Shapiro’s big win is a high note amid antisemitism surge

Dec 23, 2022, 3:44 PM | Updated: Dec 25, 2022, 5:18 pm
FILE - Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, center, attends a Commemoration Ceremony in Sche...

FILE - Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, center, attends a Commemoration Ceremony in Schenley Park, in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood, on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, three years after a gunman killed 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Shapiro will be taking office as Pennsylvania's next governor in January 2023 after running a campaign in which he spoke early and often about his Jewish religious heritage. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

              FILE - Pennsylvania candidate for governor, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, attends a rally of UPMC and Starbucks workers fighting for their union, in Pittsburgh, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022. Shapiro will be taking office as Pennsylvania's next governor in January 2023 after running a campaign in which he spoke early and often about his Jewish religious heritage. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
            
              FILE - State Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Democratic nominee for governor, addresses attendees at an SEIU union event in Philadelphia, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. Shapiro will be taking office as Pennsylvania's next governor in January 2023 after running a campaign in which he spoke early and often about his Jewish religious heritage. (AP Photo/Ryan Collerd, File)
            
              FILE - Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania's Democratic nominee for governor, speaks to the crowd during a campaign event at Adams County Democratic Party headquarters, Sept. 17, 2022, in Gettysburg, Pa. Shapiro will be taking office as Pennsylvania's next governor in January 2023 after running a campaign in which he spoke early and often about his Jewish religious heritage. (AP Photo/Marc Levy, File)
            
              FILE - Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, center, attends a Commemoration Ceremony in Schenley Park, in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood, on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, three years after a gunman killed 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Shapiro will be taking office as Pennsylvania's next governor in January 2023 after running a campaign in which he spoke early and often about his Jewish religious heritage. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Josh Shapiro will be taking office as Pennsylvania’s next governor in January after running a campaign in which he spoke early and often about his Jewish religious heritage.

At a time of rising concern about overt expressions of antisemitism, some observers are seeing a bright spot in his decisive victory, particularly coming in a presidential battleground state in which he was competing with a starkly contrasting opponent who deployed Christian nationalist themes.

The state voted in 2016 for Donald Trump — the former president who was recently criticized even by his Jewish supporters for dining with guests with well-known antisemitic views. It’s also the state that saw the nation’s deadliest outburst of antisemitism in the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue attack in Pittsburgh, which claimed 11 lives.

Shapiro won by 14 percentage points and built a classic Democratic coalition that included progressives from multiple faith traditions as well as the non-religious. He received the endorsement of groups like the Black Clergy of Philadelphia & Vicinity. Shapiro outpolled his opponent, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, among Catholics, and he received an 80% share of votes of those with no religious affiliation, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of midterm voters.

And his candidacy was closely followed by the Jewish community, which recalled in particular his response as the state’s top law enforcement officer to the Tree of Life attack.

Beth Kissileff, a Pittsburgh writer and member of New Light Congregation — one of three congregations that lost members while meeting at the Tree of Life building — said it was reassuring to see Shapiro win as a “candidate who is confident that his values as a Jew are ones that he can teach and express in the public sphere and be championed by a majority of voters.”

Shapiro had already twice won statewide elections as attorney general, but he knew he’d be getting a new level of voter scrutiny in 2022 as a top-of-the-ticket candidate. “I thought it was very important to let Pennsylvanians know who I am and what I’m all about,” said Shapiro, a member of a synagogue in the middle-of-the-road Conservative tradition of Judaism.

He used his first campaign ad to tell family stories and of his commitment to making “it home Friday night for Sabbath dinner,” complete with footage of him and his children at the table. “Family and faith ground me,” he said.

That commitment came into play during the campaign. One Friday evening, he skipped a state Democratic Party dinner in Philadelphia, headlined by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, with several thousand ticket-paying attendees.

In his stump speeches and his election-night victory speech, Shapiro regularly quoted an ancient rabbinic maxim: “No one is required to complete the task, but neither are we free to refrain from it.”

He contrasted his campaign’s coalition-building work with Mastriano’s campaign, which regularly deployed Christian nationalist themes and imagery. Shapiro depicted Mastriano as not representing those who “don’t pray like him,” and he highlighted Mastriano’s support for an abortion ban.

“I don’t use my faith as a tool to oppress others or limit their freedoms, or impose my values on them,” Shapiro said in an interview. “I don’t consult with my faith to determine where I should be on a policy or on a case or a matter. It’s simply what motivates me to serve.”

Mastriano’s campaign consulted with Gab, a social media site popular with white supremacists and antisemites, including the accused gunman in the Tree of Life attack.

“What we saw in this campaign is that the good people of Pennsylvania — Democrats, Republicans, independents — rejected extremism, and I believe they will continue to reject it,” Shapiro said.

The Anti-Defamation League reported more antisemitic incidents in 2021 than in any year since it began annual surveys more than four decades ago. And in 2022, high-profile episodes included anti-Jewish statements from the rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, and the suspension of NBA star Kyrie Irving after he posted a link on social media to an antisemitic film.

