Rabbi Shaul Praver, running for Congress, retraces Great Neck roots

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Rabbi Shaul Praver, a former Great Neck resident, is now running for U.S. Congress in Connecticut. (Photo courtesy of Shaul Praver for the People)
Rabbi Shaul Praver, a former Great Neck resident, is now running for U.S. Congress in Connecticut. (Photo courtesy of Shaul Praver for the People)

In the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Rabbi Shaul Praver was catapulted into a national political conversation.

He appeared with Barack Obama at an interfaith vigil to sing a Hebrew memorial prayer for the 27 lives lost in the shooting. He advocated for gun safety legislation in Connecticut.

He then founded the Global Coalition for Peace and Civility to try addressing violence in the United States.

“I was drawn into the political process as a private citizen, advocate, as a result of the shooting,” Praver said. “I was at the center of the Newtown Effect and was one of the central leaders that changed the gun laws for the state of Connecticut.”

And now the rabbi, who grew up in Great Neck and also worked as a prison chaplain for moe than five years, said he wants to go from the pulpit to Washington.

“I feel that I am now ready to serve all of the people in Connecticut’s fifth district,” Praver said in an interview.

The congressional seat is currently held by Elizabeth Esty, a Democrat who announced she will not be seeking re-election after facing criticism for her handling of a former chief of staff accused of misconduct against female staffers.

Praver, who is now in a three-way primary race for the Democratic nomination, said he is running as a “bold progressive” in the style of Bernie Sanders.

This involves changing “the public school rubric” to include pre-K and four years of college, reduce America’s involvement in wars overseas, and embrace a “Medicare for All” health-care system.

Praver also underscored the importance of addressing the opioid epidemic, which he said is a product of a “perfect storm” of placing few restrictions on doctors giving out opioid drugs, allowing a cheaper “black market of drugs” to flourish, and keeping “the minimum wage an unlivable wage so that people are really stressed out.”

“We need to reverse all those things,” Praver said. “In Connecticut, we have around 100 deaths a year from opioid overdoses.”

Praver, born in Great Neck in 1960, attributed some of his philosophical bent to his upbringing there.

He recalled Mordecai Waxman, a prominent conservative rabbi at Temple Israel who served for more than 50 years, as well as attending Great Neck Synagogue and having discussions of world events around the dinner table.

Praver said that because he grew up in Great Neck, he developed a sense of “social responsibility that we can make the world better and therefore, we must” and that he shouldn’t wait for others to push for change.

“Before I left Great Neck, I thought the country was 90 percent Jewish, and then I traveled a little bit and realized we were the minority and it was just a great place for everybody,” Praver said. “But it was a Jewish enclave and I got a strong sense of tikkun olam.”

Praver also lived in the shadow of the Vietnam War — which helped influence his anti-war stance.

“We grew up being for peace and ending the Vietnam War,” Praver said of his family, adding he would have had to register for the draft in his senior year if the war hadn’t ended in 1975.

“We are so far extended throughout the globe in war that we have neglected our own veterans, our college students, our seniors, our youngest citizens,” Praver said of today. “We always seem to find the money to easily get involved in war, but when it comes to taking care of the people themselves, there we always have a fight on the floor of Congress.”

After graduating from Great Neck South High School in the late 1970s, Praver attended SUNY Purchase for two years before completing his bachelor’s degree in Israel in 1981.

He would then live there until 1989 and be trained as a Rabbi and pastoral counselor.

His experience in Israel, which Praver said “doesn’t have the concept” of trying to shoot assailants, influenced one of his ideas for reducing gun deaths during mass shootings: investing in safe rooms.

“Everybody goes into a safe room and they let the military handle it and it works out very very well,” Praver, who wrote to FEMA of this idea, said of his experience in Israel. “I wrote this in response to President Trump’s suggestion that we have armed teachers, and I thought I’m not against having some armed guards in schools, but I didn’t think expanding that, knowing what I know, was a very very efficacious plan.”

Praver said his other idea on guns, not yet raised to Congress, is requiring anyone seeking a gun permit to come with two in-person references “that can testify for the sanity, non-violent nature and upstanding reputation of the applicant.”

While Praver aspires to represent the fifth district of Connecticut, he said he remains connected to Great Neck. He has gone to the Great Neck Synagogue to reflect on the Newtown tragedy, said he has visited friends and family, and still works with local gun control advocate and author Lois Schaffer.

“Lois Schaffer is my close friend and we work together often on issues of gun violence,” Praver said, noting how she became a close friend of his father’s and that he’s been in her home many times.

Ultimately, Praver said he wanted to pass on a message to his friends in his hometown.

“I wave to all the people in Great Neck, all my teachers, all my families and my friends,” Praver said. “I love you all.”

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