You Should Know … Isaac ‘Yitzy’ Schleifer

Yitzy Schleifer
Yitzy Schleifer (Courtesy of Schleifer)

For the last eight years, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer has represented Baltimore’s 5th District as a Baltimore City councilmember.

While growing up in the Fallstaff neighborhood, Schleifer went to the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore and Yeshivat Rambam Maimonides Academy. Schleifer, 35, then continued his studies at University of Baltimore’s Merrick School of Business.

Schleifer and his wife, Lauren, live in Baltimore with their three kids.

What do you do on a typical day?

My role is to handle all city-related functions and issues. Every day is different.

Some days, the other day, I start off by meeting in the morning. I talk about a piece of legislation I’m working on, but then I [get] an emergency call from a church in my district that they have a senior symposium with 1000 seniors there, and the lights are out, and it’s pitch dark and people can’t even see where they’re walking. So I immediately get on an issue like that. Within half an hour, I had lights set up in their facility. I was facilitating back and forth with BGE to expedite the repair.

If there’s crime in the area, shooting, a homicide, [I] help facilitate resources and make sure that the community is getting what they need. The other night, there was an anti-Israel protest in front of one of the largest synagogues in my district, so I facilitated to make sure the police department was on site and prepared days in advance and made sure we had a good plan in place because you just never know what’s going to play out. In this case, it actually ended up getting very aggressive. It was great that we had lined up 80 police officers to be prepared and to be on standby on the block waiting in case things escalated.

How did you get into politics?

My dad was the president of our community association, the Fallstaff community. I grew up in a family that was very community oriented. When I got married and had a house, I got involved in my neighborhood association also. I saw that there was a lot of potential on how to improve city services and to improve the resources that are being brought to a district like the 5th District.

I decided I would run for office. We really created a movement, and I won. I’ve been there for the past eight years.

Did you have any idea you wanted to go into this when you were getting your business degree?

No, I didn’t. It wasn’t one of these things that I had planned. I felt a calling to do that. I saw the needs in the community. I saw issues that were taking place. I saw that the city was simply not delivering basic city services. I decided to be part of the solution. When I was younger, I always thought I’d be a lawyer. Then later on in life, I got more of an entrepreneurial spirit. One of my first years [at University of Baltimore], I won the startup Maryland business competition and got some seed money and started a business.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Being able to help people on a day-to-day basis. There’s no day [that] goes by where we can’t or we’re not solving people’s problems. There’s a lot of needs, and the bureaucracy and government are often very challenging. There’s a lot of complex issues that we deal with, and just being in that position to be able to help people every single day is very rewarding.

How is it being a religious Jew in politics?

I’m a proud Jew. I was raised religious. It’s the bedrock of how I operate every day. I’m obviously the most visibly Jewish elected official that people have come across. I wear a yarmulke every single day. It poses its challenges, but also opportunities. I’m subject to a lot of antisemitism. It’s also an opportunity to show people that our core values are in helping people and loving your neighbor like yourself. We have organizations like Chaverim [of Baltimore] and the Chesed Fund who step up immediately, [which] goes a long way.

Has your job changed at all since Oct. 7?

It’s definitely gotten more challenging, certainly faced a lot more antisemitism and a lot more discrimination. Certain people who [I] worked with on a regular basis over the years have really shown their true colors, which has been really an eye-opening experience to witness that and to witness the double standard and antisemitism. I continue to do what I’ve been doing, and that is to represent my entire district and really try to help anyone and everyone that I can.

Do you work with Baltimore County to help Baltimoreans?

[Baltimore County] Councilman [Izzy] Patoka [and I] know that pressing issues like crime and grime do not stop at the city-county border. Instead of just worrying about my territory and [him] worrying about his territory, we really worry about each other and take care of each other. We have a constituent who is handicapped. In order to get to synagogue, they would be going on a main busy street in their wheelchair. The problem is the sidewalks that they would take would get them only so far and then when they needed to cross over into the other jurisdiction, there was a raised curb. So the curb needed to be lowered so that it became a ramp, and there also needed to be a crosswalk placed at that location in order to enable people to safely pass by. That location is literally split between the city and the county.

For many years in the past, an issue like that never would have gotten resolved because both jurisdictions would have said we’re only responsible for half of this. With Councilman Patoka and I, we got our respective agencies together from both sides, and we split up the responsibility. One of us lowered the curb and created the ramp, and the other one put in the raised crosswalk, to be able to solve the issue for the constituents. So the constituent going over the city-county line, and many constituents, would go over the city-county line at that location, [and] their lives improved. When they’re pushing strollers or when they’re in wheelchairs, they’re able to safely travel. It’s important to have partners like that work on a regional basis so that we’re really solving problems for people regardless of where they live.

Shira Kramer is a freelance writer.

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