Todd L. Pittinsky

Mazi’s Moment

Journalists like to put people in their place—that is, in a particular category. She is a feminist icon; he is a far-right firebrand. Mostly, we tend to go along with that, but it’s exciting when someone just can’t be “placed” and seems to offer something new and valuable. Such candidates offer us more “and” (i.e., rich complexity) and less “or” (i.e., binary “us/them” choices). Jewish American politician Mazi Melesa Pilip—running to replace George Santos as representative of New York’s 3rd Congressional district in the US House of Representatives—is such a candidate.

She was born in extreme poverty in a remote village lacking electricity and running water and yet she is also highly educated, having earned a master’s degree in diplomacy.

She is proudly American and yet she is also proudly Israeli and Ethiopian. Born in Ethiopia, she and her family emigrated to Israel in 1991, when she was 12, as part of Operation Solomon, an Israeli military operation to airlift over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. As a young adult, she and her husband emigrated to the United States.

She is a devoted mother of seven and yet she is also well-versed in military and security issues. (She has military experience herself, as a gunsmith in the Israel Defense Force’s Paratroopers Brigade).

She is an orthodox Jew and yet, like so many orthodox Jews, is highly engaged in secular society.

She is personally anti-abortion, and yet she does not support a national abortion ban.

Mazi may be a harder person to decide about than your average politician. But she is also a reminder that so much more is possible—so much more is available—if you don’t insist on easy categorization. So many people are feeling cheated by the choice of Trump or Biden. Isn’t there more? Yes, of course there is, but it can be hard to recognize and achieve if our only way of choosing politicians is whether they are red enough or blue enough, liberal enough or conservative enough.

In such a diverse country as ours, we should at least be interested in those who themselves have managed a number of seemingly different identities and melded them into an honorable and productive personality and career.

About the Author
Todd L. Pittinsky is a professor at Stony Brook University (SUNY). Prior, he was an Associate Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, where he also served as Research Director for the Harvard Center for Public Leadership. Todd was a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center (2020-2022) and a Faculty Fellow of Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College (2018–2020). He has published in leading academic journals and has authored or co-authored general audience pieces in outlets including The Atlantic, the Boston Herald, the Christian Science Monitor, The Jerusalem Post, New York Daily News, New York Post, New York Times, Phi Delta Kappan, Science and The Wall Street Journal. Todd’s most recent book is “Leaders Who Lust: Power, Money, Sex, Success, Legitimacy, Legacy” (with B. Kellerman, Cambridge University Press).
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