Rabbi on the Roof: N.J. Candidate Gets Taste of Washington

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 2, 2008

Occasionally, a situation presents itself in which the straighter it's told, the more it sounds like a joke -- so you might as well just roll with it.

A blind rabbi walks onto a roof and announces he's running for Congress.

The blind rabbi is Democrat Dennis Shulman. The district is New Jersey's 5th, a solidly Republican region in the northern part of the state that has been represented by conservative Scott Garrett since 2002.

The roof, located approximately 4 1/2 hours from any of the counties in play, belongs to Tac Tacelosky, a Dupont Circle Web designer. He heard about Shulman, who is 58, through a mass e-mail from the National Jewish Democratic Council and wanted to get involved.

Around the same time, construction was being finished on his sprawling R Street rooftop deck.

Low-budget fundraiser? he e-mailed the campaign.

Next week? they wrote back.

Tacelosky went to Costco. He had workmen come install the rest of the railing. "Because," he explains, "you don't really want to have a missing part of your deck when a blind person is coming to speak there."

And now, on the last Thursday of July, Tacelosky and about 60 of his friends from various circles (there's a strong showing from Bike & Brunch, a Jewish cycling group), congregate on the roof and eat kosher-style food and pay $36 a person to cluster around a candidate for whom none of them will ever vote. (The donation amount? Twice times 18, a number that Jews associate with good luck.)

"He has kind of a cult following among Jews in America," says guest Matt Dorf, who does Jewish outreach for the Democratic National Committee. "It's not every day a rabbi runs for Congress."

Never, according to Shulman's campaign. And the last blind congressman left office almost 70 years ago.

Shulman is an anomaly, one whose personal circumstances draw more attention than his political stances (for abortion rights, for speedy troop withdrawal). He doesn't mind. "It's a great segue," he says cheerfully.

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