As we head into the thick of primary season, Democrats are choosing among a bumper crop of candidates. So many new and exciting people have entered politics out of a will to set the nation on a safer course, and thanks to their enthusiasm, our party is poised for huge gains this November.
In a previous email, we highlighted the large number of Jewish Democratic women running for Congress. Here, we’re taking a look at their male counterparts, an equally-impressive group of hopefuls. What follows is by no means an endorsement of all of them; many of our members are no doubt supporting other candidates in some of these races. Even so, we take pride in the aspirations of our fellow Jews, and we wish them well in the days and months ahead.
As you’ll read below, Jews have served in Congress since almost the dawn of the Republic. Sometimes, their beliefs didn’t reflect our own, and that’s part of our community’s long history in America. But more often than not, our fellow Jews have spoken out for civil rights, tikkun olam and equality. The candidates profiled in the following article continue in this time-honored tradition.
Chair, Jewish Democratic Council of America
Florida Senator David Levy Yulee (left) and Michigan Rep. Sander Levin (right)
Jewish Men Are Running for Congress This Year, Too
By Jillian Nystedt
We recently looked back at the electoral Year of Woman 1992 and speculated if 2018 might be the Year of the (Jewish Democratic) Woman, given all the Jewish women running for Congress this year and for many other elective offices. Well, this year also marks 173 years since the first Jew began serving in Congress — and could end up with an election that leads to the highest total number of Jews ever to serve in the House and Senate.
At a minimum, we believe that 2018 already has more Jews running for Congress than ever before.
David Levy Yulee, a St. Thomas native whose father made his fortune in timber in the Caribbean before moving the family to Florida, was the first Jew to be elected to the U.S. Senate. Initially elected in 1841 as the Florida territory’s delegate to Congress, Yulee, a Democrat and a supporter of slavery, became Florida’s first U.S. senator when the state was admitted to the Union in 1845. After serving two separate terms, Yulee resigned his seat when his state seceded from the Union in early 1861, on the eve of the Civil War. (Despite some reports to the contrary, Yulee never served in the Confederate Congress, though other Jews did; his support for the Confederacy led to his imprisonment at Fort Pulaski in 1865.)
The first Jew to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives was Lewis Levin, who was elected in 1844 from Pennsylvania on the line of the Know Nothing Party, a nativist faction that opposed immigration. Levin and Yulee represent a complicated (and somewhat embarrassing) note in our history, but there since have been many Jewish congressmen who we can be proud of. That roster includes Jefferson Levy, the New York representative who owned Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate; Herbert Lehman, the New York senator and governor who was one of the most ardent supporters of the New Deal; Abe Ribicoff, the Connecticut senator who helped shepherd Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs through Congress; and modern-day legend and Michigan representative Sander “Sandy” Levin (no relation to his Know Nothing predecessor), all Democrats.
The longest-serving current Jewish member of the U.S. Congress, Sandy Levin will be retiring at the end of this Congress. Levin, 86, has spent more than 35 years representing Michigan’s 12th, 17th and now 9th Congressional Districts in Congress, serving on the House Ways and Means Committee. He was chairman of the panel during the passage of the Affordable Care Act. When he completes his term in January, his tenure will tie with that of his younger brother, Carl, who with 36 years — double chai — under his belt was the longest-serving Jewish U.S. senator. (The longest-serving Jewish representative was Emanuel Celler of New York, who held his House seat from 1923 until 1973.
Sandy Levin has proudly supported Israel throughout his time in Congress. Following his retirement from government, he will join the University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. In a statement, he said, “I now want to share these same values in ways other than being an elected official. Working to renew our confidence in promoting positive change, especially among our next generation of leaders, will be a particular interest.”
Levin’s brother credits their parents with instilling in them a sense that they should be committed to the Jewish community but then “care for something bigger than yourself.” And, now another generation is seeking to take up that mantle, as Andy Levin runs for his dad’s seat (see below), while yet another Levin – Mike – (also not related) runs in California (also below).
Meanwhile, among the other Jewish men in the House, only Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) is leaving to run for Colorado governor this year, while the remaining 14 are seeking re-election, a full dozen of them Democrats.
