14 Jews Are Among the Newcomers Sworn in As Members of Congress

Three new Jewish senators and 11 new Jewish representatives were sworn into the U.S. Congress on Tuesday, bringing the total number of Jews in the Senate to an all-time high of 10.

Two of the three new Jewish senators in the 103rd Congress are Democratic women from California, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. California and Wisconsin will now have two Jewish senators each. Newly elected Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin was sworn in Tuesday, joining his fellow Democrat Herbert Kohl.

Boxer and Feinstein won their seats in highly publicized races marking the “Year of the Woman,” which swept two other Democratic women, Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and Patty Murray of Washington state, into the Senate.

There are also record numbers of women and minorities in the House of Representatives, which has 110 new members, the most in decades. The House will include 33 Jewish members, the same number as in the previous Congress.

Of the 11 new Jewish members, only one, David Levy of New York, is a Republican. There are now five Jewish Republican representatives, 27 Democrats, and one independent, Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Of the 10 Jews now serving in the Senate, only one, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, is a Republican.

California’s Boxer, 52, and Feinstein, 59, were already well-known in the political world before entering the Senate, Boxer as a five-term U.S. representative from the San Francisco area and Feinstein as a former mayor of San Francisco and unsuccessful candidate for California governor.

Feingold, 39, had served as a Wisconsin state senator since 1983 and is known as a progressive. He defeated incumbent Sen. Robert Kasten, a conservative Republican who was supported heavily by pro-Israel political action committees. The Jewish vote was deeply split between the two.

ACTIVE IN JEWISH COMMUNITY

While most senators, as of their swearing-in, did not yet know their committee assignments, most House committee posts have been filled.

New Jewish representatives Eric Fingerhut (D-Ohio) and Peter Deutsch (D-Fla.) have been assigned to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, along with veteran Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a longtime friend of Israel who had not served on the panel before.

Some say Schumer is well-positioned to take over the leadership of former pro-Israel Reps. Mel Levine (D-Calif.), Larry Smith (D-Fla.) and Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.), who are not returning.

Fingerhut, 33, who represents a northeast Ohio district, is a former Ohio state senator and former special assistant to the Cleveland mayor.

Deutsch, 35, whose district is in southern Florida, is a former Florida state representative. He has written for The Jewish Journal, and his first job, according to an aide, was for the local Jewish Family Services.

Another Jewish newcomer is Bob Filner (D-Calif.), a former San Diego city councilman and history professor at San Diego State University.

Filner, 50, has served on San Diego’s Jewish Community Relations Council and on the board of the Anti-Defamation League. He also was executive director for two years of the Lipinsky Institute for Judaic Studies at San Diego State.

“My upbringing and my approach to politics have been affected by my Judaism,” Filner said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

He added that because he represents a “majority-minority” district, he hopes to be involved in the Jewish community’s evolving relationships with the African-American and Hispanic communities.

THREE NEWCOMERS FROM NORTHEAST

Filner is joined by three other new Jewish Democratic representatives from California: Dan Hamburg, Jane Harman and Lynn Schenk. Hamburg, 44, an educator, represents the northern California counties stretching down from the Oregon border.

Schenk, 38, and Harman, 47, both attorneys, represent southern California districts. Harman has previous Washington experience, having worked on Capitol Hill and at the White House and Pentagon during the Carter administration. Schenk served as a San Diego port commissioner and was a White House fellow from 1976-77.

Another newcomer from the West is Sam Coppersmith (D-Ariz.), who represents a Phoenix-area district in what is his first time in elective office. The 37-year-old attorney formerly worked for the mayor of Phoenix and is immediate past president of Planned Parenthood.

Two new Jewish representatives from New York, one from New Jersey and one from Pennsylvania, round out the newscomers.

David Levy, 39, representing a Long Island district, is the lone new Jewish Republican. A former town councilman, he served as legal counsel to the Nassau County Republican Committee.

Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), 45, a longtime New York state assemblyman, represents a Manhattan district, replacing the late Rep. Ted Weiss.

Herbert Klein (D-N.J.), 62, an attorney and former member of the New Jersey Assembly, will serve on the Banking, and Science, Space and Technology committees, and the Congressional Arts Caucus, according to an aide. His district is in northeastern New Jersey.

Marjorie Margolies Mezvinsky (D-Pa.), 50, was elected in a suburban Philadelphia district. A former television reporter, she wrote a book, “They Came to Stay,” about how, as a single woman, she adopted children from Korea and Vietnam. Now married, she and her husband, a former congressman, have a family of 11 children.

NEXT STORY