Photo Credit: Jerry Greenwald/The Jewish Press
Sam Berger at The Jewish Press office in Brooklyn, N.Y., last week.

He squares off in a special election on Sept. 12.



Ahead of a special election on Sept 12, Sam Berger is at The Jewish Press office in Brooklyn, making the case why voters in his district in central Queens should ignore his age and should pull the lever for him.

Sam Berger, who locally goes by Shmuie (no, that’s not a typo), is a recent law school graduate from St. John’s University. And at 25 he’d be one of the youngest members of the Assembly. (One of the youngest ever was Theodore Roosevelt, who joined the Assembly at age 23).

“I entered law school because I saw what my father was able to do,” Berger told The Jewish Press. “In two words: helping people. He was also there for me and my siblings; he was at every important milestone of my life. Same with my mother, she has always been helping people.”

His mother Paula is a district leader for the 27th Assembly District and a Shevach High School teacher; his father David, president of Bnos Malka Academy, is a partner at the commercial litigation firm Berger Fink, LLP.

“It’s the same reason I’m running for the Assembly seat. Dan Rosenthal emphasized to me how he has been able to help people and do good things for all the communities in his district.”

Rosenthal, whose seat in the 27th Assembly District Berger is vying for, resigned in July to take a position at UJA-Federation of New York. Whether Berger wins or his Republican opponent David Hirsch wins, the new Assemblyman will be the third consecutive Orthodox Jew to hold the seat. Before Rosenthal, Michael Simanowitz served from 2011 until his untimely death in 2017.

In the race for endorsements from the frum community, Berger has locked up almost all the important ones.

“I am not vying for a classic political career – I am seeking to help my community in the best way I know how,” Berger said.

Why does Berger believe he is the best candidate?

“I’ve lived in Kew Gardens Hills my whole life. I live there now with my wife and two daughters. This is my home. This is where my daughters will grow up. I have a vested interest in making sure the community is provided for and protected.”

But he knows he’ll need to convince some of the Orthodox voters in his district, voters who increasingly look askance at Democratic elected officials.

“On both left and right, there’s a lot of extremism – and it’s only getting worse. People make superficial assumptions about you once they hear you’re a registered Republican or Democrat. We’ve become so divided – across the country.

“I believe I’ll be in a position to help bring the legislation back down to basics, which is about helping communities,” he said.

“I’ll also be in position, as an elected Democrat, to help communities in my district far more than a Republican would. Right now, Democrats have a super majority in the Assembly. It’s basically impossible for Republicans to effect change in the Assembly. There is no ‘message’ to send by voting Republican.

“I’ll have my foot in the door. When the approach is collaborative and not oppositional, that’s when you can talk to people, talk to colleagues, and work things out.”

On how he’ll balance his identity with his job, Berger said, “Queens is the most diverse Borough. And I am a staunch Orthodox Jew. My love is always there and I will always be supportive of that. At the same time, I have to represent the whole district, which is incredibly diverse.

“I will not hide the fact that I went to Yeshiva Tiferes Moshe for elementary school. I went to Mesivta Ateres Yaakov for high school. I spent three and a half years learning in the old city (of Jerusalem) at Yeshiva Birkas HaTorah. I am a product of the yeshiva education system. I’m proud of that education. I will fight to make sure we are not being baselessly scrutinized.”

So what’s his plan to effect change if he were to win?

“We have a lot of people in the Democratic Party who are complacent and quiet. Within the Assembly it has not been working to be oppositional and yelling for change. To expect that they would change course when I take a stand – and certainly if any Republican would – and say to them, what you’re doing is wrong, and you have to do it differently…it’s not going to be enough. And, again, if a Republican does it he will simply be ignored.

“Here’s an example of how being collaborative could work. Look at bail reform. They were trying to reform the system. Someone is charged with a crime. The judge has to decide whether or nor he is a risk to not show up to court. But he hasn’t been convicted of anything – and it can take months until a court date is set, and in the meantime this person, innocent or guilty, is sitting in jail.

“Ok, so there was a reasonable and fair basis to want to reform the law. The idea was good, but the particular form that the law took was filled with errors that must be fixed.

“But go back to the goal – it was a good goal that they tried to reach; it was coming from a genuine place. I think people can agree that if you haven’t even been convicted of a crime, why are you being made to wait in prison for eight months?

“Focus on the good that’s there, and you can bring people to the center, to a place where we can collaboratively fix what’s wrong and pursue what works.”

He added, “Let’s also remember that politicians very much notice who votes. When we show up with a loud community voice, the thing that gets heard the most is your vote. “They take notice of that, and they took notice of how the district went for Zeldin. The more support I can get from the voting Jewish community, the more weight that will give the things I will do and say in the halls of the Assembly.”

(Republican candidate Lee Zeldin lost in the gubernatorial race in 2022 to Democrat Kathy Hochul, but the 27th Assembly District voted in favor of Zeldin by 3,000 votes.)

“Often in history extreme voices start out small but are allowed to grow by those who stay on the sidelines and are complacent. If the moderate elements of the Democratic Party would assert a stronger voice, then we can have even more people who are on the sidelines join.

“I’m hopeful and optimistic. You have to be to pursue this. And I’m running as a moderate Democrat. Will I be oppositional? I’m oppositional to the extreme elements of the Democratic Party.

“I will go to my Democratic colleagues and tell them that I speak with my constituents on a regular basis, which I certainly plan to do, and I will return and tell them, I’ve spoken to them and this is the issue we’re having. It’s not an attack on you, I would tell them. And I know the goal you’re trying to achieve, so let’s figure out a way to achieve that while dealing with the issues my constituents have raised.

“There are common ground things we can work on together.”

When asked if the Democratic leadership would be expecting Berger to be a reliable vote for them, Berger’s campaign manager, Ricky Malone, pointed out that Rosenthal voted against bail reform, “because he put his constituents first.”

“It doesn’t matter if some in the Assembly are not statesmen,” Berger said. “I have to be a statesmen; I have to be an Orthodox Jew. I have to carry that wherever I go.”

Share this article on WhatsApp:

Previous articleProfessor Drafting California’s Ethnic Studies Standard Also Runs Anti-Zionist Think Tank
Next articleArchaeologists Stymied by King Jehoash and Amaziah’s Mysterious Jerusalem Canals
Shlomo Greenwald is editor of the print edition of The Jewish Press.