We talk to Heather Edelson about her run for state representative in Edina, growing up in North Minneapolis and becoming the first one in her family to attend college.
I know you live in Edina now, but that’s not where you’re from. How did you settle there?
I grew up in North Minneapolis. I get double takes when I tell people this, but I am so proud of my roots because it made me who I am today. Being raised in a diverse neighborhood really helps me in understanding important issues we are facing in Minnesota. My grandfather, who was an incredible role model in my life, was a pillar in North Minneapolis, he loved the community and lived there until he passed away three years ago.
My husband, Brett, grew up in Edina. He was one of a handful of Jewish kids at the time that he grew up here. We bought our home in East Edina, near the Minneapolis border, nearly four years ago. It’s a neighborhood that has a city feel, with many things to walk to and with sidewalks. I grew up in Minneapolis, so sidewalks were a must. However, we didn’t like that Edina had a history of anti-Semitism extending through the 1950s. Brett and I later agreed that change starts with forgiveness. We fell in love with a particular house, and struggled with the idea. We decided to forgive and it was a very good decision. The house has good karma. The family we bought the house from lived here for nearly forty years and although they were not Jewish, two of their daughters had married Jewish men. We have come to love our neighbors – they are deeply caring, accepting and diverse. I know we made the right choice.
When did you convert to Judaism?
I converted in 2007 and found the process to be a great self-exploration. Before Brett and I married we agreed that raising our children Jewish was very important to both of us. I was raised in an agnostic home. Having a strong faith was an important piece in my grandfather’s life and he was the happiest person I knew. I’m glad that we are raising our sons with a strong Jewish identity.
You are running for office in Edina. Tell me about that.
I’ve always wanted to run for public office and I’ve talked about it throughout the years. I feel strongly about social justice: we are all in this together, though it doesn’t always feel this way. Coming from poverty, watching my mother struggle as a single parent, being the first to attend college – and being able to have a career in advocacy was all interwoven in my thought process to run. I want to assure we are a state that fights for equity for all. At a point, you have to just say, now is the time and I’m going to take a risk. So I did – I came home from book club one night and said, “Honey I’m going to run for the Minnesota House of Representatives.”
The incumbent in our District is great man who has been in the seat for 11 terms. I like him and I’ve voted for him. He’s done good things for our great state. So, one of course would ask: “why then are you running against him?” My answer is simple: The House of Representatives is intended to represent different people. During this run the most disheartening thing I’ve heard people say about me is, “she’s just a stay-at-home mom.” Educated, strong moms are extremely capable and make a difference so much more then we get credit for. We’re invested in our community because we want to ensure that our schools and our infrastructure will work for many generations to come.
What issues are you running on?
One of my top issues is education. Edina is at the forefront of education in Minnesota and we should be at the forefront helping everyone get a good education across the state. Another pressing issue, in the next 15 years, there will be a significant increase in the senior population and our infrastructure is not set up to adequately address this. We need affordable assisted living facilities and innovative services for seniors to stay in their homes. We also need more public transportation options for seniors that do not drive. Human dignity is what we need to be thinking about in the future. We all age, and having an age-friendly state is the direction we need to be moving in.
I also hope to improve civic engagement on the local level. People are not as invested because they feel like they can’t make an impact. I want to help people feel invested.
What interested you in public advocacy?
It all started when I went to a protest with my grandfather who worked at a local factory. He gave me a sign to carry. We were all shouting, “The time is now”. I had no idea what it was about at the time but recall feeling their passion – it was quite an experience.
Politics have always had a special place in my heart. I recall in 3rd grade being really fascinated by Abraham Lincoln. Later it was John F. Kennedy. They both stood up against perils within our society at very different points in time and accomplished great feats in public office.
Are you affiliated with any synagogue?
We are members of Shir Tikvah. The founding Rabbi, Stacy Offner, married Brett and me. Our two older boys attend Religious School and we have been active members. I was very active in our Caring Community Committee (Yad B’Yad) before the boys were born. We love that social justice is so ingrained into our shul. Rabbi Michael Latz is an incredible leader in faith and in our community.
What’s next for you?
Caucus is March 1. The convention is April 16. That’s when the DFL nomination will be decided. I’ve been working really hard. When you work on a local campaign, it’s you, your family and close friends putting in a lot of work. There are 7 women leaving the Minnesota Legislature this year. We need more women in politics. Women are good decision makers. We’re constantly self-evaluating, analyzing and multitasking. I’ve gotten criticism from other candidates asking how I’m going to handle the job with three young kids or dismissing me because most recently I have been a stay-at-home mom. I’m the only woman in a race of four men. That criticism is one more reason why we need to get more moms involved.
What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?
Passover. It says a lot about resiliency. To overcome obstacles we need to come together. When we unite, there’s no end to the great things we can accomplish.
This interview is part of our weekly “Who the Folk” series where TC Jewfolk profiles interesting Jews in the community. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, TC Jewfolk neither endorses or opposes candidates for office.Click here to nominate your favorite TC Jew to be featured on our weekly Who the Folk?! series!