A Profile in Courage // Bronx Congressman Ritchie Torres’ unwavering friendship with the Jewish community

Of all the politicians in the Democratic Party, Congressman Ritchie Torres (D-NY) has probably been the most outstanding in his consistent defense of Israel, both before the attacks of October 7 and even more so afterward.
Considering the location of the 15th congressional district of New York, which encompasses most of the South Bronx, you might not expect its US representative to be so vocal about Israel. In fact, up until 2022, when Riverdale was added to the district, there were no major Jewish communities participating in the elections in which Rep. Torres ran. Nonetheless, Torres, a progressive Democrat, made support of Israel a strong component of his personal brand even as others in his wing of the party were headed in the opposite direction.
Since October 7, Rep. Torres has been willing to subject himself to hostility and disapproval, both online and in person, as he makes the case for Israel’s security. He has spoken publicly in front of Jewish audiences to show his support, and he has braved protests directed specifically at him held by pro-Hamas groups.
I recently spoke with Rep. Torres about his connection to Israel and the broader Jewish community, as well as what drives him to stand up for them.

It’s a great privilege and honor to speak with you.
Thank you for your kind words. I wish everyone thought that way.

If everyone thought that way, you wouldn’t be Ritchie Torres. There’s a book I read as a youngster called Profiles in Courage, which was written by John F. Kennedy. It’s about eight senators who defied the opinions of their parties and constituencies to do what they felt was right. I believe that you too are a profile in courage, fearlessly going against the zeitgeist regardless of the consequences.
I would frame it with more humility. I’d say that I’m an independent thinker and actor, and I stand for what I think is right even if it means standing alone. And nowhere is that truer than on the subject of Israel.

Please tell me how you arrived at this position. When someone hears you speak or reads your posts, especially recently, your views come across as genuine beliefs that go to the core of who you are. How did that happen?
I am something of an improbable Zionist, because for most of my life I had no knowledge or passion for Israel. I grew up in an exclusively Latino and African American neighborhood, so I had no real engagement with the Jewish community. But after I was elected to the City Council of New York in 2014, I was invited by the Jewish Community Relations Council to join them on a delegation to Israel. It was one of the most formative experiences of my life. I was deeply affected by my visits to Yad Vashem, Masada and Sderot, which is one of the communities in the Gaza Envelope. I remember speaking to the mayor there, who told me that most of his children struggle with post-traumatic stress because the family lives under the threat of constant rocket fire. All I could do was imagine what it must be like to be a five-year-old child seeking refuge in a bomb shelter while rockets are being fired, sirens are going off and the adults are panicking.
In the United States we have people who live in fear of bullets and gun violence, but no one lives in fear of rockets. As Americans, we never have to worry about Mexico or Canada firing rockets into our communities. So my early experience in Israel enabled me to clearly see the unique security situation faced by Israel, which is unlike that of anywhere else in the world.

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