Good Friday morning!
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote to confirm former HIAS chair Dianne Lob as the next chairperson of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, at least one member is protesting her nomination.
Mort Klein’s Zionist Organization of America has registered a complaint over the nomination. In addition to a publicly circulated memo, Klein’s camp sent a more pointed memo — obtained by JI — to some members of the conference (available here) protesting the nomination process. Among Klein’s concerns is that the Trump White House will react negatively to the pick.
At least one other candidate — American Zionist Movement President Richard D. Heideman — was vetted by the conference’s nominating committee, according to Klein. Lob was presented as the committee’s choice. Despite the calls to delay next week’s proceedings, the full conference-wide vote is still scheduled for Tuesday via Zoom and Lob is expected to be confirmed.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee criticized the nomination in a tweet on Wednesday, prompting heavy pushback on social media, including from Conference of Presidents members. American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris told the governor the decision was “best left” to the organization’s members, and said he had no doubt the next chair “will be steadfastly committed to US-Israel link & scrupulously nonpartisan.” National Council of Jewish Women CEO Sheila Katz also spoke out in support of Lob, who she described as “thoughtful, inclusive, and strategic.”
And on another note, here’s our weekly Zoom ratings report ranking the most-watched webcasts across the community this past week.
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For the State Dept’s top spokeswoman, her journey to Judaism began in Baghdad
Morgan Ortagus, the top spokeswoman at the State Department, has served in locations around the world throughout her foreign policy career. But it was a posting to Baghdad in 2007 while working for USAID that lit a spark leading her to convert to Judaism. Ortagus spoke to Gabby Deutch for Jewish Insiderabout both her personal and professional journey.
Spirit of America: Today, Ortagus, 37, reports directly to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Lately, her days have been consumed by the novel coronavirus and the arduous project of organizing repatriation flights for the tens of thousands of Americans who were living, working and traveling abroad in more than 100 countries when the virus broke out. “We have never done this in the history of the State Department,” Ortagus said. “It’s a real testament to the spirit of America that we don’t leave anybody behind.”
Exploring the faith: Ortagus first started exploring Judaism while in Baghdad. She quickly realized that living in a war zone could be “a little scary,” she said. “I probably [needed] to find some religion.” She saw signs advertising Friday night Shabbat services and, with her Jewish boyfriend [former Executive Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Jonathan Weinberger] back home in mind, decided to attend. “I just had a sense of it really touching me in a way that religion had not in a very, very long time,” Ortagus said.
Torah classes in Riyadh: Ortagus started a new job in Washington as an intelligence analyst at the Treasury Department the next year. She spent her days “chasing terrorist finance money,” as she put it, and nights attending intro to Judaism classes at the Edlavitch DCJCC. Shortly after she made the decision to convert, she was asked to serve as deputy Treasury attaché in Riyadh, where she proceeded with her conversion. “I think I have to be the first social media convert to Judaism,” Ortagus said. Every Friday, Weinberger would go to their rabbi’s home and call Ortagus on Skype. The “meetings” continued for a year, until Ortagus returned to Washington and completed her conversion at Adas Israel Congregation.
New frontier: After returning from Riyadh in 2011, Ortagus joined the private sector and started running in Republican circles in Washington. She became a national co-chair of Maverick PAC, a political organization for conservative young business professionals. Jay Zeidman, who founded the organization with George P. Bush, said Ortagus “turned the organization really into a new frontier,” and was “ahead of the curve in what the Republican Party was embracing, and that really for Morgan was gender parity.”
Future plans? Lisa Spies, a Republican fundraiser who served as the Jewish outreach director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, says Ortagus is “not only a woman but a superstar woman.” Spies told JI she pushed Ortagus to run for Congress a couple of years ago. “She actually was open to it,” Spies recalled. “She was always being pushed to do a million different things because everyone wanted her,” though Spies thought Ortagus chose well by choosing to work for the Trump administration. “She could run in a couple years if she wants.”
Big dreams: In 2013, Ortagus wed Jonathan Weinberger at a ceremony presided over by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “She’s our neighbor,” explained Ortagus, whose now-husband served on the building’s condo board and got to know Ginsburg, who lives down the hall. “I literally just put a note in her box,” she said. Ortagus felt overwhelmed at the ceremony. “I remember looking around and thinking, ‘How the hell did I get here?’” she says. “I’m just sort of nobody who came here with big dreams and big eyes and worked hard.”
