I’m a local teacher in Woodstock, a former U.S. diplomat who served with distinction in Iraq, and my family has had a farm in the Hudson Valley since I was a boy.
I am the grandson of four Holocaust survivors who came to America as refugees from Europe in the 1950s in pursuit of the American dream. They worked in factories and sweatshops in New York City and found the refuge they dreamt of here in our district in the Hudson Valley and the Catskills. They rented bungalows throughout Sullivan County every summer, and it was there that they and my parents spent some of the best times of their lives. My grandfathers commuted back and forth to work in the city in an era when one salary could support a whole family.
My father spent years in his youth waiting tables in Ellenville in Ulster County at the old Catskills resorts along Briggs Highway before graduating Queens College and going on to medical school in Valhalla. I was born in Manhattan while he was in his residency there, and we lived in Queens as he continued his training and my mom taught math in New York’s public schools. We moved around Westchester as he built his practice, and I attended schools in Tuckahoe and White Plains before graduating in 1994 from Scarsdale High School.
When I was nine years old, my father and uncle made my grandparents’ Hudson Valley dream a permanent part of our lives. They joined together to build our family farm in Putnam County, naming it Willow Ridge Farm for the Weeping Willow trees that line the streams. We built up the farm throughout my life, clearing 32 acres of pasture where we have raised horses and livestock, everything from Boer goats to Angus cattle and Heritage turkeys. It was there that my brothers and I learned to work with animals and work the land, and grew to love the place just as my grandparents did. We stored hay in the winter, built and repaired fences for our pastures, and struggled to keep our first tractor running, a ‘61 Ford.
Drawn to public service from a young age, I graduated with honors from Harvard University with a BA in Government and a Master’s Degree in Middle Eastern Studies in 1998. I began my career as an intelligence officer with the CIA in 1997 as a graduate fellow and continued that work full-time after graduating. My work included writing for President Clinton’s daily brief, as well as briefing the secretary of state, members of congress and ambassadors in the Middle East. I rose from that job to play a more direct role in policymaking after taking and passing the U.S. State Department’s foreign service exam. I was commissioned as a Foreign Service Officer in 2002 and pushed for peace in the West Bank and Gaza Strip alongside my close friend Ambassador Chris Stevens, whom we lost in Benghazi.
A year into the Iraq War, I was asked to go to Baghdad to help our country find a path out of the spiraling conflict. I answered that call and became one of the longest serving U.S. diplomats of the Iraq War. Fluent in Arabic, I faced down insurgents to set up the first diplomatic talks between our ambassador, our generals and the insurgency. I helped bring warring factions together to create a constitution for Iraq and was decorated by both the U.S. Army and the State Department. I left Iraq in 2006 and was called back to help again in 2007 as a diplomat with Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and a final time, in 2008, on a commission to review the American presence in Iraq with General Anthony Zinni, a prominent critic of the war.
After my service overseas, I turned down a lucrative job offer from ExxonMobil because of my opposition to the fossil fuel industry. I returned instead to my family’s farm here in the Hudson Valley to settle and raise my family. I began raising Bourbon Red Heritage turkeys, wrote and directed a feature length film, and began teaching and writing. Today, I live in Woodstock where my wife Suhayr and I both teach and our two sons, Abraham and Joseph, attend school.
I taught a civics class on the 2016 election and voted against John Faso with the expectation that a man so transparently corrupt and unfit for office would never be elected. When he was elected and began to cast votes in Congress to strip our community of our health care and pollute our environment, I rallied with activists around our district to make a change. I held the first “Swing Left” meeting in our district in Woodstock, was soon voted onto the Woodstock Democratic Committee, and led a class trip to Washington, DC for the inauguration and Women’s March.
This past June, with the support of my friends, community, and school, I launched a grassroots campaign for progressive change here in our home. We kicked off our campaign outside the historic Ulster County Courthouse in Kingston with over one hundred activists from counties across the district. We have gone on to rally citizens at gatherings and #UniteNY19 forums across the district, sign up hundreds of volunteers, and inspire contributions from all eleven counties in our district.
We are only just beginning. I plan to use my knowledge of our community and my experience bringing opposing sides together to lead a united coalition of new voices in Congress. Together we will face down the corporate powers and lobbyists rigging our economy against working people. Together we will pass a progressive economic agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment and provides healthcare for all.
I used to believe democracy was something we fight for overseas. Today, I believe we have to fight for our democracy here at home. We’re uniting for that fight now. I hope you’ll join us.