By Jacob Kornbluh

January 25, 2022

Comptroller Brad Lander became the highest-ranking Jewish official in New York City when he took office on Jan. 1. He’s also considered among the most progressive, and can point to a long resume of activism – much of it honed with Jewish groups.

A young Jewish activist

Lander grew up in a Reform Jewish family in Creve Coeur, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. Rabbi Susan Talve, the founding rabbi of Central Reform Congregation who lit the menorah at the Obama White House Hanukkah party in 2015, officiated his bar mitzvah. At a young age, he became the social action vice president of the Reform Jewish youth movement, formerly known as the North American Federation for Temple Youth. A night before attending the 1987 mass rally at the U.S. Capitol in support of Soviet Jewry, Lander organized an event with Jewish activists at Washington Hebrew Congregation in D.C. that included a performance by Peter Yarrow of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary.

At the University of Chicago, he was an active member of the local Hillel. He also served as the Sunday school music teacher and youth group advisor at KAM Isaiah Israel, Chicago’s oldest Jewish congregation, which was led by the late Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, a vocal supporter of former President Barack Obama.

After a short stint at University College London, he moved to New York when he was 24, where he volunteered for Jews For Racial & Economic Justice on the Upper West Side. He later became co-chair of the group, now called JFREJ Community, and led campaigns for tenants’ rights and affordable housing. Today he is a member of Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives, a Brooklyn congregation and remains an active JFREJ member.

Lander’s first of eight civil disobedience arrests was with JFREJ during a 1999 protest against the police killing of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant. His most recent arrest, in August 2019, was during a Manhattan rally organized by Jews Against ICE, in protest of Amazon’s ties to the agency.

Lander parlayed his experience as an activist into politics in 2009 when he first ran for City Council. He was described by Politico as “one of the most left-leaning politicians” in the city.

Read the full piece in The Forward.