23-Year-Old Semicha Student Running for Congress in Pennsylvania


ted-yaleBy Baila Olidort

At 23, Ted Yale is possibly the youngest candidate on record to run for Congress. The soft-spoken Pennsylvania native competing in the Republican primary for his state’s 10th District, lives an observant Jewish lifestyle since converting to Judaism in 2004.

Ted graduated from Princeton with a major in Roman Classics, and then took a year to study at a yeshiva in Yerushalayim. While there, he married Miriam Lemberg, an Israeli girl. He then returned to the US and settled with his new wife in Pike County, Pennsylvania.

If he unseats Chris Carny (D-PA) in the November 2010 elections, the Princeton graduate who is now studying for semicha, will represent Pennsylvania’s 10th District just as he reaches his 25th birthday-the constitutional age minimum required to serve as a member in the House of Representatives.

Ted, also known as Avraham, in an interview, spoke of his motivation and inspiration.

You are awfully young to be running for public office.

Yes, and that’s a big issue for people. Even bigger is my level of political experience-I’m not a politician-so I think a lot of people have a hard time taking me seriously.

Is this a first step for you on the road to a career in politics?

Like I said, I’m not a politician. I care where the country is going. I care about how my region is represented, and I think we deserve a lot better. I want to be a strong passionate voice for my region. It’s a region that gets forgotten, I want to make sure no one forgets it.

What are the problems you hope to address?

The same problems that conservatives all over America have. But on a more local level, my district, which represents the heart and soul of America, where people are good and G-d fearing, deserves a fantastic representative. Not someone who votes how they tell him in DC to vote.

How well is your district familiar with religious Jews?

The majority are Catholic. My wife and I have been mistaken for Amish in the area-they thought we were Mennonite.

Does being a religious Jew get in the way of your campaign?

No one has made my being a Jew an issue, and that’s part of why I want to run-to let people know you can be frum [observant] and very patriotic. A lot of people in middle America think that Jews are liberal Hollywood types, but really, I think all religious people have a lot in common with each other -I look forward to showing them that.

Being religious might even help a little-I tell people I can’t go to events on Shabbos-on the one hand it’s difficult, but people like to see candidates with principles.

Yes, but it also restricts you in certain ways. The primaries are on Shavuot. What are you going to do?

I’ll get an absentee ballot. The biggest challenge as a frum Jew is in terms of campaigning is Kashrut. It’s tough not to be able to sit down and eat with people at political events-I’m always having fruit and beer and coffee and tea. So there are a lot of little challenges but no big deal breaker-G-d always comes first. There are certainly times when I expect it will be difficult.

Why did you convert to Judaism?

My dad’s Jewish, my mom’s not-so I converted in 2004. I didn’t have any epiphanies. My dad was not religious, he didn’t care about Judaism as a religion, but he cared about cultural identity. But I always thought that Judaism and Jews go together, that it doesn’t make sense to have cultural Judaism without religion.

At first I didn’t know anything about formal Judaism, but I thought that although maybe technically I’m not Jewish, I still had to follow Judaism. At age 12-13 I stopped eating pork-then stopped milk and meat. Then I started going to Rabbi Efraim Buchwald’s minyan at Lincoln Square Synagogue.

At that point I made the intellectual commitment, and whatever I learned I did.

Was it a difficult process?

More for my parents-ideologically, they are firmly not religious. My mother has problems with religion-her mother was Irish Catholic, but my mother is not religious at all.

In fact, I was much more involved in being Irish than she was-I drink more beer than she does, I went to Ireland, I played the bagpipe.

Now you are married to a religious Israeli woman. Have your parents made peace with your life?

By now we reached a truce. They still think it’s silly, but they understand that this is what I do. My grandmother, only grandparent I knew was Irish Catholic, very loving, would have seen this as a step in the right direction.

Is your candidacy ideologically motivated by religion?

Only by a sense of respect for people and ahavat habriot [love for others] which makes me want to see more civil discourse.

What do you imagine your future looks like?

I wouldn’t mind being a Supreme Court Justice some day. I’m always interested in law, business, Torah-so I expect I’ll go somewhere in those three.

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