Good Thursday morning!
Yesterday was the deadliest day on record for coronavirus-related deaths in the United States, with more than 200 reported fatalities.
Robert Levinson, the longest-held American hostage in Iran, passed away in captivity, his family revealed yesterday. More below.
The Israeli Supreme Court ordered that a vote on a new Knesset speaker should be held today at 4 p.m. local time, a day after Likud’s Yuli Edelstein resigned and closed the Knesset session to avoid such a vote.
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On the trail
Born in California, raised in Gaza — will San Diego send this millennial to Congress?
Ammar Campa-Najjar was only 8 years old when he moved to Gaza with his mother and brother in 1997, on the eve of the second intifada. He found himself cast as an outsider among those suspicious of his American roots. Upon returning to California four years later, Campa-Najjar was seen as insufficiently American by many of his peers. Those experiences have shaped his life, and equipped him with the fortitude needed for his second run for Congress in California’s 50th district, he told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel in a recent interview.
Redo: Campa-Najjar is facing former Rep. Darrell Issa in the general election, after coming out on top in the jungle primary earlier this month. In 2018, Campa-Najjar lost 48%-52% to Republican Duncan Hunter, who resigned and was later sentenced to 11 months in prison for violating campaign finance law. During that race, Hunter accused Campa-Najjar of being a terrorist sympathizer, basing the attack on the fact that Campa-Najjar’s paternal grandfather was allegedly involved in planning the 1972 attack on the Munich Olympics. His grandfather was assassinated in 1973 by Israeli commandos in retaliation for the attack.
Stuck with it: Campa-Najjar unequivocally condemned the massacre and denounced the attacks against him. “It’s been tough,” he said. “Imagine being called a terrorist while running for office in your hometown. It’s not the most pleasant experience. But as challenging as it is, it’s been more rewarding, and I feel like it is my calling. That’s the only reason I’ve stuck with it.”
Equitable solution: Campa-Najjar said he supports a two-state solution that harkens back to the parameters established during the Clinton presidency, including a plan that would establish a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem. He believes the Palestinian leadership has been intransigent through the years, which he fears will leave the Palestinians with nothing if they refuse to make concessions in future negotiations. Campa-Najjar favors a kind of tough love, arguing that he supports restoring aid to the Palestinian Authority only if it is used to help rebuild civil society for the Palestinians and not in the service of violence.
Down the middle: The candidate’s measured and centrist policies — including his occasional praise of President Donald Trump — have left many experts pondering if Campa-Najjar is intentionally positioning himself to appeal to voters in the red-leaning district. But he rejects the idea that he is in any way pandering to his constituents. “I think a lot of voters know that I’m not just a dyed-in-the-wool, party-line Democrat,” he said. “They know I’ll break rank when it comes to serving my district.”
Site of tragedy: Campa-Najjar’s district includes the city of Poway, where last Passover a man armed with an assault rifle opened fire inside an Orthodox synagogue, killing one and injuring three. “I was there grieving with the community for weeks,” he said, adding that he was “deeply, deeply concerned” about the rise of antisemitism in the U.S. With that attack in mind, Campa-Najjar has outlined legislation that he intends to pass if elected to Congress, including a provision that requires tech companies to remove content that radicalizes users toward hate-based violence.
Renaissance man: Campa-Najjar speaks three languages: Arabic, English and Spanish — and is currently learning Hebrew for his Jewish girlfriend.
An ‘Unorthodox’ journey from Satmar Williamsburg to Berlin, Germany
The first-ever Netflix show filmed primarily in Yiddish premieres globally on the streaming platform today. “Unorthodox,” co-created by Anna Winger and Alexa Karolinski, tells the story of Esty Shapiro, a 19-year-old woman from the Satmar Hasidic community in Brooklyn who runs away from her husband and her family without a word and hops on a plane to Germany. Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro spoke with Winger about creating the show, which is a heavily fictionalized version of the 2012 memoir Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman.
Friends to filming: Winger and Feldman met and became friends in Berlin, where their children go to school together. They bonded over their shared experiences as American Jews living in Germany, and after Winger read her memoir, Feldman suggested she adapt it for the screen. The writer — who is behind the successful German show “Deutschland 83” — pitched Netflix on a show written in Yiddish, and was surprised when the streaming platform gave them the go-ahead. “They never had a problem with it being in Yiddish,” Winger told JI. “They were always on board with the idea of that challenge. And it really was a challenge, because we had to find all the 20 actors on earth who speak Yiddish.”