Sources: http://thehill.com/homenews/house/362927-michigan-democrat-to-retire-from-congress, David Levy Yulee, https://www.jta.org/2017/12/03/news-opinion/politics/rep-sander-levin-current-longest-serving-jewish-congressman-wont-seek-reelection,
Snapshots of the non-incumbent Jewish men running for the U.S. House in 2018
May 8 Primary
Aaron Scheinberg, West Virginia District 2 [Update: Lost primary]
An Army vet like his grandfather, Aaron Scheinberg graduated from West Point — where he was choir director for the campus Jewish chapel and was honored with the Col. David “Mickey” Marcus Award — and received his degree in systems engineering and linguistics. He deployed to Iraq with the 4th Infantry Division as a platoon leader.
Following his discharge as a captain, Scheinberg earned a dual degree from Columbia Business School and Harvard Kennedy School. He then had several consulting positions — in the fields of aerospace and defense, education and software, and strategy and operations.
In 2012, he began working for The Mission Continues, a nonprofit focused on bringing together veterans and community organization. Scheinberg left that group last year — as executive director — to focus on his campaign.
As a teenager, he was a seven-time gold medal track and field winner at the Maccabi Games.
Scheinberg believes his military background best positions him to fix the broken political system in Washington. He told Washington Jewish Week , “I think we’re in a pivotal moment in our democracy where we’re going to see more service-minded people elected, and I think I’m part of that first wave.”
Sources: https://scheinbergforcongress.com/story/, https://www.wvgazettemail.com/news/politics/veteran-announces-bid-for-alex-mooney-s-congressional-seat/article_8a3a79d2-dfb8-5c46-b181-4eb04e3d9b27.html
May 22 Primary
Kevin Abel, Georgia District 6 [Update: July 24 runoff]
Kevin Abel immigrated to America at age 14, moving with his family from South Africa to Texas. He later made his way to the Atlanta area in 1990, where he has become an active member of his Jewish community. As vice chair of New American Pathways, a nonprofit that works with two of the national resettlement agencies authorized by the State Department to support newly arrived refugees, Abel led efforts at his local synagogue to aid refugee families from Syria.
Abel is running in a heavily contested primary, which will take place on May 22. The winner of the primary will go on to face Republican incumbent Rep. Karen Handel. Last year, Handel defeated Jewish Democrat Jon Ossoff, winning—by a thin margin—a closely watched runoff election.
Abel and his wife, Cindy, started their own technology company, Abel Solutions, in the mid-1990s, growing it into a regional business employing hundreds of people.
In a statement released on the announcement of his candidacy, Abel wrote, “I am inspired to represent people who truly want change. I am inspired to bring together people across the aisle to address our country’s biggest domestic challenges including health care policy, immigration, social security, climate change, campaign finance, and the ever expanding debt.”
May 22 Primary Runoff
Sam Johnson, Texas District 3 [Update: Lost primary]
The northeast Texas district is currently represented by retiring Republican Congressman Sam Johnson. Running to replace him is a Jewish Democrat also named Sam Johnson, but of no relation to the current member of Congress.
Democrat Sam Johnson started his own law firm after moving back to the district, where he “devotes about 75 percent of his practice to serving as outside general counsel for businesses ranging from startups to international companies.” He has won the Texas Monthly/SuperLawyers Rising Star award every year since 2014. Johnson teaches education seminars for numerous local bar associations, is active in the Collin County Bar Association and has invested in new business concepts. He also attended the FBI-Dallas Citizens Academy and is involved in its alumni association.
Johnson credits his Jewish upbringing for his desire to serve his community. “Judaism is a service-oriented religion. You are taught to participate. [It is] where I get my desire for public service. I’ve carried my leadership skills throughout my life through BBYO.” Johnson is also on the board of the North-Texas/Oklahoma region of the Anti-Defamation League, where he serves as the regional co-chair of the ADL Education Committee and sits on the ADL’s National Advocacy & Engagement Committee and its Leadership 2020 Committee.
Johnson received 28.68 percent of the vote in the March 6 primary and will face off against Lorie Burch in a runoff election on May 22. Burch received 49.61 percent of the primary votes, but Texas requires candidates for state office to receive at least 50 percent to be declared the winner.
June 5 Primary
Mike Levin, California District 49 [Update: Won primary]
With a background in a number of local, state and federal political campaigns and organizations, Mike Levin has decided it’s time to run for office himself.
Levin, 39, grew up with a Catholic mother and Jewish father, celebrating both holidays — something that he says taught him the importance of religious freedom and tolerance. “This is a country built on escaping religious persecution,” he said. “We are better than the recent intolerance we have seen.”
