J.B. Pritzker, Illinois’ incoming Jewish governor, opens up about his family’s immigrant past


(JTA) — J.B. Pritzker’s great-grandfather slept in a train station on his first night in Chicago. Now his billionaire descendant is about to become the governor of Illinois.

Pritzker, a Jewish venture capitalist and Democrat, defeated the Republican incumbent, Bruce Rauner, in the November election. Pritzker will be sworn in on Jan. 14.

He has an estimated net worth of more than $3 billion, but his family wasn’t always rich. Appearing Monday on David Axelrod’s podcast, “The Axe Files,” Pritzker said that his family fled pogroms in Ukraine in 1881 with the help of HIAS, the Jewish refugee aid group founded that year. HIAS  made the news in October as the Jewish group vilified by the gunman in the Pittsburgh synagogue attack.

Pritzker’s ancestors were sponsored by a family to settle in Clinton, Iowa, but quickly moved to Chicago.

“But they arrived and then found out there were no jobs available in Clinton, Iowa,” Pritzker said on the podcast hosted by Axelrod, a former Barack Obama aide. “And so they said, ‘Well, where’s the nearest big city so we can go find a job?’ And they pointed toward Chicago and so they got back on the train and came to Chicago.”

Pritzker said that his great-grandfather, then around 9 years old, slept in the train station at first, then found a job selling the Chicago Tribune on street corners. His son and grandson, Pritzker’s father, later became successful lawyers.

Recommended from JTA