Lee Zeldin will be heading to Washington, D.C. after winning New York’s 1st Congressional District in Tuesday’s midterm election. He’ll be the only Jewish Republican serving in Congress after Eric Cantor’s resignation this summer, and will be the first Republican to represent the district since 2002, when incumbent Tom Bishop was elected.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Zeldin said the morning after the election, with the excitement still in his voice. “We upset a six-term candidate.”
It wasn’t the first time the two candidates squared off. Bishop defeated Zeldin in 2008 by a margin of 58 to 42 percent. (He ran for the New York State Senate in 2010 and won.) On Tuesday, though, Zeldin beat Bishop with 55 percent of the vote.
Zeldin’s 2008 campaign for Congress came shortly after he returned from a tour in Iraq, where he served as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Born and raised on Long Island, Zeldin attended SUNY Albany and then Albany Law School.
Growing up on Long Island, Zeldin had a bar mitzvah and remembered learning Hebrew in Hebrew School classes. He told me he “has great memories of going to services on the weekend.”
He highlighted his connection to the Passover Seder, which he continues to celebrate every year. “Singing the songs after dinner brings back these amazing deja vu flashbacks,” Zeldin said of the holiday meal. “It’s a great time for family to get together.” While serving in the army, he continued observing Jewish traditions.
At 34, Zeldin will be one of the youngest members of the next House of Representatives. But he’s ready for the challenge. “We spent so much much time planning for November 4th,” he said, showing no signs of slowing down. “We’re starting our transition today, to be ready for [inauguration day on] January 3rd.”
Zack Schrieber is an intern at Tablet Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @zschrieber.