One of Steven Ari-Z Leiner’s fondest childhood memories, he says while taking a break from campaigning, is when on his 13th birthday the late Bobover Rebbe helped him put on his tefillin. The Bobover Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, and Maimonides are some of his heroes. Some of his secular role models include John F. Kennedy, Mayor Bloomberg, Warren Buffet, and Paul Krugman, he adds.
That’s an indication – as New Yorkers are soon going to find out – that Leiner is a very unique Congressional candidate. He recently filed papers to run for Congress in New York’s Eight District for the election in November 2010. The incumbent, Jerold Nadler, is being tipped to run for Hillary Clinton’s old Senate seat. And Leiner, or Steven Ari-Z as he is known to his friends, is a leading candidate to replace him.
Steve Ari-Z’s own background reflects the diversity of the Jewish community of the Eighth District. He studied in the Yeshiva of Belle Harbor and Yeshivat Toras Emes in Boro Park, before spending a year in Israel studying at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh. His father and his grandparents, Max and Bella Leiner, escaped from the Nazis and emigrated to the U.S. in 1942. His great grandparents, from both sides, had been murdered by the Nazis in concentration camps.
His mother’s family came to the U.S. from Moscow. They were one of the first families to escape the Soviet Union. Steven Ari-Z enjoys swapping stories with members of the Russian-speaking community.
His family’s release from Russia was secured by his late great uncle Israel Beigel (of Beigel bakeries). His grandmother, Leah Beck, was very involved in Boro Park’s Bobov’s Bikkur Cholim. His grandfather Max Leiner was a regular at the Agudah of Boro Park right until his death. Leiner fondly remembers him cycling in the snow, aged 87, to shul where he learned daf yomi with Mr. Shmuel Roth for over 25 years.
Steven Ari. Z. Leiner with one of role models Warren Buffet
Steven Ari-Z is equally at home in the Modern Orthodox Community of Manhattan where he lives. His late great uncle Felix Doppelt also lived on the Upper West Side. To round off the diversity of his Jewish experience, Leiner also has a strong connection to the Syrian Jewish community. He spent summers during his college years living with the Gemal family in Deal, New Jersey.
He is very proud of his Jewish background. He believes that Jews have much more to contribute on the national stage then they have done so far. He cites the insightfulness and clever ways of dissecting an issue of the Gemara, which he loves studying, as an example of skills that could be of use. He found it of use in his personal business, he says.
Leiner is a nationally recognized highly successful life insurance businessman. He started while in college at Columbia University where he received a B.A. in political science – to pay for his tuition – and has continued ever since. His awards include admission to the Million Dollar Round Table and the President’s Cabinet.
He points out that the life insurance business teaches you to focus on the future, not just the present. He views life insurance as protecting people’s families. It’s a very Jewish character trait, he says, to make sure your children are protected whatever happens to you. Steven Ari-Z says politicians in Washington need to understand that too, as they allow the U.S. national debt to grow and fail to make the world better for our children.
When Steven Ari-Z talks about policy issues, he has the careful deliberation and studious thought of a Torah scholar. He pauses and thinks before he answers a question. He speaks with a sincerity often missing from politicians. Education is an important issue to him. He believes something needs to be done to help families who are coping with high tuition fees. Parents, he says, should not be forced to choose between bankruptcy and providing their children with a Jewish education.
Steven Ari-Z is equally at home speaking about economics. He thinks the economic crisis we are in was preventable. As a businessman, he understands how higher taxes and a complex tax code stifle business development. “As Jackie Mason might say, our country should be making a profit,” he says with a chuckle.
Before Leiner returns to the campaign trail, we ask him about the origin of his name “Ari-Z.” He smiles. He was originally called Zvi-Ari, he says. But the late Rabbi Poupko of Flatbush told him to put the Ari (lion) ahead of the Zvi (deer). Leiner listened and never looked back.
Daniel Freedman is the director of policy analysis and communications at a strategic-consultancy company. Previously, he was the foreign-policy analyst for Rudy Giuliani’s Presidential Committee, a United Nations official, and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman’s senior writer. He also serves as a consultant to Steven Ari-Z Leiner. He can be reached at DF9713@gmail.com.