Rabbi Jonah Pesner has decided not to run for United States Senate in June’s Massachusetts special election to replace John Kerry, foreclosing on the possibility – for now – of the first senator who is also a rabbi.
A senior vice president at the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Pesner said in a statement released Jan. 18 that he was “encouraged” to run and in response, spent several weeks meeting with business, civil, religious and political leaders, donors and activists to discuss the possibility.
Rabbi Pesner founded the Reform movement’s congregational community organizing arm, Just Congregations, and was also actively involved in the effort to pass health care reform in Massachusetts, an experience he cites as one that inspired him to consider running for office.
In the end, he decided that the timing wasn’t right for his family. Rabbi Pesner is married with four daughters between the ages of 8 and 14; his wife runs her own law practice and they share parenting responsibilities, like carpool.
Also, in an interview with The Jewish Week before he decided, Rabbi Pesner said he had to think carefully about the risks he would run as a parent in exposing his children to public scrutiny.
The timing of such a run, with an election only six months away, would also have made it a challenge to assemble a team and raise sufficient funds, especially for an outsider candidate.
But his rabbinate has long been entwined with politics, and Rabbi Pesner is careful to say that he is still open to running for public office.
“I will continue to be a leader who brings people together across lines of race, class, and faith, to overcome partisan polarization in service of our shared values and our vision for a better world,” he said in the statement. “Perhaps there will be a time in the future when the call to elected leadership will make sense for me and my family.”
The decision not to run was a difficult one for him, he told The Jewish Week. His voice breaking, he said that he especially hated to disappoint the young activists who were urging him to go for it, and he regretted passing up for the moment a chance to “model his values” by running for office.