Giving a local focus to the security fears of the Jewish community, Ethan Felder, 36, was among the organizers of last May’s rally against anti-Semitism at MacDonald Park in Forest Hills. Now he is running for the State Assembly, seeking to amplify such concerns amid an uptick of hate incidents. “I don’t hide the fact that I’m Jewish. We are seeing rising anti-Semitism on the left and it needs to be called out,” he said.
Last Sunday, Felder was introduced to voters in a virtual forum moderated by David Schneier, a resident of Forest Hills volunteering on his campaign. “It is important for us to be concerned about the community in which we live. I am impressed by his dedication to the Jewish people,” said Rabbi David Algaze, who participated in the event.
Felder grew up in the neighborhood where he currently serves as a district leader. He attended the Solomon Schechter School and had his bar mitzvah at the Forest Hills Jewish Center. The Cornell University graduate went on to receive his law degree at Washington University, and works as a labor attorney at 32BJ SEIU, one of the city’s most influential labor unions. In 2020, he was elected as a District Leader, narrowly defeating incumbent Michael Cohen who had the support of the county party organization.
“The environment in which workers can collectively bargain is something that is very important to our democracy,” Felder said. “Work is where they spend the majority of their waking hours. I’ve seen how being in a union affords certain security to living, having a family, and raising children.”
But another element of security concerning voters is bail reform, which stripped judges of the power to set bail away for most nonviolent crimes. Felder spoke of the need to improve this law and restore discretion to judges. “The legislature tied the hands of judges. I would allow judges with expertise to have discretion based on experience. Does the individual pose a danger to the public? There is nothing more demoralizing to a police officer than knowing that the individual will be released,” he said. “I will work alongside district attorneys, judges, and public defenders.”
Concerning evictions, which were halted by the state during the pandemic, Felder said that it is in the public’s interest to prevent homelessness, and he spoke of his experience in representing tenants who were on the brink of losing their homes.
Extending the moratorium on evictions is a cause championed by progressives, and Felder has met some of them at past events. “I come from the labor movement, but I am not anything like the DSA,” he said. A critic of Felder’s candidacy shared a photo and email from 2019 when he supported Samelys Lopez’s run for Congress in the Bronx, where she lost in a primary to Ritchie Torres. Felder wrote about Lopez’s background as a former resident of a city-run shelter who became an advocate for housing.
But Lopez also had the support of the DSA and tweeted for the reduction of funding to the Jewish state. Felder defended his past ties with Lopez, noting that she attended an event of the Israel Policy Forum, an advocacy group founded by Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin to promote peace. “I sat down with her to explain why Israel is important to us. I sensed from her a willingness to understand, but it did not reflect in her messaging,” he said. “Too many people try to separate Israel from the Jewish identity. I’ve taken in that history and imparted its lessons.”
Felder said that his support for Israel motivated him to speak to progressives, so that they understand why its existence matters to the Jewish community. Failing to convince members of his party on the left, he came out swinging at incumbent Andrew Hevesi for not being vocal enough against anti-Israel members of his party.
Hevesi has been in the State Assembly since 2005, easily winning past reelections easily in a reliably Democratic district. When he assumed office, he was among its youngest members at age 31, with experience as a staffer for the city’s Public Advocate and in the State Senate.
Hevesi was raised in a family with generations of community leaders – his father Alan is a former State Comptroller and Assemblyman, and his grandfather Eugene was a diplomat and an international representative of the American Jewish Committee, having fled from Hungary before the Holocaust.
By Sergey Kadinsky