(New York Jewish Week) — Jonathan David Rinaldi, 44, is a Republican who is running to represent New York’s District 24, which encompasses the Queens neighborhoods of Kew Gardens, Fresh Meadows, Briarwood and Jamaica. This week, he made headlines for protesting outside a motel in his district that, he claimed, was housing newly arrived migrants.
But last November, he gained local fame for a different reason. Rinaldi was featured in a post on Humans of New York, the viral social media project in which photographer Brandon Stanton posts portraits of New Yorkers he meets on the street, along with stories they relate in their own voices.
Rinaldi’s story was particularly eyebrow-raising: He said he had fathered at least 12 children over the course of two years through sperm donation — but not via sperm banks that pay donors, vet their health and limit their offspring. And he said he planned to keep going, in part because of his Jewish identity.
He said he was driven in part by his Jewish identity. “I explain to each [woman]: ‘This child will be born into a larger family. I have eighteen other children.’” Rinaldi said in the caption. “I’d like as many as God will give me. Why put your entire bloodline into one child when you can spread it out? Eighteen is a holy number in Judaism. And the next one is 36, so I’ll reassess then.”
In the Humans of New York post, Rinaldi detailed the process (“Fresh is better than frozen”) and said that he’s had sex with some of the women and wants to remain involved in their lives. “I’m what they call a ‘known donor,’” he said. “Everything is kinda handshake. I don’t charge the mothers. And they don’t expect any financial support.”
The post garnered a string of negative reactions from social media users. In response, Stanton wrote on Instagram that “stories from people you may not identify with, or even like, were a common part of HONY pre-pandemic. And will be again now that I’m back on the street.”
The post did not identify Rinaldi, but he confirmed to the New York Jewish Week over the phone that he was the person in the portrait and post. “I was interviewed once,” Rinaldi said. “It was taken out of context. I had a long conversation, a random conversation with somebody on the street.”
Rinaldi also confirmed that he donates his sperm — and has attempted to square that practice with Jewish tradition. He said that he has spoken with a rabbi to “try and figure out how to be as kosher as I possibly can and have as many children as the Bible commands,” and gave the name of a local Chabad rabbi. The rabbi declined to comment about Rinaldi but confirmed their relationship.
“It’s our responsibility as Jews blessed by God to have children,” said Rinaldi, who also has three children from a previous marriage. “Some of us are doing it extremely kosher, the way it’s supposed to be, you have a nice Jewish wife, you go to temple every day. For me, it didn’t work out that way.”
The Torah contains the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply,” which rabbis have traditionally interpreted as an imperative to have children. Rabbis have prohibited sperm donation, however, in part due to prohibitions on masturbation and on having children with an unknown father. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a leading 20th-century authority, wrote that it’s preferable for Jewish women who cannot use their husband’s sperm to use non-Jewish sperm for artificial insemination in order to avoid accidental incest in future generations.
Rinaldi said that he began donating sperm when the city was locked down due to the spread of COVID-19, and that he first donated to a friend. From there, he said, word spread of his donations. Rinaldi is what is called a “known donor,” or someone whose identity is known to the recipient and, potentially, their children. Known donors are legal in the United States, but serial sperm donation is discouraged by many countries, in large part because of the risk of biologically related offspring procreating together in the future. The Netherlands set up systems to curb a serial donor who fathered at least 100 children, while Israel barred an American Jewish man dubbed “the Sperminator” because of his extensive efforts to procreate from impregnating more women there. Ari Nagel’s own progeny tally neared 100 after a prolific pandemic, he revealed in 2021.
Rinaldi, too, said the pandemic had spurred his donations.
“At no point did I ever go to a sperm bank,” Rinaldi said. “At no point did I ever intend to do this. We were all at home, shut down. A lot of people desired families. This is not your typical sperm donor situation. … I was just blessed to even have the opportunity. I didn’t do it for money. I didn’t ask for anything. I just wanted to help families.”
He wouldn’t confirm how many children he has through sperm donation, though in the Humans of New York caption, he’s quoted as saying he had fathered 12 over the previous two years — and, at the time, three more were on the way. In an interview Wednesday with the New York Jewish Week, he responded to a question about how many children he has by repeating an idea he had alluded to in the caption: that according to Jewish tradition, the number 18 represents life.
“Eighteen is a holy number,” Rinaldi said in the interview. “It’s just what God has blessed me with. I’m doing this because I don’t believe in abortion. I am pro-life.”
Opposing abortion isn’t the only right-wing position Rinaldi holds. In an interview, he railed against the COVID-19 vaccine and compared vaccine requirements to the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust, a common line of criticism at the time. “You could have just worn a yellow unvaccinated star on your shirt,” he said, adding, “We were literally one thing away from them coming up to rounding up the unvaccinated.” He also said transgender people are “against Torah principles” and said schools are “not teaching kids God.”
On Tuesday, he and a group of Republican activists showed up at a Kew Gardens motel to protest migrants coming to the city, even though a lawyer for the motel said the owner is “not interested in signing a contract” to house migrants.
In District 24, Rinaldi will run against Democratic Council member Jim Gennaro, who has represented the district for more than a decade.
Rinaldi, who grew up in New York City, said his grandmother escaped Poland to Argentina during World War II. His grandfather also left Moldova at the time. Although both countries were occupied by the Nazis or their allies, Rinaldi said his grandparents were “against the tyranny of the left at that time.”
Rinaldi said he studied for his bar mitzvah at Yeshivas Ohr HaChaim, an Orthodox institution in Kew Gardens, and attended City College of New York in uptown Manhattan where he studied architecture, which is also reflected on a LinkedIn page that appears to belong to him.
He later worked in construction and design for over a decade and appeared on the HGTV reality television show “Million Dollar Contractor.”
When it comes to his sperm donation, however, Rinaldi is less comfortable being in the public eye, despite the Humans of New York post. “My lifestyle is nobody’s business,” he said.
“I am what it looks like when you don’t abort children,” Rinaldi said. “Let’s just focus on the issues if we can. I’m going to do the right thing for the community. My personal business is my personal business.”
Back in the Humans of New York post, Rinaldi suggested that he hoped to expand his personal business. He mused about practices that Jewish tradition has, for the past millennium, frowned upon: “My ultimate goal is to find two or three of the mothers who will be sister wives, because I’m gonna need help with all this,” he said. “But I know one thing: It will never be boring.”
The post This Jewish New York City Council candidate has a prolific passion: serial sperm donation appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.