By Julia Olson
The Cincinnati branches of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) co-hosted the first ever Jewish and Elected Town Hall meeting last Thursday, June 29, at the Mayerson JCC Amberley Room. The event was designed as a panel featuring three elected Jewish officials from all levels of public office. Greg Landsman, US Representative for Ohio’s 1st district, Dani Isaacsohn, State Representative, Ohio’s 24th House District, and Mark Jeffreys, Cincinnati City Council Member sat on the panel, which was moderated by Justin Kirschner, AJC Cincinnati’s Regional Director, and Rabbi Ari Ballaban, director of the Cincinnati JCRC. The three panelists were asked about their Jewish identity and its role in public service.
The moderators did not pull their punches, however, kicking off individual questions to the panelists by asking Congressman Landsman how Jewish elected officials stood against progressive attacks that sought to undermine Israel. While his primary answer was “sit down and talk,” Landsman discussed more specifically his strategy in dealing with his colleagues critical of Israel. “Oftentimes, somebody can say ‘I have this legitimate criticism of Israel,’ but it is important to realize that those criticisms are also held by people who are antisemitic. So we can’t ignore that.” Referring back to his original answer of “sit down and talk,” Landsman pointed to his work with Representatives Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, progressive Democrats who are often vocally critical of the state of Israel.
Other questions addressed specific work the panelists were doing that centered their Judaism within their politics. Dani Isaacsohn spoke about his work creating the first Jewish Caucus. Isaacsohn and Casey Weinstein, the only two Jewish legislators in the Ohio Statehouse, have formed the caucus. “Every time we pass by each others’ offices we make a point of sticking our heads in and saying ‘Shalom,’” Isaacsohn said. “It’s partly tongue in cheek,” he added, “but we are trying to be as out loud as we can in being Jewish in that space.” Isaacsohn also hosted the first-ever Passover seder in the Statehouse this year, which members of both parties attended.
Mark Jeffreys spoke about his experience drafting a resolution to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which passed the City Council unanimously. “You can’t fight something you can’t define,” Jeffreys said. The next step to combat antisemitism in Cincinnati, added Jeffreys, is educating public-facing officials like law enforcement.
The crowd had the opportunity to ask the panelists questions before the evening ended. The primary focus during this part of the evening was on the special election on August 8th and Issue 1 on the ballot, which would require a supermajority (60%) of voters to enact amendments to the state’s constitution, rather than the current majority requirement, 50% plus one. Each panelist emphasized the importance of maintaining the rules for the current majority, as a change to a supermajority would make it much harder to amend the state constitution.