't attend a caucus. Do I still think that it's wrong to do it that way? Yes, I do.

MOXLEY: So does Victor Bergman. As his wife continues Sabbath preparations, he tells me, as a lawyer, he often gets questions about accommodations for the observant.

BERGMAN: If elections were held on Saturdays and you could only vote in person on Saturdays, I would probably be in court, and I'm sure others would have been there long before me.

MOXLEY: He says there may be a simple explanation for why more Sabbath-observant Jews aren't upset about the Democratic caucus - Kansas hasn't gone blue in a presidential election in half a century. For NPR News, I'm Elle Moxley in Kansas City, Mo.

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