👋 Good Friday morning and happy last day of Hanukkah!
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced new committee assignments yesterday made by the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.
Ritchie Torres, the congressman-elect from the Bronx, won a coveted appointment to join the Financial Services committee.
Reps. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) had both lobbied for the seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee being vacated by outgoing Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), but the Democratic Steering Committee chose Rice over Ocasio-Cortez 46-13 in a secret ballot vote. The other slots on the committee were not voted on individually.
Prior to the vote, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), who fended off a primary challenge from a candidate backed by Ocasio-Cortez, reportedly said: “I’m taking into account who works against other members in primaries and who doesn’t.” Ocasio-Cortez was supported by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Rep.-elect Mondaire Jones.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Biden loyalist who was on Biden’s vice presidential search committee, removed himself from consideration for a position in the Biden administration, saying that “I need” instead to stay in L.A.
Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s chances of a Cabinet appointment are growing slimmer. Emanuel, who has come under fire from the progressive wing of his party, could still nab an ambassadorship or an administration appointment that doesn’t require Senate approval.
Check out Jewish Insider’s ‘Jewish Nielsen’ report to see which webcasts people tuned into this week.
Spread the word! Invite your friends to sign up and earn JI swag through our ambassador program.
The California Lt. Gov who could soon end up in the U.S. Senate
As speculation swirls over California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s imminent pick to fill the Senate seat that will soon be vacated by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, one potential appointee who has floatedsomewhat under the radar is Eleni Kounalakis, California’s first female lieutenant governor. But Kounalakis downplayed such rumors, as well as those that she could potentially replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) should the octogenarian senator step down before the end of her term, in a recent interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel. “It’s the governor’s decision,” she said. “I’m sure he is going to weigh all the input that he’s received. But as for me, I’m very, very happy to serve as lieutenant governor of California.”
High profile: Since she was elected just two years ago, Kounalakis, a 54-year-old former business executive who served as U.S. ambassador to Hungary in the Obama administration, has lent gravitas to a position that is historically limited in scope. At the beginning of her term, the governor named Kounalakis as California’s trade representative, a position that brought her to Mexico, China and India before travel was restricted by the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s something that he and I decided to do in partnership because I’m a former U.S. ambassador and have a lot of experience in trade issues as well,” said Kounalakis.
Learning from history: For Kounalakis, the time she spent in Hungary indelibly molded her political views. Shortly before embarking on her assignment in 2010, Kounalakis was handed a stack of books about the Holocaust, assembled by a close Jewish friend. “How could a society that was so advanced, so cultured, so sophisticated, participate in the murder of their own people, including children?” Kounalakis recalled wondering. “How is it possible that such a thing could happen? As I began to read the history and understand the story, what I found is that antisemitism is the first step. It leads toward a justified dehumanization of the people. That is what sets the conditions for neighbors to turn a blind eye.”
Called to run: When Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president in 2015, Kounalakis resolved to run for office herself, embarking on a well-funded campaign for lieutenant governor in which she visited every county in California, a rare feat for a statewide candidate. “I became one of thousands of women across the country who were inspired by Hillary Clinton and who felt the urgency of running for office and other kinds of political engagement,” Kounalakis said. “I put myself forward for office not knowing, honestly, how it would go.” With endorsements from Harris as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Kounalakis prevailed over her Democratic opponent by 13 points.
Friend and ally: In her two years in office, Jewish leaders in California have come to appreciate that Kounalakis is deeply attuned to antisemitism, thanks to her experience in Hungary as well as her own family history; her father lived under Nazi occupation in his native Greece during the war. Jesse Gabriel, majority whip in the California State Assembly and vice chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, praised Kounalakis’s attentiveness to such issues. “Her understanding of contemporary antisemitism and its links to BDS and all the experiences she had as a U.S. ambassador and the integrity and humility that she brings to the job just really impressed me,” Gabriel told JI, adding his belief that Kounalakis is in a strong position to seek higher office if she should so choose. “I think she’s someone who has a really bright future ahead of her and somebody that our community should keep their eye on.”
Chris Dodd reflects on his father’s work at the Nuremberg trials
Former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), whose father, former Rep. Thomas Dodd (D-CT), served as a prosecutor in the Nuremberg Trials — which began just over 75 years ago — reflected on the legacy of his father and the trials, as well as the lessons they offer for the future, in an interview with Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod yesterday.
Fading history: Dodd authored a recent letter to the editor in The New York Times about the trials, which he told JI was meant to remind people of the significance of the Nuremberg Tribunal, the rule of law and the U.S. role in advancing global human rights. “I don’t think there’s a single person left who was a prosecutor at Nuremberg,” Dodd explained to JI in an interview Thursday. “And so history fades.” [Benjamin Ferencz, who turned 100 earlier this year, is the last living Nuremberg prosecutor.] The former senator said he sees the U.S. role in pushing for the prosecution of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg as pivotal. “The United States insisted this was not about property and colonization and land or riches and wealth, the winner takes all, [it was about] the rule of law,” Dodd said. “It wasn’t to give these thugs… a fair trial, it was to lay out the evidence and facts.”