Former executive director of the Democratic Party of Orange County, he worked as an attorney focused on environmental and energy regulatory compliance and government affairs. He served on the board of the Center for Sustainable Energy in San Diego, and co-founded Sustain OC in Orange County.
In 2011, Levin was named to the OC METRO 40 under40 for his work in clean energy. He pledges to champion clean environmental policies, as well as Medicare for all, affordable higher education and preventing gun violence.
Sources: http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/politics/sd-me-levin-runs-20170308-story.html, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Levin, https://mikelevin.org/happy-holidays-from-my-family-to-yours/, https://mikelevin.org/about/,http://www.olmsteadwilliams.com/flexenergy-executive-makes-oc-metros-40-under-40-list/
June 12 Primary
Dan Helmer, Virginia District 10 [Update: Lost primary]
Dan Helmer has devoted his life to serving his country, and plans to continue in Washington.
Helmer, 35, is the grandson of Holocaust survivors who were welcomed to the U.S. as refugees, inspiring him to give back and join the military. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point where he was the Hillel president during his last two years.
Helmer went on to serve in the military, studied Israel’s security as a Rhodes Scholar, and supports a two-state solution. His paternal grandfather fought in Israel’s War of Independence.
The importance of teamwork became clear to Helmer when his general called him to say that the Afghan officers needed to be trained properly. Helmer then trained Americans, Afghans and coalition partners to solve problems together, and his work led to a national training center for military officers.
Helmer is prioritizing rising unemployment in the Virginia 10 and improving local infrastructure. He criticizes President Trump for dividing the U.S., and says he will work to bring people together. He said, “The essence of being in the military is to put country before self. It’s been something deeply absent from our politics.”
June 26 Primary
Perry Gershon, New York District 1
Before becoming a successful businessman, Perry Gershon got his political start as a volunteer on the presidential campaigns of Sens. Ted Kennedy and Gary Hart in the 1980s. Gershon graduated from Yale in 1984, and then opened one of New York’s first sports bars for fans of the Mets, Jets and Knicks. He and his family have been involved in their local synagogue, fighting for social justice and New York’s Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act after the Sandy Hook shooting, and in relief efforts following superstorm Sandy.
After the 2016 election, however, Gershon felt a personal call to fight for change.
Despite running in a contested primary, Gershon has his sights set on Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Jewish Republican who currently represents the Long Island district. According to his campaign website, Gershon is “fed up with Republicans like Congressman Lee Zeldin and Donald Trump, including their effort to take away health care for millions of Americans, squeezing the middle-class to fund budget-busting tax giveaways for the ultra-wealthy and big corporations, and siding with the NRA instead of working to end gun violence in America. It’s unacceptable.”
Gershon felt compelled to do more after the election of President Trump. On his campaign website he pledges to fight against Trump-Zeldin efforts to “degrade” the environment, and to fight for gun control and a woman’s right to choose. He also pledges to help provide quality jobs, health care, education and retirement security.
If Gershon emerges from the primary to face off against Zeldin in November, it would be a rare situation of two Jewish candidates from different parties running against each other in a general election.
Max Rose, New York District 11
A fourth-generation Jewish New Yorker, Max Rose, 31, earned a Ranger tab, Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his Army service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now in the Army National Guard, Rose hopes to earn the right to win another pin — that worn by members of Congress.
He has a tough battle ahead, running for the Democratic primary in a Staten Island district that, with the exception of two years, has been in Republican hands since 1980 and saw Donald Trump get 57 percent of the vote in the 2016 presidential election. But the combat-tested Rose is optimistic, telling Times of Israel that his focus on the economy, health care and the military should appeal to voters. “People have lost their faith in the system,” he says. “This is such an important time. We are at such a crossroads. There is a shared overriding sense that government is broken. People feel politicians don’t care, they don’t see them having passion and commitment and the dedication [people] deserve.”
Rose enlisted after receiving his B.A. in history from Wesleyan University and master’s in philosophy and public policy from the London School of Economics. He laments that a “culture has emerged in many parts of this country where we value service, but we don’t put military service as an option,” and notes that he was often grilled about why he wanted to join the Army. “To this day I’m humbled and awed by the unbelievable people that serve. And in many of these bubbles we live in, that’s not understood,” he says.
Following his military service, Rose worked as director of public engagement and special assistant to the late Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, and later joined Brightpoint Health, a nonprofit health care provider in New York City.