At the same time, Americans have a more positive view of Jews than of any other religious or non-religious group, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center study.

The Pennsylvania election “suggests at a time when antisemitism is growing in some circles, there are also plenty of Americans who respect individuals who are religiously observant,” said Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Other current governors across the U.S. have spoken forthrightly of their Jewish heritage. Colorado Gov. Jared Polismarried his husband in 2021 while they wore yarmulkes and stood beneath a chuppah, the traditional canopy used in Jewish weddings. Polis reacted viscerally in 2020 to criticism that likened COVID-19 restrictions to Nazism, saying he lost family members in the Holocaust and that pandemic measures were designed to save not destroy lives.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has spoken of being shaped by Jewish values of social justice and of his family’s 19th century immigrant roots, when they fled pogroms in Eastern Europe.

Shapiro will be the third Jewish governor of Pennsylvania — and the second who was born with the surname Shapiro.

The late Milton Shapp, who led the state for much of the 1970s, had changed his name out of concern for antisemitism, according to a National Governors Association biography. Shapp didn’t emphasize his heritage, but he was open about it. After his longshot bid for higher office in 1976 sputtered as soon as it began, he quipped that his memoirs should be titled, “I Never Became the First Jewish President.”

Gov. Ed Rendell, who served from 2003 to 2011, was also open about his Jewish heritage but spoke mainly of having a general Golden Rule philosophy of treating others as one would want to be treated.

While Jews have won public office for decades, even with the legacy of discrimination in the United States, many point to the political career of former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman as a turning point. Lieberman was the first religiously observant Jew on a major presidential ticket when he ran as Democrat Al Gore’s vice presidential running mate in 2000. His commitment to observing the Sabbath, including refraining from campaigning, won admirers.

“Once upon a time, having a Jew on your ticket would have cost you,” Sarna said. “In this case, the scholars concluded it actually aided him (Gore),” though not enough to win.

Mark Silk, professor of religion in public life at Trinity College in Connecticut, said that Shapiro, “in the current moment, given the purple character of Pennsylvania, may be considered to have done himself more good than harm” in forthrightly speaking of his religion.

“Any price that Shapiro might have paid for being out there publicly as a Jewish candidate hurt him less than it hurt Mastriano being out there as a Christian nationalist Trumpian,” he said.

___

Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Rescue workers try to reach trapped residents in a collapsed building in Kahta, in Adiyaman provinc...
Associated Press

Live Updates | Turkey, Syria earthquake kills thousands

ADANA, Turkey (AP) — The Latest on the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated parts of southeast Turkey and northern Syria early Monday. ___ India and South Korea are among nations sending rescue personnel and supplies after a devastating earthquake hit Turkey and northern Syria. India said it would send 100 members of its Natural Disaster […]
22 hours ago
FILE - A Boeing 737 Max jet prepares to land at Boeing Field following a test flight in Seattle, Se...
Associated Press

Boeing plans to cut about 2,000 finance and HR jobs in 2023

SEATTLE (AP) — Boeing plans to make staffing cuts in the aerospace company’s finance and human resources departments in 2023, with a loss of around 2,000 jobs, the company said. “We expect about 2,000 reductions primarily in Finance and HR through a combination of attrition and layoffs,” Boeing said in a statement Monday. “While no […]
22 hours ago
A currency trader watches monitors near the screens showing the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (...
Associated Press

Asian stocks mixed after Wall St sinks on rate fears

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets were mixed Tuesday after Wall Street sank under pressure from interest rate worries, Japanese wages rose and Australia’s central bank hiked its benchmark lending rate. Shanghai, Hong Kong and Seoul advanced. Tokyo and Sydney declined. Oil prices rose. Wall Street sank for a second day Monday after unexpectedly strong […]
22 hours ago
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, left, listens as Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albane...
Associated Press

Australian, New Zealand leaders’ talk focuses on China

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian and New Zealand prime ministers met Tuesday to talk about China’s importance to their national economies, resolving to voice their disagreements with their most important trading partner that is becoming more assertive in their region. New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins made Australia the destination of his first overseas trip […]
22 hours ago
FILE - President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Cong...
Associated Press

Biden aims to deliver reassurance in State of Union address

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is ready to offer a reassuring assessment of the nation’s condition rather than roll out flashy policy proposals as he delivers his second State of the Union address seeking to overcome pessimism in the country and concerns about his own leadership. His speech before a politically divided Congress comes […]
22 hours ago
FILE - President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Cong...
Associated Press

State of the Union? Congress doesn’t fully reflect diversity

WASHINGTON (AP) — When lawmakers gather for President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, the Republican side of the aisle will look slightly different than it did a few years ago. Rather than row after row of white men in suits, the House Republican majority increasingly has added Black, Latino and female elected officials […]
22 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Shapiro’s big win is a high note amid antisemitism surge