At the end of his campaign kickoff speech on Oct. 13, at Penn State Abington, Josh Shapiro paraphrased a line from the Talmud.
“My faith teaches me that no one is required to complete the task, but neither are we free to refrain from it,” said the new Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania governor.
The state’s attorney general, who is Jewish, said he uses that line in synagogues, churches and union halls alike, and now on his “Big Fights” bus tour that is serving as the opening stage of his 2022 gubernatorial campaign. And he uses it for two reasons.
It clarifies his own role as a public servant, and it reminds citizens that they have a role to play, too.
“Each of us has a responsibility to get off the sidelines, to get in the game and to do our part,” Shapiro continued in his address. “Folks, by being here tonight, you’ve stepped off the sidelines, you are in the game, and now it’s on all of us to do our part.”
Shapiro closed his speech just seconds later to a round of applause from the hundreds of Montgomery County supporters in attendance.
The attorney general opened his campaign earlier that day in Pittsburgh’s North Shore Riverfront Park. But he saved his primetime kickoff event for his home county.
The 48-year-old grew up in Montgomery County, graduated from the Akiba Hebrew Academy and attended Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park. As an adult, he moved back to the area with his wife, Lori, and began attending Beth Sholom all over again.
Shapiro came of age in a Conservative Jewish household that kept kosher, and now he’s raising his own four kids the same way.
For Shabbat dinner each week, Lori Shapiro even makes homemade challah.
On Oct. 15, with the bus tour in full swing across the state, the Democrat finished an event at 6:30 p.m. in Scranton and raced home for Shabbat dinner. The Shapiros said their prayers and ate, just like they do every Friday night.
“It keeps me grounded,” he said. “It is at least one night each week where we know we’ll all be together.”
Shapiro’s friends and neighbors say his faith is not just genuine, but deep.
His rabbi at Beth Sholom, David Glanzberg-Krainin, pointed to one piece of evidence in particular: the Shapiro kids following in their father’s footsteps by attending the same Jewish day school, now called the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy.
“Sending your kids to Jewish day school is a serious commitment,” Glanzberg-Krainin said.
According to Nancy Astor-Fox, a Jewish Merion resident and the chief development officer for JEVS Human Services, Shapiro’s Judaism extends into his political work.
JEVS helps “individuals with physical, developmental and emotional challenges as well as those facing adverse socio-economic conditions,” per its website. Astor-Fox said Shapiro has visited the not-for-profit’s various programs and connected its leaders with political and community authorities.
“He’s a righteous Jew,” Astor-Fox said.
Jill Zipin, chairwoman for Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania, a political action committee, concurs with that description.
In the past, Democratic Jewish Outreach was only a federal PAC, supporting candidates who reflected Jewish values. But Zipin started the state PAC to support Shapiro.
She said the committee’s 13-member board aligns with Shapiro on several issues. Yet there’s one, access to the vote and support for the democratic process, that matters more than others right now.
In November, after Democrat Joe Biden won Pennsylvania and the presidential election, then-President Donald Trump filed lawsuits challenging the result in court. Shapiro defended Pennsylvania’s process, both in court and in the media.
Republican requests to invalidate millions of votes were rejected by state judges. Congress certified Biden’s Electoral College victory on Jan. 6.
“Josh Shapiro is defending democracy,” Zipin said. “The GOP seeks to limit and take away the right to vote.”
Zipin said that democracy is a Jewish issue.
“Jews have, throughout the last hundred years, fled to the United States in search of a better life,” she said. “That better life is not just economic and religious freedom, but political freedom as well.”
To Shapiro’s friends and neighbors, though, it’s not just the depth of his Judaism that impresses them. It’s also that he’s a self-loving Jew, rather than a self-loathing one.
He’s literally out there on the campaign trail quoting the Talmud.
“That says everything to Jewish voters,” said Laurin Goldin, a Jewish Abington resident who attended the Oct. 13 rally.
Maybe to some, but not all.
Grant Schmidt, a Jewish political conservative from Haverford Township, does not plan on voting for Shapiro. He thinks the attorney general has not done enough to prosecute criminals.
Philadelphia has seen more than 400 homicides in 2021. Schmidt believes that Shapiro isn’t working hard enough with Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner to stamp out the crime issue.
“He keeps trying to go after firearms. That’s not the root of crime,” Schmidt said of Shapiro. “It’s the lack of willpower to prosecute.”
Shapiro is the only Democrat in the gubernatorial race. Gov. Tom Wolf is also a Democrat, but he is finishing his second term and unable to run for reelection.
Nine Republicans are running in the party primary election set for May 2022.
“I’m hopeful and optimistic about our future,” Shapiro said. PJC
Jarrad Saffren writes for the Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication.