Jay Zeidman spent a lot of his youth at meetings for Jewish organizations in Texas. Now, he's going as a representative of the White House.
Zeidman, 22, was named White House liaison to the Jewish community last month, and has been tasked with selling Bush administration policies to Jews at a time when the president's approval ratings are at historic lows.
Zeidman is the son of Fred Zeidman, chairman of the US Holocaust Memorial Council and a fund-raiser for US President George W. Bush in the Jewish community. The younger Zeidman said he attended a lot of meetings with his father for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Anti-Defamation League in Houston, and walked away with strong support for Israel and political activism.
"I've found the community to be quite receptive to our agenda, both domestic and foreign," he said. "They are willing to listen."
Zeidman replaces Jeffrey Berkowitz, an associate director of scheduling at the White House, who tried to balance both tasks for a year.
Zeidman is a staffer at the White House Office of Public Liaison, and officials said he will have more time to devote to working with Jewish leaders, considered a full-time job in itself.
Zeidman is the fifth liaison to the Jewish community since Bush came to office in 2001.
In his first month on the job, Zeidman was tasked with coordinating Vice President Dick Cheney's speech at the AIPAC Policy Conference. Now he is working on Bush's expected address to the American Jewish Committee on May 4.
Zeidman said he was impressed with the administration's willingness to reach out to Jews. "We're speaking on all levels, from the president and vice president on down," he said. "The president gets our message. He believes in the things we believe in."
Zeidman came to the White House from Texas Christian University near Dallas, where he graduated last year with a degree in economics and was student body president. He said the school was an "unlikely place" for a Jewish student to thrive.
"He's proud of his religion, proud of his heritage and was willing to withstand whatever peer pressure there might be to assimilate in the student community," his father said. "He stood up for what was right."
Zeidman began interning at the public liaison office over the summer, working with former Jewish liaisons Tevi Troy and Noam Neusner.
"Jay is rightfully judged on his skill and not on his age," Neusner said. "This White House values people who show a capacity for organization, judgment, skill - and he's got all those things."
Zeidman said he wants to highlight the efforts the Bush administration is making to end the killing in Darfur, which has become an important topic for Jewish groups.
"There have been a lot of discussion that the administration has not taken enough action," he said. "Bottom line, that is not accurate."
He noted that Bush continues to refer to Darfur as a "genocide," saying the word should resonate and have an impact in the Jewish community.
Zeidman also has been issuing more e-mails and updates to a "Jewish leaders" list the White House maintains, on issues from the Palestinian and Israeli elections to the war in Iraq and Darfur.
Zeidman said he does not think about political office in his future. He hopes to return to Texas to get an MBA and go into business with his family.