On the campaign trail, he tells crowds, “We, as Democrats, need to regain the trust of the people and not be bought out by the system. It’s time for a change, and I believe that I can help cut the cost of health care and education, fix this opioid crisis and bring Staten Island and south Brooklyn back to the way it was.”
August 7 Primary
Andy Levin, Michigan District 9
Andy Levin has spent his life fighting for the middle class inside and outside of government. In this time of political division, he is ready to defend democracy in Washington.
Levin, 57, is running to replace his father, Rep. Sander Levin, in Congress. He has a long history as an advocate of workers’ rights, from creating and running No Worker Left Behind, the largest job re-training program in the country, to Union Summer, which organizes young people to recruit for unions.
Levin is also passionate about clean energy — he started his own clean energy business and created Lean & Green Michigan. His leadership experience doesn’t stop there — he also formerly ran the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth. Levin is active in the Jewish community, and currently serves as the president of Detroit-area Congregation T’chiyah. He also chairs the steering committee for Detroit Jews for Justice, an organization that encourages Jews of all ages to fight for racial and economic justice.
August 14 Primary
Dan Kohl, Wisconsin District 6
Dan Kohl was raised in a family that prioritized community voluntarism. This spirit of activism inspires him to run for Congress.
After graduating from law school, Kohl, now 52, began a 13-year long career with the Milwaukee Bucks. He served as assistant general manager, managing the team’s salary cap and overseeing collegiate and international recruitment.
In the wake of the Iraq War, Kohl joined the pro-Israel advocacy group J Street as vice president of political affairs. At J Street, Kohl worked with federal officials and congressional candidates on Middle East policy. He now serves on the board, and in 2017 he received the organization’s Tzedek V’Shalom award, honoring his work on behalf of Middle East peace.
Kohl has an extensive record of involvement in the Jewish community. He currently serves on the board for the University of Wisconsin – Madison Hillel and has served on the boards of the American Jewish Committee, the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, the Milwaukee Jewish Day School (as chair), and Washington Hebrew Congregation.
Kohl says, “Though not observant I am proudly Jewish and grew up in a family that emphasized social justice and tikkun olam. Those values led to my steady and increased involvement across the organized Jewish community. Those values explain why I left a career in professional sports management to head up a nonprofit dedicated to remedying the massive educational achievement gap in Wisconsin. And those same values were reflected in the professional work I’ve done advocating for children’s health and military mental health.”
Dean Phillips, Minnesota District 3
Dean Phillips was in middle school when he heard John Anderson, then running for president as an independent, speak. He was struck by Anderson’s advice about the need for independence in government and the risk of money in politics. Young Dean was telling his family about the talk when his grandmother asked him whether he was a Democrat or Republican. He had no idea, so his grandmother told him, “you’re a Democrat.”
That would be Grandma Abby, as in advice columnist Dear Abby (the late Pauline Phillips).
Dean Phillips, who calls himself “fiscally responsible and socially inclusive,” later went to the encyclopedia to learn about Democrats and Republicans, and then in college interned in Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) office. “He shared with us the inner workings of our system and that inspired me,” Phillips told TC Jewfolk. “I thought given the right circumstances, opportunity, and need, if those intersected, I would step up.”
That right time came with this year’s election.
His main experience with governance came as a board member at Temple Israel in Minneapolis. He’s also the former CEO of Phillips Distilling Company, established by his great-great-grandfather in 1912, former CEO and co-owner of Talenti Gelato and current CEO of Penny’s Coffee.
Dean Phillips comes from a philanthropic family — the family name adorns The Phillips-Wangensteen Building at the University of Minnesota, the Phillips Eye Institute and The Jay Phillips Center for Multifaith Learning — and says that Jewish values drive that philanthropy. “Our true family business is the foundation, and philanthropy is the thread that is woven through the generations,” he told TC. “My Jewishness begins with that.”
Rabbi Shaul Praver, Connecticut District 5
Rabbi Shaul Praver brings the moral probity and incisive thought of a Talmudic scholar to his run for U.S. Congress. Asked about gun control, he explains to the Forward, “In the Talmud, the sages say a person can have a big dog… to protect their home…Then the question was, can you have a lion? The answer is no… at that point, the weapon is so powerful that the sages’ concern shifted from the individual to the community.
“Think of the lion as assault weapons,” he said, “and think of the dog as a normal weapon that one could have.”