Casting mensches: The show hired Eli Rosen, a former Hasid from Borough Park, to serve as a translator and Yiddish coach, as well as to play the role of the community’s rabbi. “He was on set all the time and he was involved all the time,” Winger said of Rosen. “He’s a linguist and he knows all the distinctions between what they say in Borough Park and what they say in Williamsburg and what they say in Lakewood, New Jersey.” Through Rosen, she said, the show connected with close to a dozen other actors from Hasidic backgrounds who were cast in the series, and who also helped make it as authentic and true-to-life as possible.
Fiction vs. reality: Despite growing up as a secular Jew, Winger said she connected with many aspects of Feldman’s — and Esty’s — story. When she first moved to Berlin, she said, it was jarring to be constantly confronted with living reminders of the Holocaust. “For the first couple of years [after moving], I continually had that experience of being like… How can these places just be around the corner here?” It was important to both Winger and Karolinski to use the show to explore the experiences of Jews living in Germany today. “Here’s this woman who, in seeking her own freedom, and finding herself, she goes back to the source of her community’s trauma, whether consciously or unconsciously,” Winger said. “That, I think, is a powerful thing.”
Pushback: Though Feldman’s memoir was heavily criticized by the Satmar community, Winger said she isn’t expecting backlash over the show. “First of all, they’re not supposed to watch it,” she said. “But if they do watch it,” she added, “to the extent that it shows the community, I would say it’s quite positive. I don’t think that we are portraying something that’s easy to leave behind — if anything, it’s really hard to leave behind.” While Feldman’s book was critical of her upbringing, Winger said the TV adaptation is a more universal story of one woman’s journey. “We see the show as being quite uplifting, even though it’s sad,” she said. “It’s a romantic tragedy, but with a lot of hope in it.”
Read the full interview here.
Iranian captive Robert Levinson has died, his family says
Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, believed to be the longest-held American hostage in Iran, has died in captivity, the Levinson family announced on Wednesday. “We recently received information from U.S. officials that has led both them and us to conclude that our wonderful husband and father died while in Iranian custody,” the Levinson family said in a statement posted to Twitter. “We don’t know when or how he died, only that it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
New intel:The New York Timesreported that top national security officials shared new intelligence with the Levinson family during recent meetings at the White House. The officials are said to have provided “strong evidence” that Levinson died sometime in the past several years.
Not confirming: President Donald Trump said during a press briefing on Wednesday that he “won’t accept that he’s dead — they haven’t told us that he’s dead, but a lot of people are thinking that that is the case,” although he acknowledged that “it’s not looking promising.” He added that Levinson, whom he called “a great gentleman” and an “outstanding” person, “has been sick for a long time. He had some rough problems prior to his detainment or his capture and we feel terribly for the family.”
Final rest: Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), who introduced the bipartisan ‘‘Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act” last year, vowed on Wednesday to continue the fight. “Sadly, that’s now a fight to bring him to his final resting place with his family,” he said.
Denial: A spokesman for the Iranian mission at the United Nations said today that Iran “has always maintained that its officials have no knowledge of Mr. Levinson’s whereabouts, and that he is not in Iranian custody. Those facts have not changed.”
🇨🇺 Revisiting History: In The Economist‘s 1843 magazine, Lara Feigel documents her recent trip to Cuba with her father — who lived in Havana for a year after his family fled Belgium in 1950 — and her visits to the remaining synagogues in the communist country. [1843magazine]
✡️ Dueling Outreach: Sara Trappler Spielman writes in Tablet magazine about the tensions playing out in Montana — as well as nationwide — between America’s largest Jewish movement, Reform, and “its most ambitious — and, some would say, successful — Chabad.” [Tablet]
🚀 Clear Skies: In The Telegraph, Raf Sanchez takes a look at Israel’s advanced missile defense systems, including the soon-to-be-launched Arrow-3, the jointly developed U.S.-Israeli laser weapon for bringing down rockets. “No other country in the developed world is shot at as often as Israel — making it a forge of innovation for air defense systems.” [Telegraph]
🕍 To Life: Philosophy professor George Yancy talks to Moulie Vidas, an associate professor of religion and Judaic studies at Princeton, about Judaism’s views on death. “The covenant as we find it in the Hebrew Bible is about life, not about death,” Vidas says. “It promises, to those who keep it, a long and prosperous life rather than an afterlife.” [NYTimes]
Around the Web
💸 Open Wallet: Russian-Israeli billionaire Yuri Milner has donated $3 million to three Israeli institutions working to fight COVID-19.
