Va. Dems use Jewish emails without permission

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An intern working for the Democratic Party in Virginia used membership directories from at least two synagogues and one Jewish day school that he obtained himself and with friends to invite hundreds of area Jews to a Jews for Democratic Candidates in Virginia rally.

The intern, Jonah Scharf, admitted to copying from membership directories and has apologized.

Representatives of Agudas Achim Congregation, Congregation Olam Tikvah and Gesher Jewish Day School denied responsibility for the mass emailing that went out to their members and students, stressing it is not their policy to allow anyone to use their membership lists for anything other than synagogue or school use.

Scharf did not respond to email messages from Washington Jewish Week. No one from the Virginia Democratic Party returned emails or phone calls except for a woman from the Fairfax office of the Democratic Party, which sponsored the Nov. 4 rally. She would only say, “Unfortunately, I can’t speak to the press.” Therefore, whether or not someone asked the intern to gather the names or even questioned how he had obtained so many names is not known.

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The incident has raised the ire of many congregants who are upset that the Democratic Party obtained their personal email addresses and also that their email addresses have become available for others to see.

Sometimes, email blasts are addressed to “undisclosed recipients,” but in this case, congregant email addresses were clearly visible in the top of the email.

Hundreds of Jews from at least these two synagogues and day school received the following email:

Dear Members of the Northern Virginia Jewish Community,
My name is Jonah Scharf, and I am a member of Northern Virginia’s Jewish Community as well as an intern with the Democratic Coordinated Campaign. I am just emailing you all as members of the Community to an event we are having tomorrow, November 4th at 6:30 P.M. in our Fairfax Office (11180 Lee Highway Fairfax City, VA). This Jews for Democratic Candidates event will kicked off by Rabbi Jack Moline, the newlly named executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC). He will be getting us fired up for the election! We hope to see you there! If you wish to attend, please respond to this email. If you decide last minute please feel free to drop in!
The email was signed, “Thank you so much, Jonah Scharf Intern, Democratic Coordinated Campaign

Following the uproar by congregants and synagogue officials alike, Scharf then wrote this apology:

I apologize for inviting you to the event this evening. No Jewish community organization gave me access to their mailing list. I and other interns for the campaign happen to be members of roughly every Jewish organization in the area and so we obtained the email addresses through our own accords. We did not give your email addresses to the Democratic Party or any other organization. We have now deleted all email addresses from our hard drives and sincerely apologize for the misuse of the synagogue directory. I understand my intern mistake and hope that you can forgive me for emailing you yesterday.
S’licha, Jonah

Rabbi Jack Moline of Agudas Achim Congregation said neither he nor his synagogue was at all involved in release of the email address. The emails “didn’t come from us. It didn’t come from me.” He added that his synagogue “had nothing to do” with the incident and has a policy of never sharing our mailing list with anyone.

When told it was an intern, Moline said, “My guess is it’s youthful exuberance.”

Mirza Lopez, executive director of that synagogue, said, “We did not give permission. As a matter of fact, our president is very, very upset.” The synagogue’s directory “is just for the use of our members,” she said.

The president, Joel Goldhammer, acknowledged that the synagogue was not involved and then added that the use of the email addresses “wasn’t anything malicious. One of their young kids got hold of the directories and used it.”

At Olam Tikvah, Rachelle Palley, administrator, sent out an apology to the congregation in which she explained, “You received an email last night from the high school student who had not considered the impact of using the OT directory. His sincere apology is below.” The email then copied Scharf’s apology.

Over at Gesher, Zvi Schoenburg, head of school, also issued an apology which reads:

Dear Gesher Families,
Our directory, The Bridge, is published for the private use of Gesher families, as is stated on the bottom of each page in the Family Directory: “Please respect the privacy of all Gesher families. Contact information provided solely for internal, non-commercial usage.”

We understand that over the weekend an email relating to the Virginia elections may have been sent out to email addresses drawn from the directory. Any such usage was unauthorized. We apologize to anyone who may have received such an email as a result.
One Olam Tikvah congregant who contacted WJW said that it appeared to him that someone had manually copied the email addresses from the directories as he recognized spelling mistakes in people’s names.
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