We Are Julia Salazar’s Former Classmates. We Had To Speak Out.

Less than two weeks ago, an article published in Tablet Magazine suggested that Julia Salazar, a candidate for the New York State Senate, lied about her Jewish and political past. Since then, other reports have also called into question her immigrant experience and class background.

As friends and colleagues of Julia’s during her time at Columbia University, we are disturbed by this reporting and feel called to speak up and set the record straight.

We came to know Julia during her college years, a key period where her politics and Jewish identity were shaped and formed. Her personal story is complex, and it has been misrepresented by her opponents as she has gone from being a private individual to a public candidate for office over the course of just a few months.

We are writing this letter to affirm who we know Julia to be as a Jew and as someone with moral character that we believe more than qualifies her to represent North Brooklyn in the New York State Senate.

All of us lived in Jewish community with Julia at Columbia and Barnard. We knew her as a woman with her own place in Judaism’s complicated history who yearned to connect with her roots and her past. Julia’s story is a celebration of 21st-century American Jews who embrace Judaism and Jewish life as adults, even when provided few resources to do so while growing up.

As an activist and student leader in the Columbia Jewish community, Julia was a model of integrity. Fierce and committed, she was never afraid to stick her elbows out, especially when she perceived injustice or unfairness.

Yet she also approached leadership with a quiet dignity and humility. We knew Julia as someone who took risks yet wasn’t afraid to question her own beliefs or even change her mind.

She is the sort of Jewish leader we are proud to see seeking elected office in these times.

So we have been furious and saddened to see articles questioning her character.

It seems there are those who want to plant a seed of doubt about Julia, her Jewishness, her class background, and the many-layered heritage of men and women who come from immigrant families. We can only conclude this is an attack on her candidacy, in part because the policies, programs, and politics that she is advancing are resonating in her district and across the country.

It also suggests that Jews like Julia — a working-class Latina woman who grew up outside of traditional Jewish educational settings — aren’t fit to lead. These misdirections are plain wrong and deeply hurtful.

We know better because we know Julia.

During Julia’s time on campus, we shared Shabbat dinners with her. We prayed with her. And we knew her in the many informal ways that living in a Jewish community draws its members close to one another.

We are happy and proud that Julia has found grounding and purpose in Judaism, in her values, and, now, in local politics. But we cannot be silent when cheap shots for political gain have placed a beloved member of our campus Jewish community under attack.

Now more than ever, we need truth to be at the center of our democratic process. We believe that Julia’s integrity and leadership qualities are unquestionable, and we hope this helps her potential constituents confirm what they have surely already sensed from her remarkable campaign.

The people of North Brooklyn have a chance to elect a new state senator with a serious vision for her district. Julia’s calls for universal rent control, affordable housing, single-payer healthcare, labor rights, immigrant rights, a living wage, and more are the kind of progressive policies that our unequal society — and our Jewish tradition’s model of covenantal community — demands.

Voters should be thrilled and excited to cast a vote for Julia on September 13th.

Signed,

  • Adina Cooper
  • Tyler Dratch
  • Adam Jaffe
  • Eva Kalikoff
  • Maya Lee Parritz
  • Allen Lipson
  • Julia Peck
  • Noah Schoen
  • Lizzy Wolozin
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

Author

Eva Kalikoff

Eva Kalikoff

Eva Kalikoff is a graduate of Barnard College, Class of 2016.

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