NEWTON – It’s been a busy first couple of months in Congress for freshman Representative Jake Auchincloss, a Democratic Jewish lawmaker from Newton who represents the 4th District.
“It’s been an intense two-month orientation to the workings of the federal government, for sure,” said the 33-year-old former Newton city councilor who served in the Marine Corps, including tours of duty in Afghanistan and Panama. He continues to serve as a major in the Marine reserves.
In the run-up to Passover, Auchincloss touched on the Seders he attended growing up, relations with Israel, and his thoughts about being sworn into Congress just three days before the Capitol insurrection.
“The first Wednesday was the insurrection, the second Wednesday was an impeachment, the third Wednesday was an inauguration, and the fourth Wednesday we got to work on the American Rescue Plan, the biggest piece of legislation ever, and certainly since the Great Society,” said Auchincloss, referring to the domestic programs of Democratic President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s. “It was a big start to the first month in Congress.”
Like Jews across the region, Auchincloss, his wife Michelle, and their 11-month-old son, Teddy, are gearing up for Passover. With the need to keep safe because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Seder won’t be as large as in years past.
Auchincloss was raised Jewish by his mother, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute President and CEO Dr. Laurie Glimcher. His father is Dr. Hugh Auchincloss Jr., principal deputy director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and his stepfather is Gregory Petsko, a neurology professor at Harvard Medical School.
Jake Auchincloss recalled attending a large Passover Seder of a close family friend in Newton growing up.
“And it’s one of the best memories I have of my childhood,” Auchincloss said. “And, you know, you get very attached to your perennial customs, right? I remember doing ‘The Four Questions’ as the youngest person there, and it was definitely an important ritual for me.”
During a February hearing on domestic terrorism financing by the House Committee on Financial Services, on which he sits, Auchincloss said he represents one of the most densely populated Jewish districts in the country. He said his Jewish constituents “are increasingly on edge and increasingly concerned about the threats of domestic terrorism targeted and fueled by anti-Semitism.”
“This is something that predates the insurrection on January the 6th. I remember going to one of the temples in Sharon in my district a year and a half ago, and there’s an armed guard at the door. And it’s because, unfortunately, as we saw with Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, the Jewish community can be a magnet for extremists,” said Auchincloss, referring to the massacre at the synagogue on Shabbat morning, Oct. 27, 2018, the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history that left 11 dead and six wounded.
“And, so what I think the Jewish community is especially attuned to … is whenever you have got … a political situation that is melding conspiracy theories, sedition, hate, extremism, regardless of what their initial target is, right? Regardless of what they are first talking about, they are going to talk about Jews eventually.
“We just know,” Auchincloss said. “We have got a 5,000-year history, we know that when people get divorced from reality, they marry anti-Semitism.”
When asked about U.S.-Israel policy, Auchincloss said, “To me, the U.S.-Israel relationship is sacrosanct. It is built on a foundation of shared commitment to civil liberties, to a free press, to an independent judiciary, to a democratic system of government.”
The economic and strategic benefits from close ties to Israel are profound, he said, especially for Massachusetts.
“The Massachusetts-Israel connection has been fertile soil for the blossoming of multiple industries: cybersecurity, digital help being just two,” said Auchincloss, who formerly worked in product development for a cybersecurity company.
What can the state expect from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan? Auchincloss said it’s more than just disaster aid but a recovery plan, including checks of $1,400 for individuals making less than $75,000; a boost to vaccine supply and distribution; and money for schools, state and local governments, public safety and public health, and workforce development.
Massachusetts will get $8 billion in aid, including money to fix or improve roads, bridges, schools, and transit infrastructure, he said.
However, Auchincloss would not apply the phrase tikkun olam, “repair the world,” to what this bill aims to do.
“I don’t think any one piece of legislation can meet that framework, but it is certainly going to help heal America,” he said.
Amid an influx of migrants and unaccompanied children on the southern border with Mexico, it appears immigration reform on Capitol Hill is pending. Auchincloss spoke about his favorite passage from the Seder: “Know the feelings of the stranger, having [ourselves] been strangers in the land of Egypt.”
“I am the great-grandson of Jewish refugees from the Russian pogroms who came here actually before the last pandemic … and I think often about what their life must’ve been like” and how they built a life for themselves,” he recalled.
“Their son, my grandfather, joined the Marines, became a scientist. I had opportunities they never would have had because this country welcomed them and invested in them and made them so they were not strangers in this land.”