Exclusive: Joe Biden welcomes JDCA endorsement
The Jewish Democratic Council of America announced its formal endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden today. The endorsement comes in the form of a letter signed by the group’s national board of directors. “We know your commitment to Israel is unwavering, and we will defend your record against ongoing Republican efforts to exploit it as a political wedge issue,” the group wrote to Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
What unites us: “I’m honored to have the endorsement of the Jewish Democratic Council of America,” Biden said in a statement to Jewish Insider. “They are an important new voice for the progressive values that unite us here at home and for a secure, peaceful future for the Jewish and democratic State of Israel.”
Theme: JDCA is also releasing a 30-second digital ad highlighting President Donald Trump’s response to the August 2017 protests in Charlottesville — a key theme of Biden’s campaign — and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. “JDCA is proud to support Joe Biden because he’s a principled and moral leader, and we know he’d never equivocate in the face of hatred facing Jews or anyone else,” JDCA executive director Halie Soifer told JI.
Meeting the challenge: Miami-based developer Michael Adler, a member of JDCA’s board of directors, told JI that it’s important for Jewish voters to hear from Jewish community leaders — who he said may have strong opinions about certain issues — committed to maintaining bipartisan support for Israel. Adler noted that the group is supporting a candidate who “has a lifetime of knowledge and experiences” to “get the best results for our country.” Adler pointed out Trump is “making inroads” in Jewish communities in battleground states and is getting “better results than any other former Republican presidents had in modern times.”
House endorsements: Democratic Majority for Israel’s political action committee announced its endorsement of Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) in New York’s 6th congressional district, and San Diego City Council President Georgette Gómez, who is running against fellow Democrat Sara Jacobs to succeed retiring Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) in California’s 53rd congressional district (see our spotlight on the race here), in its third round of House endorsements on Friday.
In NY-17: Former Ambassador to the E.U. Stuart Eizenstat has endorsed Evelyn Farkas, who is running to succeed longtime Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey in New York’s 17th congressional district, calling her a “strikingly admirable and experienced person.”
ON THE TRAIL
In Ohio, Morgan Harper’s grassroots campaign hobbled by coronavirus pandemic
Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Morgan Harper was a long-shot primary candidate. The 36-year-old progressive is taking on a formidable opponent in Democratic Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio’s 3rd congressional district. Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel takes another look at the state of the race after it was postponed at the last minute and shifted to a mail-in vote.
In jeopardy: Harper had been gaining momentum ahead of the scheduled March 17 primary, rallying youth support and raising nearly $700,000. Now, with a mail-in ballot ending on Tuesday, April 28, Harper’s prospects may be in jeopardy. One reason, experts say, is that the presidential primary is already settled, and progressive supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are less likely to cast their ballots.
Head to head: Harper, a former senior advisor in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was born and raised in Columbus. Her campaign has garnered national attention, thanks in part to an endorsement from Justice Democrats, the progressive political action committee that has backed the likes of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN). Beatty, a four-term incumbent, has a deep relationship with Columbus’s Jewish population. Howie Beigelman, executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities, told JI that the congresswoman has worked to protect places of worship during the coronavirus pandemic as antisemitic attacks have increased.
Mail uncertainty: Bridgette Tupes, a spokeswoman for Beatty, believes that the pivot to a mail-in election will significantly impact turnout, but she was confident in the congresswoman’s path to victory. However, Nathaniel Swigger, a political scientist at The Ohio State University at Newark, told JI that while he believed Beatty was the favored candidate, he wasn’t ruling out Harper altogether. “The truth is,” he said, “there is literally no outcome that would surprise me at this point.”
on the hill
Fourth stimulus package passes Congress, replenishing SBA loan funds
The House of Representatives passed a $484 billion stimulus package Thursday night to address a looming economic crisis as unemployment continues to rise. Some of the funds will go to reboot the drained Paycheck Protection Program.
Community stats: More than 1,000 Jewish organizations applied for funding, according to a survey released this week by the Jewish Federations of North America, which lobbied lawmakers to include non-profit and faith-based organizations in the stimulus package passed earlier this month. Of the 1,131 organizations that responded to JFNA’s survey, roughly half had their loan applications — ranging from $5,000 to $4.9 million — approved.
Looking ahead: JFNA CEO Eric Fingerhut is hopeful that the package approved Thursday will provide much-needed assistance to those who haven’t yet received a response from their lenders after the original $349 billion dried up. More than $280 million has already been dispersed to Jewish nonprofits.
‘Extraordinary’: “This is a very important response by government,” Fingerhut told Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss. “Let’s not forget, this is a historic piece of legislation, this Paycheck Protection Program in the CARES Act. Never before when we’ve experienced significant economic downturns or turmoil — not 9/11, not 2008, when there were major trillion dollar federal packages of support for the business community — never before has it included the non-profit community. I think it’s an extraordinary recognition of the importance of the non-profit community and the faith-based community.”
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill: The bipartisan Never Again Education Act, legislation to authorize new funding to help schools teach students about the Holocaust and antisemitism, now has 73 co-sponsors, giving the bill both a filibuster-proof and veto-proof majority. The legislation was introduced by Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), co-chair of the Senate Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism, along with Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
Bonus: The Jewish Free Loan Association in southern California is offering no-interest loans to small businesses in the area.
👑 No Dead End: In The Daily Beast, Israeli journalist Neri Zilber takes an inside look at how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu beat the odds to remain in power after a year of three elections — and what it means for the Likud leader going forward. [DailyBeast]
✈️ Shadow Flight: Writing in Atlas Obscura, Shira Telushkin delves deep into Air Sinai, the “ghost airline” that flies solely between Cairo and Tel Aviv, fulfilling a clause in Israel’s 1982 peace treaty with Egypt, but operating almost entirely under the radar. [AtlasObscura]
🛑 Together, Apart: In The Atlantic, Yasmeen Serhan highlights recent social-distanced protests in Israel as well as virtual online rallies as modeling “the future of protest” as the coronavirus pandemic stretches on. [TheAtlantic]
Around the Web
🥫 Big Demand: New York City’s kosher food distribution sites ran out of meals for struggling families “almost immediately” on the same day they opened.
💉 Muted Hopes: Gilead Sciences has plunged in the stock market after early test results of its experimental coronavirus drug remdesivir were posted online, appearing to show it was a failure.
📱 Helping Hand:Facebook’s news team led by Campbell Brown and Anne Kornblut — who herself contracted COVID-19 — has been racing to provide accurate and helpful news to users.
🗣️ Dinner Table Debate:The New York Timesspotlights how former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his brother, prominent physician Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, have been quarreling over how soon to reopen society.
🍷 Virtual Club: Top Hollywood agent Richard Weitz is throwing exclusive, password-protected parties for Hollywood’s elite via Zoom.
💻 Surfing the New World:Reutersdescribes how Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community are increasingly going online to study, video chat and shop as the coronavirus outbreak forces them to stay home.
🚉 Catching Up: The Israeli government has taken advantage of the country’s empty roads and railways during coronavirus to reconstruct and upgrade its most congested highways.
📦 Pushing Back: Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon writes in Fox News that Israel’s coronavirus aid to Palestinians is being met by incitement and lies.
🇪🇺 Annexation Watch: The E.U. has issued a warning to the incoming Israeli government that annexing parts of the West Bank would “constitute a serious violation of international law.”
✍️ Campaign Underway: Writing in Foreign Policy, former top Israeli intelligence figures Tamir Pardo, Ami Ayalon and Gadi Shamni argue that the annexation plan is “a threat to Israel’s security,” while Obama White House veterans Philip H. Gordon and Robert Malley call on Biden to speak out against the plan before July 1st.
📵 Controversial Tweets:New Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Michael Caputo has come under fire for a series of tweets, including one last month referencing a conspiracy theory about George Soros.
🤝 Rebuilding Trust:New U.K. Labour leader Keir Starmer has promised a “swift inquiry” into a leak of its report last month on the party’s handling of antisemitism.
🇬🇧🇮🇱 Eyes on Israel:Steve Reed, Labour’s new shadow communities secretary, said he would work to discourage any local boycotts of Israel. Lisa Nandy, the party’s shadow foreign secretary, has urged Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to prevent Israel’s annexation plans.
🛍️ Lingerie Wars: Les Wexner’s L Brands accused Sycamore Partners of trying to back out of a deal to purchase Victoria’s Secret in order to lower the price.
👩💼 Job Board: Some tech companies in Los Angeles are still hiring, and Clutter’s Liora Simozar helped compile a list to help workers hunting for jobs amid coronavirus.
🤳 Short Stay: Megan Imbres, head of brand and content marketing at Quibi, the short-video mobile streaming platform founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, is leaving the company a few weeks after the service was launched.
🎥 WeFilm: Production on a documentary feature about WeWork and its controversial founder Adam Neumann is underway with Oscar-nominated director Jed Rothstein at the helm.
🕯️ Remembering:Rabbi Yeshayahu Haber, the founder of the Matnat Chaim NGO to facilitate live kidney donations, has died of coronavirus at age 55. Dr. Marvin Schick, a law professor and community leader in New York, passed away at age 85 after suffering a heart attack.
Pic of the Day
The Corning Tower at Empire State Plaza in Albany was lit “New York Tough” last night to honor of the healthcare professionals and essential workers on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic.
