From Synagogue President to Member of Congress
WASHINGTON – As President of the Reform Synagogue Ner Tamid, Representative Jacky Rosen (D-NV) was largely unknown outside of the Jewish community in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District. However, this changed when veteran Democratic Senator Harry Reid approached Rosen and encouraged her to run in the 2016 election. While Rosen had no previous political experience, she believes that her background running the largest Nevada Synagogue helped her during the transition to Capitol Hill.
“When you are the head of any philanthropy organization, what you learn is empathy, how to listen and be responsive to people’s needs,” Rosen told Jewish Insider off the floor between votes. “What you realize when you work in the philanthropic world is that people aren’t just numbers: they are families with real needs and you need to make your judgments with kindness and thoughtfulness in order to serve those needs.”
Born in Chicago, Rosen’s parents moved to Las Vegas when she attended the University of Minnesota. The Nevada lawmaker began her career working as a computer programmer and joined her family after finishing college. She draws from her professional experience while in Congress. “I’m a common sense person who tries to analyze and I have to look at all sides of the issue because you don’t want software that only does something but doesn’t fix the other errors.”
Controversy arose in the Democratic primary with alleged religious discrimination playing a defining role. One of Rosen’s competitors, Jesse Sbaih — a Jordanian-American lawyer — charged that Reid informed him that ‘Let me be blunt, you can’t win this race because you’re a Muslim.” (Reid vehemently denied the accusation). Rosen tried distancing herself from this disagreement and handily won the race.
Israel remains a critical issue for the Congresswoman. The former Synagogue President emphasized that she co-sponsored House Resolution 11, a measure criticizing the United Nations Security Council for a resolution condemning Israeli settlements last December. “It was my first floor speech. I was very proud to come out against that abstention because of course an abstention is really a vote because you just let happen whatever happened,” Rosen asserted.
Declining to describe herself as progressive or liberal, Rosen commended the President for assailing the recent wave of anti-Semitism. The Nevada lawmaker also appreciated Trump “shining a spotlight on our crumbling bridges roads, and dams.” Rosen, married with one daughter, feels passionately about importance of protecting Social Security and Medicare since she used to be a caregiver for her aging parents and in-laws. She currently serves on the Armed Forces Committee where she was surprised by the magnitude of the military. “Just the scope and size is so much larger than you can imagine,” she added.
For Rosen, after working many years in computer programming, technology still drives her. “People forget that the Hoover Dam was one of the greatest inventions or creations of the last century, still pumping out hydroelectric power today, and I hope that we can bring that kind of — some people say “innevation,” “Nev” for Nevada.
Jewish Insider: Why did you run for Congress?
Rep. Jacky Rosen: “I decided to run for Congress because when I was approached as a community leader, I felt that one of the things that spoke to me most was the constituent services. I was the immediate past president of the largest Synagogue in Nevada Congregation Ner Tamid and through my 20 plus years of volunteering not just in Jewish philanthropy but philanthropy all around southern Nevada, serving Nevada and serving people was really important to me. When they said that was the most important thing I could do in my job as a Congresswoman, that’s what spoke to me and that is why I’m here.”
JI: What are your legislative goals?
Rosen: “I’m on the Armed Services Committee and I’m on the Space, Science and Technology Committee. I’m a computer programmer and systems analyst by trade so I’m very concerned about cyber security. I’m also making sure that we want to protect Social Security and Medicare. I was a caregiver to my aging parents and my in-laws. That’s very important. In Nevada, people forget that the Hoover Dam was one of the greatest inventions or creations of the last century, still pumping out hydroelectric power today, and I hope that we can bring that kind of — some people say “innevation,” “Nev” for Nevada, bring that kind of innovation and businesses to Nevada in solar and water, renewable resources and creating new kinds of energies.”
JI: What most surprised you during your brief time on the Armed Services Committee?
Rosen: “The scope of what’s in the Armed Services. I sit on military personnel and on tactical land and air. Just the infrastructure that it takes for the bases, the commissaries, with the benefits, with moving people around. Just the scope and size is so much larger than you can imagine. And it’s so very important because the reason I chose to be on that committee is those are the people who give up maybe their freedom, their life, their home life for sure to protect all of us.”
JI: Did your experience serving as President of Ner Tamid Synagogue assist you while in Congress?
Rosen: “Absolutely. When you are the head of any philanthropy organization. What you learn is empathy, how to listen and be responsive to people’s needs. What you realize when you volunteer or work in the philanthropy world is that people aren’t just numbers they are families with real needs and real issues and you need to make your judgments with kindness and thoughtfulness in order to serve those needs.”
JI: What are some elements of your personality outside of politics that others may not know about you in Washington?
Rosen: “I think that I have a great sense of humor. My staff laughs at my jokes, maybe they have to. I love to laugh. I enjoy life. As a commuter programmer, I was socialized to be a team player. I love being part of the brainstorming, part of the process, I think that makes us better so I’m in on all those brainstorming meetings as we are considering and debating and that’s what really makes me a better Congress person. We try to do it with a little laughter too.”
JI: How would assess the debate about Israel since you arrived on Capitol Hill?
Rosen: “I was proud to be a cosponsor of House Resolution 11. It was my first floor speech. I was very proud to come out against that abstention because of course an abstention is really a vote because you just let happen whatever happened. We need to, as America, support a two state solution. We have to be the best facilitators we can because ultimately they have to live with it so if it is not something they have buy into and they can live with, we can talk all we want, but it’s not our neighborhood. Israel – our strongest ally – needs our support and needs our wisdom, so do the Palestinians, but we need to do everything we can to facilitate and come to the table to find that two state solution that they have buy into and they can live with. So I’m hoping that the current Administration stands by that longstanding policy and we can help bring people to the table.”
JI: Did you connect the recent spike of anti-Semitism with President Trump’s campaign?
Rosen: “I was pleased to see he came out against anti-Semitism. I thought that was a good thing. I think what he is trying to do about infrastructure, that is one of the places where we can really agree, shining a spotlight on our crumbling bridges roads and dams. They haven’t been funded well enough for the last so many years and that’s a real problem with our infrastructure. I’m really pleased that he shined a spotlight on that.”
“Whatever happened during this election cycle, people felt empowered. I will let the pundits decide what the reasons were. People felt empowered to bring up a lot of rhetoric and a lot of hate speech. I signed up for the bipartisan task force against anti-Semitism. I’m very proud of that. We can’t support hate no matter who it is against: Jewish people, Muslims, Blacks, Latinos. It doesn’t make a difference. Hate is always wrong. We are not a country that was built on hate.”
JI: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Rosen: “I’m a common sense person. I’m actually a dinosaur. I went into computers in the 1970s when we had the card deck and they’re in a museum now. When you write software, you have to build those teams and do the kinds of things that move the mission forward. I’m a common sense person who tries to analyze and I have to look at all sides of the issue because you don’t want software that only does something but doesn’t fix the other errors. I’m really a centrist. I want the data and analytics to guide me with my empathy and heart to make good policy.”