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Pennsylvania announces first Jewish Legislative Caucus

Most, but not all, of the state’s Jewish lawmakers are on board.

Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

For the first time, Pennsylvania’s state legislature has created a Jewish Legislative Caucus to advance issues of concern to the keystone state’s Jewish community. State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) and State Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) made the announcement on March 21.

“It’s important to have a caucus that is vocal and stands against hatred and hate-based violence, not just against Jewish Pennsylvanians, but Pennsylvanians of all faiths,” stated Schwank. “I’m looking forward to taking an active role with this caucus, working with my fellow members and connecting with Jewish communities throughout the commonwealth.”

However, not every Jewish legislator in the state appears to be onboard. Rep. Aaron Kaufer (R-Luzerne), believed to be the only Jewish Republican in the state’s legislature, is noticeably absent from the list of members of the new caucus. Kaufer’s office did not immediately respond to questions from JNS.

“Representing the community that suffered the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history, I have seen that protecting the needs of vulnerable groups can’t be incidental,” said Frankel, whose district includes Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood—where a lone gunman shot and killed 11 Jewish worshippers, most of them seniors, at the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue in October 2018.

This fall will mark the fifth year since that murderous attack, which was followed six months later by another Shabbat-morning shooting at Chabad of Poway, Calif.

“We need to create spaces where we can make them the focus,” emphasized Frankel.

Among the communal priorities that the new Jewish caucus plans to advance are condemning antisemitism and other intolerance; improving security for organizations that face “hate-based violence,” including for other at-risk groups; and celebrating Pennsylvanian Jewish culture and heritage.

Daphne Retter, Frankel’s chief of staff, invited all members of the legislature, whether Jewish, to join the caucus. “We are so excited that we did get people from all faiths, including a Muslim legislator,” she told JNS. “I think what makes the caucus stronger is that we have people from all walks of life.”

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