Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the founder of the Reform movement’s congregational community organizing arm, has decided not to run for Senate in Massachusetts – and it’s tearing him up.
A senior vice-president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Pesner was also once a pulpit rabbi, which was where he founded Just Congregations. He cut his political teeth in that state’s interfaith movement to pass a health care bill under then-Governor Mitt Romney. When it became clear that Senator John Kerry would become Secretary of State, supporters approached the rabbi and asked him to consider running. He took a leave from his position at the URJ to think it through, talking to other clergy, politicians, businesspeople, Democrats, Republicans and, of course, his family.
Rabbi Pesner has four daughters between the ages of 8 and 14 and a wife who runs her own legal practice. They share parenting duties. One of the times he talked to me, he was doing carpool. Forget soccer moms and NASCAR dads, he’s the carpool candidate. He told me then that he was very wary of exposing his daughters to the inevitable public scrutiny that would come with a Senate run.
In the end, the rabbi decided not to run – this time. His excitement about the possibility, when it still was a possibility, was obvious. But it wasn’t right for his family, so it wasn’t right for him.
Last week, Rabbi Pesner called me to tell me his decision, and his distress was palpable over the phone. His voice cracking with disappointment and exhaustion, he talked about how upset he was that he was letting his supporters down, especially the young people who were so excited about his possible candidacy.
“This is why I wanted to run,” he said. “To model my values.”
I hope he understands that in not running, the carpool candidate modeled his values anyway. And I hope also that he will again, by running for office when it is right for his family.