Yeshiva of Brooklyn student who went on to become an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony and Peabody Award-winning singer and actress, Barbra Streisand turns 78 today…
FRIDAY: Film director Richard Donner (born Richard Donald Schwartzberg) turns 90… Rabbi emeritus at Washington’s Adas Israel Congregation, Rabbi Jeffrey A. Wohlberg turns 79… Delray Beach, FL resident, Phyllis Dupret turns 77… Former board chairman of financial publisher TheStreet, he was previously publisher of USA Today, Lawrence S. Kramer turns 70… Israeli designer, architect and artist, Ron Arad turns 69… President of Cincinnati-based Standard Textile since 1986, Gary Heiman turns 69… Former president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards from 2003 to 2019, he played in the NBA himself from 1977 to 1986, Ernest “Ernie” Grunfeld turns 65…
Senior correspondent and deputy news editor at Foreign Policy, Michael Hirsh turns 63… President of Kirtzman Strategies in NYC and author of books about Bernie Madoff and Rudy Giuliani, Andrew Kirtzman turns 59… CEO of Wells Fargo, Charles Scharf turns 55… Financial advisor for Bernstein Private Wealth Management where he is Carl S. Schwartz, and leader of Baltimore’s Shomrei Mishmeres HaKodesh where he is Rabbi Chaim Schwartz, turns 50… Senior legislative aide in the Office of the Council President of the Montgomery County (Maryland) Council, Laurie Edberg turns 50… Television writer and co-creator of the television series “Lost,” Damon Lindelof turns 47… Mark H. Waldman turns 46… Brandon Hersh turns 37… Partner at Apollo Global Management, Reed Rayman turns 34… Elaine Berke…
SATURDAY: Chevy Chase resident, Myron “Mike” Sponder turns 90… American-British academic, social worker and health spokesman of the Green Party of the UK, he is the older brother of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, Larry Sanders turns 85… Chairman and CEO of Omega Advisors, Leon G. “Lee” Cooperman turns 77… Rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University since 1973, Rabbi of the Young Israel of Riverdale Synagogue since 1974, Rabbi Mordechai Willig turns 73… David Handleman turns 71… Outgoing chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, he was previously president of Bed, Bath and Beyond, Arthur Stark turns 65…
Los Angeles-based partner in the energy practice group of the law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, Beth A. Fox turns 60… Commissioner of the National Basketball Association, Adam Silver turns 58… Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, Michael Scott Doran turns 58… Litigator at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and former U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Andrew H. Schapiro turns 57… Actor, he voices many roles on the “The Simpsons,” and descended from a Sephardic family rooted in Thessaloniki, Hank Azaria turns 56… Jeannette Brodeur turns 53… CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester (NY) since 2016, Meredith Dragon turns 49… Former minority leader of the Utah House of Representatives, David E. Litvack turns 48… Democratic party strategist, Julie Roginsky turns 47…
Johannesburg-born political commentator, author and senior-editor-at-large for Breitbart News, Joel Barry Pollak turns 43… Attorney turned grocer, she is the founder of Glen’s Garden Market, carved out of the old “Secret” Safeway north of Dupont Circle, Danielle Brody Rosengarten Vogel turns 41… Director of social media for North America at Grey Group, Kenneth R. Gold turns 34… Senior communications advisor for NYC’s First Lady Chirlane McCray, Jaclyn Rothenberg turns 32… Actress and singer, Sara Paxton turns 32… Senior political reporter at The American Independent, Emily C. Singer, née Cahn, turns 31… Attorney, partner in the NYC-based law firm of Bernstein Liebhard LLP, Sandy A. Liebhard…
SUNDAY: Friend of Warren Buffet and early investor in Berkshire Hathaway (and a member of its board of directors), David Sanford “Sandy” Gottesman turns 94… Publisher of Avotaynu, the International Review of Jewish Genealogy, Gary Mokotoff turns 83… Retired CEO of the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay (Oakland, CA), Loren Basch turns 76… Investment banker best known as the Chairman and CEO of Lehman Brothers through its bankruptcy filing in 2008, Richard S. Fuld Jr. turns 74… Professor of computer science and engineering at MIT, Hal Abelson turns 73… President of Brandeis University, Ronald D. Liebowitz turns 63… Moscow-born, conservative journalist and political activist in Israel, Avigdor Eskin turns 60…
Senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and contributing editor at The Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch turns 60… Majority whip of the Maryland State Senate, Roger Manno turns 54… Vice president of partnerships at Snapchat, Benjamin Schwerin turns 41… Senior staff editor on the international desk of The New York Times based in Hong Kong, Russell Goldman turns 40… Associate commissioner for legislative affairs at FDA, Karas Pattison Gross turns 38… Senior publicist for media relations at NPR, Benjamin Fishel turns 37… Marketing manager at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Alisha Katz turns 30… Reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Eliot Brown… Recruitment associate at Encounter, Ross Beroff… Ahron Singer…