A frum Jew living in Michigan, Grossbard is taking on Rep. Andy Levin, a progressive Democrat and major Israel critic
A few weeks ago, we published an interview with Brooklyn city councilman Chaim Deutsch, who is running in New York’s 9th Congressional District to unseat Rep. Yvette Clarke. “If victorious,” I wrote, “Deutsch would become Congress’s first fully Orthodox Jewish member.”
But then there is Gabi Grossbard. A frum Jew living in Michigan, he is taking on Rep. Andy Levin, a progressive Democrat and major Israel critic. In December, Levin led a group of 107 party members signing a strongly worded letter protesting the recent decision of the State Department to recognize the legality of Israeli settlements. If elected, Grossbard and Deutsch would both be the first Orthodox Jewish members of Congress.
“It happens to be that Eric Cantor, the former House majority leader, was a shomer Shabbos, but he didn’t wear a kippah in Congress,” said Grossbard, 47. “But I intend to, especially after they changed the rules in 2018 to allow head coverings to accommodate Rep. Ilhan Omar,” a Muslim congresswoman from Minnesota who wears a head scarf. “In fact, I have a kippah that I picked up in Meah Shearim that says #VoteGabi.”
Neither Cantor nor Deutsch have a spodik-wearing Gerrer chassid father, though Grossbard does not consider himself chassidish. A Republican, Grossbard also served in the Israeli military.
Levin has held his seat for two terms, but the Democratic-leaning district has elected a Republican representative in four elections since 1990. As of this writing, Grossbard is running unopposed in the Republican primary.
Your opponent, Rep. Andy Levin, is not friendly to Israel, to say the least. Is that why you decided to run?
You remember the letter that 107 Democrats sent the State Department a few months ago condemning them for recognizing the settlements? It was his letter, essentially. Had I been in Congress, there would have been a letter in support by as many signatures as I could get.
You would be the first Israeli citizen in Congress.
My parents made aliyah right before I was born. My father is a Detroiter who learned at the Lakewood Yeshivah. He married my mother, who is from Washington, D.C. My grandfather was an economist for the government for many years. I was born in Yerushalayim and grew up on Sorotzkin.
I later came [to the United States] to learn in yeshivah, and when I was 18 I went back to Israel to serve in the army. My wife Milaine learned in the Bais Yaakov in Michigan. We first lived in Far Rockaway, and I worked in manufacturing in New York. Then I worked in the knitwear industry in Williamsburg. We moved here to Michigan in 1999, and I got into the auto business, selling cars.
I was selling Chryslers until 2007, when the aspiration of owning my own business got into me. So, I founded an auto repair shop. I had a big book of customers, and figured that if you bought a car from me, there’s a good chance you’ll also come to me for repairs. Gabi’s Auto Repair lasted until 2015, when I sold it and got back into selling cars. And running for Congress.
Someone I know in Michigan who’s not so into politics told me, “You can bet your cotton socks I’ll be at the polls on election day voting for Gabi because he’s an all-around good guy who’s had his fair share of struggles and ‘gets it.’ He’s also very personable and funny.” So, there’s one of your future constituents. What is this about your “fair share of struggles”?
My wife and I were, baruch Hashem, blessed with six children. Two of them are special-needs kids. Completely different special needs. My daughter has cerebral palsy. She is 20, nonverbal, and in a wheelchair. My son Saadia, who is 16, is autistic.
Different states handle these things in different ways. My wife and I learned to be advocates for our kids and not just take [the care] that they tell us is available. The difference between what you want and what you get can be tremendous within the special-needs community. So my wife and I learned the long and hard way, the complicated way, how to work within the system to get the best care, the best therapies, the best schooling for our kids.
We baruch Hashem were able to get what was needed for us. With all that knowledge and experience, my wife and I — my wife more than me — became the address in the community for anyone who has a diagnosis, or even before the diagnosis stage. We coach them on how to advocate for their children, how to get the support, the respite, the therapies, where to go, all the programs that are available.
Does your district cover the frum community in Detroit?
Yes. Oddly enough, the Detroit metro area has a very large Jewish community. The Jewish Federation here about a year ago did a study. I studied it closely when I was considering running, and I was looking at the demographics.
Do you have support in the community?
I would say yes. People are definitely encouraging. The Jewish vote won’t be enough, but it will be important. I’m currently working on getting my name out there among the working class and attending local Republican and Tea Party meetings. As for backing from secular Jews, I have some support but nothing significant yet.
When I first told people that I’m doing this, they were shocked, because when it comes to my family, I’m very private. And to go seek a public position like this really goes against my nature.
What was the tipping point that made you decide to run?
I hadn’t followed the news for many years, but after the midterm election of 2018, when [Michigan] elected a congresswoman [Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American] who is extremely not on the same wavelength of the Jewish community, I felt very strongly that the people of Michigan should have an opportunity to answer. I couldn’t think of a better answer than an observant Jew, born and raised in Israel, who served in the Israeli army, and who has conservative views, as a counterweight. I have no doubt that when it matters, I’d be able to talk to other members of Congress and recruit votes for what’s important. And have a vote myself.
Where do you stand on domestic issues?
Overall, I consider myself a moderate conservative. I’m definitely right of center, and I lean conservative on many of the social issues. My slogan is “from the working class, for the working class.” I hold mainstream views and conservative principles, including a fierce defense of individual liberties and the value of a smaller, fiscally responsible government. I don’t want to be labeled a one-issue pro-Israel candidate.
I know what it’s like to live a working-class life. My opponent [recently] cowrote a bill with Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez to build a nationwide grid of charging stations for electric cars along all the country’s highways. That would cost taxpayers in the trillions.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 799)
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