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A kosher kitchen in the governor’s mansion: Josh Shapiro sworn in to lead Pennsylvania

Shapiro plans to post mezuzahs and have a kosher kitchen in the governor’s official residence

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s third Jewish governor, proudly embraced his Jewish faith as he was sworn in as the state’s 48th governor on the steps of the state Capitol on Tuesday. Flanked by his family, Shapiro took the oath of office on a stack of three Bibles, including one that was rescued from the deadly attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.

“Along the winding road that has led to this moment, I have been grounded in my family and in my faith,” were the first words he said after taking the oath.

Josh Shapiro’s wife Lori holds three Bibles for the swearing in on Jan. 17, 2023. Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images

In an interview ahead of the inauguration, Shapiro said the Bibles symbolize how his Jewish faith has and will continue to guide him as he commits to “being a good governor” for Pennsylvanians. “I have made clear that my faith is what called me to service,” he said. “It doesn’t define my policy positions or tell me where to be on a bill or not. What it does, it motivates me to serve.” 

Shapiro, a practicing Conservative Jew who keeps kosher, said he will be posting mezuzahs and keep a kosher kitchen in the governor’s mansion that will be overseen by his wife Lori. Shapiro featured challahs baked by his wife in his campaign launch video and said he will continue the tradition of Friday night Shabbat dinner with his family, which includes his four children and his parents and in-laws, at his new residence.

In his inaugural address, Shapiro noted that serving in his role as a “proud American of Jewish faith” who took the oath of office on a Bible that survived the deadliest act of antisemitism in the nation’s history is evidence that “Pennsylvanians can indeed find life in the midst of darkness and drown out the voices of hate and bigotry.” 

On Monday, Shapiro and his family visited the Alexander Grass Campus for Jewish Life in Harrisburg to take part in volunteering activities to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Wearing a T-shirt that featured the word “giant” on the back, Shapiro helped knot no-sew fleece blankets for homeless people. 

“We are leaning in on a sense of service and showing that will be what our administration is focused on, serving others,” Shapiro said at the event.

Jewish supporters celebrated the occasion on the eve of the inauguration at a cocktail party at the Crowne Plaza in Harrisburg. They noted that Shapiro’s resounding victory in the race for governor against his Republican rival, State Sen. Doug Mastriano — a Christian nationalist who has repeated antisemitic tropes on the campaign trail — was both historic and emotional for  Jewish Pennsylvanians. Shapiro beat Mastriano in November by 15%, the largest margin for a non-incumbent since 1946 and the most votes in a Pennsylvania gubernatorial election.

Jews comprise an estimated 3% of the Pennsylvania electorate. The first Jewish governor in the history of Pennsylvania, who later ran for president, was also originally named Shapiro. Milton Jerrold Shapp, who served from 1971 to 1979, changed his surname because he was worried about facing antisemitism. The 45th two-term governor, Ed Rendell, is also Jewish. 

Antisemitism was an issue during the campaign. Mastriano was criticized for his association with Gab, a social media platform for far-right extremists and an echo chamber for antisemitic tropes. Those postings — and his refusal to outright condemn them — led some Republicans to switch their support to Shapiro.

Shapiro “represents the best of Jewish and democratic values,” said Jill Zipin, chair of the Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania. “It sends a message that we as Jews succeed in a pluralistic America where good prevails over bad.” 

State Rep. Dan Frankel, who has represented the Squirrel Hill Jewish community for the last 24 years, said it’s refreshing to have a person who identifies so strongly with his Jewish faith serve as head of the state “at a time when antisemitism and bigotry have been in ascendance.” 

Family pride 

In an interview with the Forward last year, Shapiro said his parents, Steven and Judi Shapiro, “set a very good example for me to live a life of faith and service.” At age 6, he joined his mother in campaigning for the release of Jews in the Soviet Union. 

The senior Shapiro, a pediatrician known as “Dr. Steve” to his patients, told the Forward he  “never thought this day would happen” and called it “surreal.” He said that Shapiro showcasing his Judaism faith during the campaign was a natural thing. “It’s just the way we live.” 

“I am very excited,” said his teenage grandson Jonah, the governor’s son, interrupting the interview. “It’s a fun time.” Jonah went viral in 2020 after he wandered into the room while his father was being interviewed on MSNBC. He said he’s not sure whether he will follow his father into politics but said he would like to serve in a role that would help the community. 

Steven Shapiro and his grandson Jonah at a selfie station on the day before Josh Shapiro’s inauguration on Jan. 16, 2022. Photo by Jacob Kornbluh

At the inauguration, Shapiro expressed his love and admiration for his wife Lori, the new first lady, and their children. “They have sacrificed so much along the way so that we can serve,” he said. The couple first met in ninth grade at Akiba Hebrew Academy, now known as Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, in Merion, Pennsylvania. Shapiro proposed to Lori in 1997 under the 19th-century Montefiore Windmill in the Yemin Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem, during one of his more than a dozen trips to Israel. 

Former City Councilmember Allan Domb, a Democrat running for mayor of Philadelphia, said he’s looking forward to hosting the new governor at the kosher-style delicatessen he owns, Schlesinger’s, for a beef or pastrami sandwich.

This post was updated to include excerpts of Shapiro’s inaugural address and more reporting.   

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