Prior to his election to the PA Legislature, Ismail “Izzy” Smith-Wade-El was the President of Lancaster City Council on which he had served since 2017. During his four years on Council, Izzy helped secure the largest investments in affordable housing and lead removal for the City of Lancaster in its history. He championed the decriminalization of cannabis; a completely revamped use-of-force policy for police officers; and increased police accountability in response to community requests.
Izzy was born and raised in Lancaster. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, Izzy returned to his hometown and began working in Lancaster's nonprofit sector to deliver relief to vulnerable people, first in behavioral health and drug and alcohol rehabilitation, then as a grant writer and researcher. As a program specialist at Lancaster County Homeless Coalition, he coordinated services and support for Lancaster County's housing insecure community. Most recently, Izzy launched "Refresh Lancaster," a mobile hygiene unit which delivers showers, social services, and medical attention to homeless Lancastrians.
Izzy has fought for grass roots change in his community as the vice chair of the Lancaster County Democratic Party and as a community organizer with striking Kellogg’s workers for fair wages and benefits and PA's educators to demand fair funding for public schools. He's raised his voice to protect abortion access, defend Black Lives, welcome immigrants and refugees, and denounce antisemitism.
Izzy is the first Black and first queer state representative from Lancaster.
His inspiration for his life and work as a public servant is the example of his mother, Rita Smith-Wade-El, who was a professor at Millersville University, a union member, community organizer and single mom. His mom always made a point of helping others, even when she had little for herself. She taught Izzy that when you have something to give, you give it, and if you don’t have it to give, you go get more to give.
Izzy has come to Harrisburg to partner with likeminded legislators to correct the Commonwealth’s laws that favor giant corporations, lobbyists, and a status quo that hurts working families. Those laws prevent the leveling of the playing field for friends and neighbors. He will advocate for legislation that puts power to the shared values of kindness, welcome, dignity, and care.
Izzy draws his values from his family, his Catholic faith, and his community.
About Risa and Rabbi Jack Paskoff
Risa and Rabbi Jack Paskoff embody the spirit of the Phil and Rhea Starr Social Justice Award. Like Phil and Rhea, the Paskoffs have had an indelible impact on the community as both individuals and as a couple since they moved to Lancaster in 1993.
Risa began her time in Lancaster as one of the co-founders of Jewish Family Services, providing social services to those in need. After leaving JFS, she had a private practice as a psychotherapist which was affiliated with Roseville Pediatrics, where she worked with children and adolescents. Risa currently serves as the Executive Director of Aaron’s Acres and has been with the organization since it first began in 1998. Her passion has always been to provide recreational programs to children and young adults with disabilities. Creating programs for all, regardless of ability, has been a constant in the work that she has done and continues to do. A graduate of Cornell University, Risa earned her bachelor’s in psychology and went to Columbia University to earn her master’s in social work. Risa is involved with Congregation Shaarai Shomayim’s Tikkun Olam Committee, co-chairing the annual Mitzvah Day, a day of participating in community service projects.
Before moving to Lancaster, Risa worked at Jewish Family Services in East Brunswick, NJ. as a psychotherapist.
Rabbi Jack Paskoff is in his 29th year as the rabbi of Lancaster’s Congregation Shaarai Shomayim. During his tenure, the congregation has grown in significant ways in terms of membership, youth and adult learning, and social justice work.
To many, Lancaster seems an unlikely place for meaningful Jewish life, but the Shaarai community of 330 families has made its presence known throughout Pennsylvania and throughout the Reform movement. Jack often addresses social justice issues in his congregation, and, through his various community activities, has become a voice of Tikkun Olam throughout Lancaster County, having participated in and launched projects related to homelessness, poverty, reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and immigrant resettlement. He regularly speaks about this work in a column in the local newspaper and through numerous speaking engagements.
Jack is very involved in Reform Judaism’s youth and camping programs. A number of graduates of the congregation have gone on to active involvement in Jewish life. A native New Yorker, Jack graduated from Brandeis University before being ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Prior to arriving in Lancaster, Jack was the associate rabbi at the Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, NJ.
Jack and Risa have been married for 35 years, and have two sons, who live in New York City.