Josh Shapiro traces his Pennsylvania gubernatorial bid to his childhood work for Soviet Jews – The Forward

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PHILADELPHIA — Surrounded by workers at a busy downtown Philadelphia intersection on a hot August afternoon, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro spoke loudly about the “union lifestyle,” promising to take “this fight from our parking lots to our cafes and every place in between.

Shapiro, the Democratic candidate for governor in this critical watershed state, traces his commitment to union-style organizing to his childhood involvement in the early 1980s movement to free Soviet Jews. In an interview after a panel discussion on the importance of unions and living wages, he said his mother motivated him to join a grassroots letter-writing campaign that connected Jews around the world with Soviet “refuseniks” of similar ages living in fear. punishment for practicing Judaism.

Shapiro, who is 49, said his parents “gave me a very good example for living a life of faith and service.” Earlier, he had told union workers that in a time of political division, his attitude was to “fuck off” and “raise all of God’s children”.

Pennsylvania Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro speaks during a rally with union workers on August 18, 2022. Photo by Jacob Kornbluh

In what is expected to be one of the nation’s most watched races this fall, recent polls show Shapiro leading State Senator Doug Mastriano, a self-proclaimed Christian nationalist and leader of the “Stop the Steal” movement challenging the results of the 2020 elections, single digit.

President Joe Biden plans to travel to Philadelphia on Thursday for a primetime speech from Independence National Historical Park. Tuesday, Biden praised Shapiro at a rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, as a “champion of the rule of law”, declaring, “He’s going to make one hell of a governor.”

Mastriano, meanwhile, is backed by former President Donald Trump, who has promoted a rally he is hosting with Republicans in Pennsylvania on Saturday as “epic.”

Shapiro’s Jewishness has already become a talking point in the race, largely due to Mastriano’s openness association with far-right and anti-Semitic groups. Several prominent Jewish Republicans broke ranks to support Shapiroand Shapiro’s campaign aired statewide TV ads last week highlighting Mastriano’s relationship with Gaba social media platform plagued by anti-Semitism that was used by Robert Bowers, the man who killed 11 Jews at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018.

“This is the first time in my public life that I truly feel the existential threat my opponent poses,” Shapiro said in the interview near his campaign headquarters. He noted that since he first ran for the state legislature in 2004, he has faced seven Republicans, but was “never worried” that if they won, “our democracy might cease to exist. exist – that hatred, anti-Semitism and racism could take over our system of government.”

A battle for the future of democracy

Mastriano has, in recent weeks, condemned anti-Semitism amid growing pressure from Jewish Democrats and Republicans. But he refrained from denouncing Gab and its founder, who often shares his anti-Semitic beliefs and called Shapiro “the antichrist”.

Instead, he urged Shapiro “to quit Twitter because of widespread anti-Semitism on Twitter,” quoting a Anti-Defamation League report which found 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets on the platform in 2017.

Mastriano, who assisted in the walk at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, compared the resulting riot the Reichstag fire of 1933 and some of his statements angered Jewish leaders, including some Republicans.

He compared the Democrats gun control proposals to Nazi policies and called abortion “barbarian holocaust.” He kicked off his campaign with a shofar blast courtesy of a man named “Pastor Don”, who wore a Messianic Lion of Judah prayer sash. And he called the the separation of church and state a “myth” and say Islam is incompatible with the Constitution.

The Republican Jewish Coalition did not endorse Mastriano and did not include him in a recent campaign event for Pennsylvania GOP Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Those last weeks, several prominent Jewish Republicans announced their support for Shapiro, including Michael Chertoff, former Homeland Security Secretary under President George W. Bush; Sandra Schultz Newman, former Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania; and Lita Indzel Cohen, former member of the Statehouse of Pennsylvania.

“It’s not about me being Jewish,” Shapiro said in the interview. “It’s about the fact that we have a major party candidate for, arguably the most important race in the country, who is openly courting white supremacists to be part of his campaign, who believes that some people shouldn’t exist in this society, including me and people of color.

Proudly wearing his Judaism on his sleeve

When he first came to national attention the day after the 2020 election, Shapiro, who attended Jewish day schools, was televised with a menorah featuring the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg over his shoulder. He and his family are observant conservative Jews who keep kosher and gather for Shabbat dinners, joined by Shapiro’s parents and in-laws.

Shapiro, who has four childrensaid his wife, Lori, bakes the challah – which was featured in its campaign launch video – while he grills the fish “or whatever we eat”.

“It’s wonderfully chaotic like most Shabbat dinner tables are,” he said. “We do the Brachot together we sit and talk, and my children sit at the table and are part of the conversation and engage.

Shapiro said he became involved in the Soviet Jewish liberation movement from age 6, through its synagogue, Congregation Beth Sholom in Elkins Park and Forman Hebrew Day School. He remembers writing letters to a refusenik named Avi Goldstein, who lived in Tbilisi, and said he enlisted others from the United States, Canada and England in a correspondence program he called ” Children for Avi”.

“Those are memories that probably led me into this life of service,” Shapiro said.

He went to Akiba Hebrew Academy, now known as Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, also the CNN host’s alma mater. Jake Taper; Shapiro said school president election is the only one he has ever lost.

After graduating from the University of Rochester, where he served as the first freshman body president, Shapiro moved to Washington, D.C., to work as an aide to the late Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, then an adviser to Rep. Peter Deutsch from Florida. Both were Jewish Democrats.

He proposed to his wife in 1997 under the 19th-century Montefiore Windmill in Jerusalem’s Yemin Moshe neighborhood, during one of more than a dozen trips to Israel.

Shapiro said his campaign launch ad showing a pair of challahs under a cloth on the table was meant to let voters know he is “rooted” by his family and his faith.

“I want them to know what I believe and how my faith motivates me to do public service,” he said. “My faith is what guided me in a life of service. I have a responsibility to step off the sideline, step into the game and do my part.

All eyes are on Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania race is perhaps the nation’s most watched gubernatorial battle this fall because a victory for Mastriano would put a 2020 election denier in charge of the electoral system of a key battleground state.

A recent poll of 1,034 likely voters conducted by Emerson College has Shapiro leading Mastriano by 3 points, which is also the margin of error. Another one Franklin & Marshall College poll released last week gave Shapiro an 11-point lead.

Mastriano, who mocks his opponent as “Little Josh”, ignored mainstream media and refused to answer reporters’ questions during the election campaign. Instead, he relies heavily on Facebook, where he broadcasts campaign events live, to reach voters directly.

Jill Zipin, president of Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania, said she was convinced that Jews – estimated at 3% of the electorate – will vote overwhelmingly for Shapiro. She described Shapiro as someone who lives by Jewish values, “not just by mining the words he says, but with real compassion, value and honesty.”

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