You Should Know… Liz Leibowitz

Photo by Emma Beck
Photo by Emma Beck

Liz Leibowitz loves living on Capitol Hill. The 27-year-old Philadelphia-area native helped found Moishe House Capitol Hill two years ago while she was working as a legislative correspondent and press assistant to Rep. Robert A. Brady (D-Pa.).

She currently serves as the director of government affairs for The Jewish Federations of North America and The Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies. Advocating for the legislative interests of 125 Jewish family agencies and 151 federations, her portfolio includes legislation impacting older adults and the disabled, and issues such as poverty, domestic violence and human trafficking.

A summa cum laude graduate of American University with a B.A. in political science and minor in Israel studies, Leibowitz spent a semester in 2009 studying at Tel Aviv University.

From December 2013 to December 2014, Leibowitz co-chaired the Congressional Jewish Staffers Association, which provides programming and resources to Jewish staffers in the House and Senate.

We recently talked with her about the Hill’s thriving Jewish scene, advocating for vulnerable members of the community and growing up in an interfaith family.

How did you become interested in government affairs?

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of lobbying, but it wasn’t until I took a program that AU offers [through the Public Affairs Institute, formerly the Lobbying Institute] where you and a group get an issue and you come together and develop a lobbying plan and a strategy. I walked away realizing that the term “lobbyist” or “lobbying” is a really negative term to a lot of people, but there are a lot of really good lobbyists who do their work ethically and represent communities that otherwise wouldn’t really have a voice. I’ve always kind of seen lobbying, when done ethically and effectively, to be really one of the best parts of our federal government.

What legislative issues are you currently working on?

A lot of our work in the last year, and my work particularly, focused on people with disabilities and the budget and making sure that services were being adequately funded and sequestration didn’t go into effect. Now that we have a budget deal, we’re looking at the appropriations process — making sure that, for example, that the Older Americans Act isn’t getting any cuts or making sure that the Crime Victims Fund is adequately funded so that domestic violence victims are getting services.

What was it like working up on the Hill for Rep. Brady?

It was very exciting. I had interned for a congressman from the Philadelphia area when I was in college [former Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy] but going to work for a congressman from your home city was really amazing. … Not only was it a really wonderful experience to see the political sausage up close, but it was heartening because people can get very cynical in this town about the Hill and how it works. But there are many members who are passionate and do want to help the people back home.

How was it co-chairing the Congressional Jewish Staff Association?

There are a lot of Jews working on Capitol Hill. A lot of them, particularly the younger ones, come to D.C. usually from places all around the country. They don’t have a Jewish community base here. They don’t know anything about the Jewish community, and it’s a way for us to create a space where they feel at home.

What was it like growing up in an interfaith household?

My parents are interfaith and my parents are, at best, light Buddhists so I grew up going to Buddhist temples and meditating and doing all of that and I definitely think that’s been helpful in my life. But I always was drawn to Judaism. My Jewish grandmother was very passionate about understanding the Jewish community. She had actually been in the Women’s Army Corps in World War II and so she just always was a really inspiring figure. She had seder and Chanukah [celebrations] at her house every year.

Tell us about being involved in the Jewish community as someone from an interfaith background?

I feel very comfortable in the Jewish community, but I think a lot of people are unfortunately almost afraid to come out and say that they are from an interfaith background or they are half. I know that I’ve gotten some comments growing up that “you’re only half-Jewish, you might not understand.” And I think it’s important that we realize that there are a lot of people of interfaith backgrounds who can and are an active part of the Jewish community.

Tell us about your involvement with Moishe House Capitol Hill?

It’s really neat because a lot of the Jewish young professional stuff in D.C. outside of Sixth and I Historic Synagogue is located in Northwest. A number of young professional organizers, when I first started, asked if there are Jews in Northeast and Southeast and do young Jews come out to events there. And the answer is a resounding yes. We have Shabbats every month where we average 30, 40 people. We had an event last year with a Muslim and Jewish group in D.C. [that] came to us and said that Sukkot and the Muslim holiday Eid were at the same time, so why don’t we do an interreligious event. We did — and we had like 80 people in our house.

What is your favorite thing about living in Washington?

A lot of times if you’ve lived here long enough — I’ve lived here almost 10 years — you can forget how lucky you are to live here. For me, I would walk from my house to the Hill every day when I worked on the Hill and you’d cross the Capitol and the Supreme Court, and it’s a nice reminder. It’s unique to get to live here and get to experience that.

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