Long before he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Adam Schiff was a bar mitzvah boy at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette in 1973. (Photo/Forward-Courtesy Schiff)
Long before he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Adam Schiff was a bar mitzvah boy at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette in 1973. (Photo/Forward-Courtesy Schiff)

Long before Jan. 6 hearings, Rep. Adam Schiff was a Bay Area bar mitzvah boy

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Adam Schiff arrived in the Bay Area as a boy. One year later, he became a man.

That was 1973, when Schiff celebrated his bar mitzvah at Reform Temple Isaiah in Lafayette. 

On Tuesday, the 11-term member of Congress found himself under a different kind of spotlight, presenting evidence in a nationally televised hearing of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. 

In a methodical style honed as a federal prosecutor Schiff, 61, questioned a series of witnesses on efforts the former president took to pressure public officials to undo the results of the 2020 election, and on threats Trump and his allies made against election workers doing their jobs.

Schiff looked a little bit awkward on his big day nearly 50 years ago, he admitted in a fundraising email earlier this year (one that addressed the value of tikkun olam, repairing the world). But at age 13, in a patterned bow tie, with gold embroidery on his tallit, and a smile that is somehow both mildly embarrassed and self-assured, he looked like he knew what he was doing.

Schiff has proven he knows what he’s doing pretty convincingly over the past 2½ years as he emerged, due to his deft handling of the first impeachment trial of Donald Trump, into a national leader of the Democratic Party and something of a hero to liberals who continue to see their democracy as under threat.

Rep. Adam Schiff speaks at a news conference in Burbank, on the release of the redacted Mueller report, April 18, 2019. (Photo/JTA-Mario Tama-Getty Images)
Rep. Adam Schiff speaks at a news conference in Burbank, on the release of the redacted Mueller report, April 18, 2019. (Photo/JTA-Mario Tama-Getty Images)

Schiff’s intellect and unassuming, quiet competence were recognized early on. He came of age in the East Bay, where his family lived in Alamo and he attended Monte Vista High School in Danville — he was named school valedictorian and his peers voted him “most likely to succeed.”

“I was totally shocked” after receiving the honor, he told the Glendale News-Press. “I didn’t think anybody in the school knew who I was.”

Always interested in the dramatic arts (Schiff today is a movie buff and amateur screenwriter), he enjoyed studying Shakespeare at Monte Vista, where his favorite teacher was Barbara Abbott. During the summer, Abbott took students to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, where they watched at least one play every day. “I still remember her warm smile, her laugh, her dedication to her students, and a passion for Shakespeare that she passed to her students — a passion I still share,” he wrote in a 2014 Facebook post.

Schiff went on to Stanford where, like many children of working-class Jewish parents of the 1970s and ’80s, he considered both law and medicine. He began undergraduate studies in pre-med but took a wide range of classes, including chemistry, history, photography and, yes, Shakespeare.

He recalled “The Farm,” as Stanford is known to students and alumni, as a “magical environment.” He ultimately settled on political science and graduated with distinction in 1982.

Schiff has said his involvement in Jewish life has been “continual,” from studying in Hebrew school at Temple Isaiah to his own family today attending Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland.

After college Schiff went on to Harvard Law, graduating in 1985. He obtained a prestigious clerkship with a federal judge and later became a prosecutor. In 1996 he ran for the state Senate and won. 

In 2000, Schiff ran for Congress in California’s 27th district, representing parts of Los Angeles County, eking out a victory against Republican James Rogan with 53 percent of the vote. Since then, he has cruised to victory in re-election campaigns, winning 60 percent of the vote in 2020.

The rest is history as Schiff, along with Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland (who led the second impeachment trial against Trump), have proven eloquent defenders of what Democrats consider to be fundamental American values in the face of unprecedented behavior from a U.S. president.

In closing statements during the hearing Tuesday Schiff, who with his colleagues continues to present evidence that President Trump incited a riot on Jan. 6 using false claims of election fraud, said the U.S. presidency carries with it “awesome” power. 

“It is even more awesome when it is handed on peacefully,” he said.

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.