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‘God willing’: Josh Shapiro closes race for Pennsylvania governor with optimism

Former President Barack Obama used the Yiddish term ‘Oy vey’ during a campaign rally to describe Shapiro’s rival, Doug Mastriano, a Christian nationalist who has repeated antisemitic tropes

PHILADELPHIA — Josh Shapiro, the attorney general of Pennsylvania, entered the last weekend of his campaign for governor with a boost from former President Barack Obama. 

“Josh’s opponent, oh, oy vey,” Obama said during a campaign rally in Philadelphia on Saturday, using the common Yiddish term for expressing dismay, about Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, a Christian nationalist who has repeated antisemitic tropes on the campaign trail in recent weeks.

Mastriano, a leader of the “Stop the Steal” movement aiming to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, attacked Shapiro, who is Jewish, for sending his kids to a “privileged, exclusive, elite” Jewish day school. He also pushed back against mounting pressure since winning the May primary to disassociate himself from Gab, an antisemitic social media platform. Mastriano’s wife, Rebecca, recently attracted criticism for saying that “we probably love Israel more than a lot of Jews do.”

Shapiro was an early Obama supporter in the 2008 primary against Hillary Clinton. In a recent TV ad, titled “My Friend,” Obama said, “We can turn a blind eye to white nationalism and conspiracy theories. Or we can fight for America where truth matters.”

In an interview, Shapiro said he feels good about his prospects to “God willing” earn the support of Pennsylvania voters on Tuesday. Recent polls show Shapiro with a comfortable lead over Mastriano. A Monmouth University poll shows the Democratic nominee garnering 18% of Republican voters, with half of them splitting their choice with the Republican Senate nominee Dr. Mehmet Oz.

“My job is to show the good people of Pennsylvania the difference between me and Doug Mastriano and make the case, and I believe that we’re doing that effectively,” Shapiro said. The Shapiro campaign and the Lincoln Project, a super PAC launched by a group of “never Trump” Republicans in 2019, highlighted Mastriano’s association with Gab in TV ads.

‘It would be a sin’ not to vote for Shapiro

Shapiro spoke to the Forward after addressing some 40 members of the Russian community in Northeast Philadelphia on Saturday night, in the midst of a six-day bus tour across the state. The music at the Golden Gates restaurant, where young women and dancers in cosplay wigs moved around the dance floor, was paused as an elder Hasidic rabbi walked up to the stage to introduce “the next governor of Pennsylvania” to loud and enthusiastic applause.

Rabbi Solomon Isaacson greeting Josh Shapiro on Nov. 5, 2022 Photo by Jacob Kornbluh

Shapiro said he was invited by Rabbi Solomon Isaacson, founder of Congregation Beth Solomon and known as the Grand Rebbe of Philadelphia, to speak to the group that are members of his congregation. “This community really, really matters to me,” he said.

Isaacson said he first met Shapiro 20 years ago when he was asked by a Russian couple to honor the new House Representative in Montgomery County at the annual dinner he hosts for the community center. He described Shapiro as “superior in behavior and in actions” and said that “it would be a sin” for the Jewish community “not to take advantage of such an individual and make him governor.”

In a lengthy statement on Saturday, Andrew Torba, the founder of Gab, called Mastriano “our guy” and singled out “Jewish journalists” for highlighting Shapiro’s faith. Torba, known for sharing antisemitic posts online, gave $500 to the Mastriano campaign in July, as the Republican candidate was fighting off criticism — including by the Republican Jewish Coalition — for having paid Gab a $5,000 consulting fee during the primary.

Shapiro criticized Republican elected officials who have refused to disassociate themselves from Mastriano. “Leaders have a responsibility to speak and act with more clarity,” he said about his opponents and the Republican slate.

Isaacson said that while he is not supposed to express his political views as a rabbi, he is surprised that Republicans nominated Mastriano as their candidate. “God forbid that he should win,” he said. “What would happen to the state of Pennsylvania, there will be much tumult and havoc.”

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