Former Florida Congressman now lives in... Raanana
What does a Congressman do when he finds himself out of a job? If you're Peter Deutsch, you make aliya
. But he hasn't completely abandoned the US.
“I’m heavily invested in being in Israel in a real way,” Deutsch told
JTA during a recent interview at his home in a luxury high-rise with
sweeping views of the Mediterranean coastline and the Judean hills. “My
son was in a combat unit in the Israeli army. I have skin in the game in
terms of Israeli society.”
Puttering around his apartment in jeans, gray
T-shirt and black suede yarmulke, Deutsch, 56, hasn’t quite left America
behind. He has declined to take Israeli citizenship and doesn’t speak
Hebrew. He frequently travels back to Florida, where he spent 22 years
in public service — first as a state legislator, then as a Democrat in
Though no longer a politician, Deutsch still
practices a form of public service as legal counsel to Ben Gamla, an
1,800-student Hebrew-language charter school network in South Florida
that he founded. The work, for which he is not paid and which takes up
nearly all his professional time, has him working American hours in
Israel. His income comes from investments, Deutsch says. He also sits on
the board of the Illinois-based Great Lakes Dredge & Dock
Corporation, a publicly traded firm.
“I still clearly live in two worlds,” Deutsch says. “I feel very much at home in both places.”
A lot of Americans in Israel feel the same way. But here's something that ought to give American Jews something to ponder:
Deutsch sees a bright future for Judaism in
Israel but a dark one for American Jewry, something he bases in part on
his own experience growing up as a secular Jew in the Bronx.
Schooled at the elite Horace Mann School in
the New York borough, Swarthmore College and Yale Law School, Deutsch
moved to South Florida in 1982 because he wanted to get involved in
politics and believed he could do best in a place with a rapidly growing
population. It didn’t hurt that his parents owned a condo in Broward
County, where Deutsch could live rent free.
Almost immediately, Deutsch
was elected to the Florida House of Representatives. He was just 25.
His Jewish awakening came later, and by the
time he was elected to Congress at age 35, he was fully Orthodox. Though
he belonged to a synagogue and sent his children to Jewish day school,
Deutsch kept his observance quiet, in stark contrast to the other
Orthodox member of Congress at the time, Sen. Joe Lieberman.
Deutsch believes that most American Jews today
view their Jewish background much as he did when he was younger, and
with the same dispassion as Americans of Greek or Polish or Italian
extraction might view their ancestral origins: as little more than a
footnote to their identity.
“Do they feel bad about marrying a gentile?
It’s irrelevant,” Deutsch said. “They’re not in their minds going away
from Judaism, rejecting their parents, struggling to become part of the
mainstream society — they’re not thinking about that. It’s a non-event.
In a sense, that is the American Jewish story today.”
Labels: aliya, American Jews