February 24, 2024

How Mazi Pilip’s son asking for a Star of David spurred her political aspirations

Mazi Pilip, a two-time immigrant, ex-Israeli paratrooper and mom of seven, revealed that her son’s sudden request for a Star of David pendant three years ago was the pivotal moment that catapulted her into politics.

Now, the Republican candidate — whose proud Jewish journey led her from Ethiopia to Israel and finally the US — is winding up a fierce campaign that will see her face off against Democratic rival and ex-Long Island Rep. Tom Suozzi in next week’s special House election.

The 47-year-old’s campaign to replace expelled Rep. George Santos has heavily leaned on the rise of antisemitism across the US — a theme she told The Post on Wednesday is reflective of her Jewish history and, ultimately, the flashpoint conversation that unfolded with her son several years back.

“My son was getting ready for his bar mitzvah, and I asked him what he wanted from saba and savta, his grandparents in Israel, and he said, ‘I want a Star of David necklace’,” Pilip recalled of the 2021 chat, which took place as the last war in Gaza was raging.

“I was so proud, I said, ‘Wow, I thought you’re gonna ask for a crazy game or something,’ but I asked myself how I was going to give it to him because it was so dangerous,” she continued.

“At the time, Jewish people were being attacked just because they were wearing a yarmulke or anything to do with Judaism.”

Republican candidate Mazi Pilip

Republican candidate Mazi Pilip is squaring off against Democratic rival and ex-Long Island Rep. Tom Suozzi in next week’s special House election. Gabriella Bass

Pilip, an Orthodox Jew whose husband’s relatives were also Holocaust survivors, said she never revealed her fear to her son at the time, but her immediate hesitancy “really bothered me.”

“I said, ‘Why do I have to think twice?’” she recalled. “Every year we tell our children how part of their family got killed by Nazis and here I go, I am so concerned to give a Star of David to my son? Something was wrong.”

That moment, Pilip says, served as the motivation she needed to successfully run for the Nassau County Legislature in 2021 and 2023 — and her current quest to be elected to the House of Representatives.

Born in 1979 to her Orthodox Jewish parents, Pilip grew up in a rural Ethiopian village that didn’t have running water, according to her campaign website’s biography.

It wasn’t until she was about 9 years old that she even learned she was Jewish — a decision she says her parents made to avoid religious persecution in their native country.

“We were hiding, we weren’t talking about Judaism at all. We weren’t even practicing Judaism … My parents kept it very, very secret until we were about to start to come to Israel,” she said.

At age 12, Pilip and her family were among the more than 14,000 Jews who were secretly airlifted to Israel as part of a 36-hour covert military mission dubbed “Operation Solomon” during Ethiopia’s civil war.

Mazi Pilip and her family

Mazi Pilip and her husband, Adalbert Pilip, live in Little Neck, LI with their seven kids — aged 16 to 2-years-old. Mazi Pilip / facebook

“It wasn’t scary, it was beautiful. It was a happy, happy, happy day. A new life,” Pilip recalled of the moment she arrived in the Jewish state.

After learning Hebrew and graduating high school, Pilip then spent 21 months serving as a gunsmith in the paratrooper unit in the Israel Defense Forces.

“It was the best feeling. I am now an adult and serving the country that saved my life and gave me a new opportunity,” she recalled.

Pilip resumed her studies after her IDF stint — earning a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy at the University of Haifa and a master’s degree in diplomacy and security at Tel Aviv University.

It was during college that the ex-paratrooper then laid eyes on Adalbert Pilip — a Ukrainian American who, at the time, was studying medicine at the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology.

“I never planned to come to the US. I was very comfortable in Israel,” she said. “Then I met my husband — a great guy who was born in Ukraine, grew up in America, came to study medicine in Israel.”

After three years of dating, the pair tied the knot and, in 2005, uprooted to the US where they settled in the heavily Jewish Great Neck, Long Island, and went on to have seven children. Their eldest child is now 16 years old, while the youngest are 2-year-old twins.

Adalbert currently works as a cardiologist in Smithtown.

Mazi Pilip

The 47-year-old’s campaign to replace expelled Rep. George Santos has heavily leaned on the rise of antisemitism across the US. Dennis A. Clark

“You have to know how to manage,” she said of the couple’s massive brood. “It’s good. It’s fun. I love big families, it’s just beautiful.”

Pilip gave birth to her youngest, the twins, just weeks before she was elected, as a Republican, to the Nassau County Legislature for the first time in 2021.

She was re-elected in the Democratic stronghold last year before she was tapped by the GOP in December last year to run as the party’s candidate in the race for George Santos’ seat.

Among the motivating factors that cemented her run for Congress was the Israel-Hamas conflict that has been waging since Oct. 7.

“It has been a difficult time for us to be honest, for my kids, my husband, and for me,” she of life as a Jew in the US in the wake of the terror attack.

“And while you’re trying to understand why this happened, how this happened and what the future of Israel will be, you have antisemitism that’s out-of-control in our country, especially in colleges.”

Fighting that antisemitism, which has been rampant of late in Ivy League schools, has been a main theme of her campaign for Congress.

“When I’m going to go to Congress, I’m going to be so strong on this. So strong. I’m not going to tolerate antisemitism, I’m not going to tolerate hate,” she said.

Separately, the local pol, who is actually a registered Democrat, has vowed to change her registration after the election.

“In the beginning … I registered as a Democrat, and then I saw the Democratic Party just keep changing laws, policies, I didn’t like that they became very progressive, very, very progressive,” Pilip explained.

“I’m a mother, you know, and I felt you know, it just didn’t work anymore. They don’t share my values.”

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