ACKERMAN, GARY (1942– ), U.S. congressman. Ackerman was born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, New York. His parents, Max and Eva (Barnett) Ackerman, were the children of East European immigrants. Ackerman was educated in the New York public school system and graduated from Queens College. Following his graduation, Ackerman spent four years teaching junior high school. In 1970, when his wife gave birth to the first of their three daughters, Ackerman petitioned the New York Board of Education for an unpaid leave of absence. He was turned down; under the then existing policy, maternity leave was solely for women. In what was to become a forerunner of the Federal Family Leave Act, Ackerman successfully sued the Board of Education in a landmark case, which established the right of either parent to claim such leave.
At the end of his unpaid leave, Ackerman left teaching in order to start a weekly newspaper, the Flushing Tribune, eventually renamed the Queen's Tribune. Ackerman was elected as a Democrat to the New York State Senate in 1978 and to the United States Congress in a special election held in 1983 to fill the unexpired term of the late Benjamin Rosenthal. During his more than 20 years in Congress, Ackerman has been a forthright supporter of Israel. As a member of the House Committee on International Relations, Ackerman has traveled the globe extensively. He was one of the first members of Congress to draw attention to the rescue of Soviet and Ethiopian Jews. He has long made it a practice to go to synagogue in every country he visits.
A celebrated character on Capitol Hill, who always wears a white carnation in his lapel and lives on a houseboat docked in the Potomac River, Ackerman is perhaps best known for being the co-founder (along with New York Senator Charles *Schumer) of an informal group known as "The Congressional Minyan." Ackerman's minyan is a group of Jewish legislators and staff members who gather several times a month in the Congressman's office to study Torah and Talmud with a rabbi he flies in from New York City. Once a year, Ackerman also hosts an annual "Taste of New York" gathering on Capitol Hill, which features Jewish food and waiters imported from New York. Widely popular with his largely Jewish constituency, Ackerman has been reelected every two years since 1984 by wide margins.
K.F. Stone, The Congressional Minyan: The Jews of Capitol Hill (2000) 4–7.
[Kurt Stone (2nd ed.)]