😤 Locked Up: The first confirmed patients of the coronavirus in New York, members of Congregation Young Israel of New Rochelle, remain under a state-ordered quarantine as they are still testing positive for the infection, despite having no symptoms for weeks.
🧪 Life in the Village: Hasidic residents describe to Haaretz how the coronavirus outbreak has upended life in Kiryas Joel, the Orthodox-only village in upstate New York, and decry the lack of test kits, while disputing accounts of a high infection rate.
👊 Taking Action: New York Attorney General Tish James and Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler are investigating allegations that a Hasidic man was kicked out of a Toyota service center in New York after being accused of “spreading the virus.”
🏠 Stay Inside: After severely tightening restrictions on movement in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last night that if there is no improvement in new coronavirus cases, “there will be no avoiding a full lockdown.”
✈️ Staying Aloft: Israel is reportedly weighing its options on how to keep national carrier El Al alive, including the possibility of declaring bankruptcy.
⚰️ A First:The Palestinian Authority reported on Wednesday its first coronavirus death — a 64-year-old woman from the village of Bedu northwest of Jerusalem.
🔇 No Ideas:The Aspen Institute has canceled the 2020 Aspen Ideas Festival scheduled for June 24th-July 3rd due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
💰 Big Bet: Billionaire investor Bill Ackman revealed that his fund has made $2.6 billion after laying out $27 million on hedge bets that the market would crash amid the coronavirus pandemic.
💵 Battle site: Some early employees of WeWork fear that they will end up as collateral damage in the fight shaping up between SoftBank and company co-founder Adam Neumann.
✈️ No Choice: Israeli-founded corporate travel startup TripActions has laid off hundreds of employees since business has dramatically slowed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
🎓 Off Campus: At least 15 students at Duke University have tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from a trip to Israel over spring break.
😢 Across the Pond: Nearly 5% (22) of all coronavirus-related deaths in the U.K. are Jewish people, who make up just 0.3% percent of the country’s population.
📊 Fake Data: The regime in Iran is lying to the international community about the number of citizens infected and killed by coronavirus and are imprisoning dissenters for speaking out, the State Department says.
💪 Never Give Up: Jewish disability rights activist Judy Heumann discusses her life’s work with The New York Times ahead of her appearance in the new Netflix documentary “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.”
Pic of the day
Former Vice President Joe Biden took a question from teenage political reporter Gabe Fleisher of the WakeUp2Politics newsletter during a virtual press briefing yesterday.
Democratic party strategists are advising the Joe Biden campaign to find creative ways to expand the former vice president’s media presence in order to remain relevant.
Actor who has appeared in more than 60 films since 1964, including as Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather” (1972), James Caan turns 80…
President of the Palestinian Authority, he was elected in 2005 for a four-year term that has been extended indefinitely, Mahmoud Abbas (commonly known as Abu Mazen) turns 85… Argentine-born, Israeli clarinetist who specializes in klezmer music, Giora Feidman turns 84… Award-winning novelist and poet, her debut novel in 1973, “Fear of Flying,” has sold over 20 million copies, Erica Jong turns 78… Santa Monica resident, Marty Rosmarin turns 69… ENT surgeon and former medical correspondent for ABC News and NBC News, Nancy Lynn Snyderman, MD turns 68… President and CEO of the Ottawa-based Public Policy Forum, he was previously Bloomberg‘s editor-at-large for Canada, Edward Greenspon turns 63…
Actress and winner of Season 11 of “Dancing with the Stars,” Jennifer Grey turns 60… Patent attorney from Detroit, she was elected to the Michigan State House of Representatives in 2008, 2010 and 2012, Ellen Cogen Lipton turns 53… Deena Thurm turns 52… Co-founder of Google, Larry Page turns 47… Founder, president and CEO of Waxman Strategies, Michael Waxman turns 46… Talk show host who founded Israel Sports Radio in 2010, Ari Louis turns 37… Actress best known for her roles in ABC’s sitcom “Suburgatory” and the USA Network’s drama “Mr. Robot,” Carly Chaikin turns 30… Israeli judoka in the under 52 kg weight category, she won a gold medal in the Montreal Grand Prix 2019, Gefen Primo turns 20…