Jewish Bids for Legislature
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Jewish Bids for Legislature

A contest between two Jewish candidates assures representation in the next General Assembly.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Esther Panitch and Peter Korman
Esther Panitch and Peter Korman

The sometimes-acerbic race in Georgia House District 51 between Jewish Democrat Esther Panitch against Jewish Republican Peter Korman assures the presence of at least one Jewish legislator when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

Jews comprise an estimated 1.2 percent of Georgia’s nearly 10.8 million residents. Even by that measure, they are under-represented in the 236-seat state legislature (56 in the Senate and 180 in the House). Among current Jewish legislators, Democrat Mike Wilensky of Dunwoody opted not to seek a third term in House district 79.

Democrat Esther Panitch

Incumbent Republican Todd Jones is seeking a fourth term in House district 25, opposed by Democrat Craig Meyer. The district is comprised of southeast Forsyth County and, after redistricting, also a piece of northern Fulton County. Jones, whose mother is Jewish, has a close relationship with Congregation Beth Israel, part of Chabad of Forsyth County.

In House district 45, Jewish Republican Mitchell Kaye, who was elected in May to serve as interim representative, is not seeking election to a full two-year term from the Cobb County district. (Kaye previously served in the House from 1993 to 2003.)

Among Jewish hopefuls, Democrat Jeff Auerbach, a visiting assistant professor of political science at Emory University-Oxford, is seeking to represent House district 121, in Athens and Oconee. His opponent, Republican Rep. Marcus Wiedower, represented district 119 before the redistricting that followed the 2020 Census.

Peter Korman (center)

According to his website, Auerbach’s priorities include ending so-called “benefit cliffs,” in which an increase in income can cause people to lose access to government assistance, such as Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) nutritional aid and PeachCare for Kids. Other issues listed include expanding Medicaid, assuring the rights of unwed fathers, enacting reassurance programs to lower health insurance premiums, and working with state and federal agriculture departments to allow the sale of feral hog meat.

District 51 takes in most of Roswell, northeast Sandy Springs, and a section of Johns Creek. Panitch won the Democratic primary. Korman ran unopposed on the Republican side. The two have sparred on social media, primarily on Twitter.

The district 51 seat opened when incumbent Democratic Rep. Josh McLaurin opted to run for the state Senate. McLaurin defeated Jewish Republican Alex Kaufman in 2018 and 2020.

Korman, 61, grew up in Roslyn, N.Y., on Long Island. He and his wife, Stefanie, were members of Temple Emanu-El, a reform congregation in Atlanta. An introduction in 2008 to Rabbi Hirshy Minkowicz of Chabad of North Fulton prompted a shift to “this caring community,” Korman said.

Panitch, 50, grew up in North Miami Beach, Fla. She and her husband, Roger, are members of Congregation B’nai Torah, where he has served as congregation president.

In discussing her priorities, Panitch told the AJT in July that democracy must be supported by rejecting lies about the 2020 election and the failed attempts to replace Georgia’s electors. In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling against a constitutional right to abortion, she cited the defense of personal privacy in such matters as abortion, gay rights, and same-sex marriage. She also pointed to infrastructure as an important issue for district 51.

Economic concerns topped Korman’s list, particularly the impact of housing costs on young homebuyers and senior citizens. Speaking to the AJT in July, he cited public safety and the challenges faced by police dealing with crimes committed by people with mental health issues and those with more predatory intent. Korman also referred to “what we’re doing in the classrooms to forward student achievement,” naming education and the curriculum an “umbrella issue.”

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