Rep. Elaine Luria, a Birmingham native who represents Virginia’s second district in Congress, was named to the Jerusalem Post’s 2020 list of the 50 Most Influential Jews in the world.
Luria, who also has family in New Orleans, narrowly defeated incumbent Scott Taylor in 2018. A Democrat in a Republican-leaning district, she faces Taylor again in her re-election bid this year.
The list is actually 50 categories, some with two or three individuals named. Luria shares the Military Vets in Congress listing with Rep. Lee Zeldin, a New York Republican who saw four years of active duty in the U.S. Army, including time in Iraq.
The list is topped by “the peacemakers” who delivered the recent peace accords with United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — Special Adviser to the President Jared Kushner; Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen; Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer; Special Envoy for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz; and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
Second on the list are top Jewish scientists working toward the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, Tal Zaks, chief scientist at Moderna, Inc.; Alexander Gintsburg, head of Moscow’s state-run Gamaleya Institute; and Shmuel Shapira, head of Israel’s Institute for Biological Research.
Also listed at No. 12 in the year of COVID are a group of Israel’s pandemic decision makers: Coronavirus Commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu; Health Minister Yuli Edelstein; Chairman of the Board of Assuta Medical Centers Shuki Shemer; and Hadassah Medical Center Chief Zeev Rotstein. And, at No. 13, are the two Israelis with senior positions at the World Health Organization: Dorit Nitzan and Sinaia Netanyahu.
Despite the pervasive nature of the pandemic in this year’s news, the Post “strived to create a list showcasing the diversity of the Jewish nation and highlighting people from all walks of life – government, art, medicine, literature and science.”
No. 50 is “Our Man in the NBA,” Deni Avdija, a Maccabi Tel Aviv star who is projected to be selected in the top 5 of this year’s NBA draft.
An Indian Springs alumna, Luria graduated from the Naval Academy in 1997 with a degree in physics and history. In 2019, Indian Springs named her alumna of the year.
After being commissioned, she served aboard the USS O’Brien, based in Yokosuka, Japan. When she entered the academy, women were not allowed to serve on combat ships, but that ban was lifted in 1995, and she became one of the first women able to serve her entire career on a ship.
When she retired in 2017 after 20 years of service, she was commander of Assault Craft Unit TWO. Under her command, the unit deployed to operations in Honduras, Panama and Norway, and humanitarian and disaster relief operations following Hurricanes Joaquin and Matthew.
In 2013, she also became a small businesswoman, establishing the Mermaid Factory in Norfolk, and later a second location in Virginia Beach.
Luria has been vocal about her support of Israel, calling out antisemitism “within our caucus” after fellow Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar tweeted antisemitic tropes about support for Israel. Citing her 20 years of service and sacrifice in the U.S. Navy, she addressed the dual loyalty charge from the House floor, not quite believing that this would have to be the topic of her first such remarks. Detailing her story, she repeatedly asked, “Is that not enough to prove my loyalty to our nation?”
Her first visit to Israel was with five other incoming representatives a few weeks before they were sworn in.
In July 2019, Tablet magazine did a profile, asking if Luria is “the Democratic Party’s next great Jewish hope.”
In a late 2019 video explaining her position on the impeachment of President Donald Trump, she held the Tanach that she had been given at her 1991 Confirmation at Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El.