It’s an apposite example: Praver is running in Connecticut’s 5th District—home to Sandy Hook. He last took the national stage in 2012, leading prayers at a nationally televised vigil for the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting. His passionate engagement with national issues extends well beyond gun control, however. Praver, the long-time rabbi at Congregation Adath Israel in Newtown, now a chaplain for Connecticut’s State Department of Correction, and recently released a book called Spiritual Guidance for the Incarcerated. His experience with the penal system has made the opiate crisis an issue of special importance to him.
“What we need to do in our society is treat addiction as a medical issue and not as a penal issue,” he says. This, Praver believes, involves adopting a ‘Medicare-for-all’ system advocated by progressive Democrats like Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“There’s no crime when a person has diabetes and they need help. There shouldn’t be a crime when someone is addicted to drugs and needs help.”
Rabbi Praver considers himself to be a “bold progressive”—something he hopes will set him apart in the three-way Democratic primary to replace Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, who is not running for reelection.
Sources: https://forward.com/news/national/400056/can-sandy-hooks-rabbi-make-it-to-congress-with-a-message-against-gun/ ; https://theislandnow.com/great_neck/rabbi-shaul-praver-running-for-congress-retraces-great-neck-roots/
August 28 Primary
David Shapiro, Florida District 16
David Shapiro, who has spent his life fighting for justice, says he was motivated to run by “our need for representatives in Congress who will stand up for the people, not be afraid to work across the aisle, and do what is in the best interests of the hardworking families they were elected to serve.”
Now 58, Shapiro has been working since he was 11 years old when he began helping out at the family’s dry cleaning business. He worked his way through college and law school in a variety of jobs from bussing tables to selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door.
A personal injury lawyer, he has served on the boards of Temple Emanuel; Children First, an early education head start program; the Sarasota Film Festival; and the West Coast Black Theater Troupe. Shapiro also is a Sarasota Chamber of Congress trustee. Passionate about saving what he refers to as “our most valuable resource,” the environment, he also is committed to making health care more affordable for seniors and the middle class.
Shapiro says, “Throughout my careers in journalism and the law, I have tried to live up to the Jewish communities’ example. For nearly 30 years, I have pursued justice for people against powerful companies. As a Congressman, I intend to help restore American ideals and pursue the path of Tikkun Olum.”
September 11 Primary
Levi Sanders, New Hampshire District 1
Levi Sanders, running to represent average working-class Americans, is no stranger to political campaigns. He unsuccessfully ran for Claremont City Council and his father is Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, who sought the Democratic nomination for president in 2016. The younger Sanders was a senior aide during that campaign and a consultant on his father’s Senate race.
Though he and his father line up on many issues, Levi is quick to say that he and his dad are “two separate and distinct individuals.” The younger Sanders is focusing on the middle and working classes, and looking to bring into the party — or bring back — Donald Trump supporters. In a statement, he said, “it is time to demand that we have a system which represents the 99 percent and not the 1 percent who have never had it so good.”
Sanders, who has worked as a legal services analyst, will focus his campaign on supporting a Medicare-for-all health-care system, tuition-free college and a $15 per hour minimum wage. He is also open to supporting new gun laws.
Sanders’ father is Jewish, and it’s unclear if the young Sanders identifies as Jewish. He apparently prefers to keep his religious beliefs private.
Sources: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2018/02/27/bernie-sanderss-son-levi-runs-for-congress-in-new-hampshire/?utm_term=.5f01ceab7437, http://time.com/5177699/5-things-to-know-about-levi-sanders-bernie-sanders-son-who-is-running-for-congress/
Are we missing anyone? Let us know. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Incumbent Jewish Democratic members of the House and Senate running for re-election
David Cicilline (RI)
Steve Cohen (TN)
Susan Davis (CA)
Ted Deutch (FL)
Eliot Engel (NY)
Lois Frankel (FL)
Josh Gottheimer (NJ)
Alan Lowenthal (CA)
Nita Lowey (NY)
Jerry Nadler (NY)
Jared Polis (CO)*
Jamie Raskin (MD)
Jacky Rosen (NV)**
Jan Schakowsky (IL)
Adam Schiff (CA)
Brad Schneider (IL)
Brad Sherman (CA)
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL)
John Yarmuth (KY)
Ben Cardin (MD)
Dianne Feinstein (CA)
Bernie Sanders (VT)***
*running for governor
**running for Senate
***Independent who caucuses with Democrats