Pivot under Biden: Dodd, a longtime friend of Joe Biden from their days serving together in the Senate, is optimistic that the U.S. can become a leader on human rights and the rule of law under Biden — after President Donald Trump, in Dodd’s words, “neglected” these issues — given Biden’s long tenure on the Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees and his previous stint in the White House. “I’m confident with Joe Biden because I’ve known him so well. We sat with each other for 30 years on the Foreign Relations Committee,” said Dodd. “We’ve been friends for almost 40 years. He cares deeply about these issues.”
Diverse cabinet: While he’s not currently involved with Biden’s transition team, Dodd has a unique insight into Biden’s thinking on personnel choices, both as a longtime friend and a member of Biden’s vice presidential selection committee. Dodd said that Biden seems to be prioritizing “competency” in his picks, adding that “he coupled that with a great lesson that will be hard for all future administrations, regardless of political party, to avoid, and that is to choose people who represent the diversity of our country,” he added. “The notion, ‘well we couldn’t find somebody of color or somebody who is of a different ethnicity or racial background,’ that’s always been a lie. And Joe Biden is proving it to be the lie.”
Window to history: The former senator closed out his interview with JI by reading an excerpt from one of his father’s letters, dated June 1946, in which Thomas Dodd grappled with the significance of the work prosecutors were doing. “Never would I have believed that men could be so evil. So determined on a course of war, of murder, of slavery, of dreadful tyranny. Never before has such a record been written,” the letter reads. “And men will read it for 1,000 years in amazement, and wonder how it ever happened.” Choking back tears, Dodd told JI: “You asked the question, ‘Why remind people?’ That letter does it for me.”
Why McKay Coppins’ article on Mormons in America resonates with Jewish readers
On Wednesday, The Atlantic published an essay by McKay Coppins for the magazine’s January/February issue on “The Most American Religion,” exploring what the third century of Mormonism could look like. The article quickly generated immense interest on Twitter, especially from Jewish journalists (Yoni, Yair, Rosie, Emma, Jeff, Bethany) and others. Jewish Insider asked Coppins, himself a practicing Mormon, to expound on why his article may have particularly resonated with Jewish readers.
Jewish Insider: There are a number of similarities between the Jewish and Mormon communities in America. In fact in the article, you recall an awkward incident where the CEO of the company you worked at explained internet virality by giving a presentation comparing Judaism with Mormonism and how Mormonism was growing faster because its members knew how to “spread it.” That episode aside, what do you think these two communities of ‘outsiders’ who’ve achieved a good measure of success in America have in common and what can they learn from the other? What do you think Jewish readers should take away from the article?
McKay Coppins: It’s funny, Jeff Goldberg, the editor in chief of The Atlantic, predicted that this piece would resonate with Jewish readers for some of the reasons you allude to. I think both faiths are rooted in a certain outsiderness, which is a source of both pride and anxiety. I can’t speak to the Jewish experience specifically, but I do think the stuff I write about is not limited to Mormonism — the craving for external validation, the drive to succeed, the tension between wanting to fit in and clinging to the distinctiveness of your identity and traditions. Jewish writers and thinkers have been chewing on these questions for a lot longer than Mormons have, of course. If there’s one area I’d like to see my faith follow the example of Judaism, it would be in developing a richer intellectual and literary tradition.
JI: You write about your experience attending a non-Mormon school and recalling, “If my classmates liked me, I reasoned, it was a win for Mormons everywhere. In the pantheon of minority-religion neuroses, this was not wholly original stuff. But I wouldn’t realize until later just how deeply rooted the Mormon craving for approval was.” Can you expound on that? Does American society presuppose conformity or do minority religions pressure themselves to conform?
MC: Well, I think high school presupposes conformity, and that’s where I first felt the tug toward “cool Mormon” posturing that I describe in the piece. But in general, I think minority religions’ craving for mainstream approval or assimilation is often wrapped up in a sense of mission — it’s not just about feeling personally comfortable or accepted, it’s about representing our people. The danger is that chasing that validation can lead you to sell out everything that makes your faith tradition special.
✡️ New Era: Pakistan-based reporter Kunwar Khuldune Shahid argues in The Spectator that the Arab world has a responsibility to reckon with its long record of antisemitism and “acknowledge the full history of Islam’s relationship with Judaism.” [Spectator]
🇭🇺 On Edge: In Deutsche Welle, Felix Schlagwein explores the concerning rise of antisemitism in Hungary, where government officials have expressed alarming sentiments and “politicians from all camps play the ‘Jew card’ when it works for them politically.” [DW]
✍️ False Identity: In Vanity Fair, Hari Ziyad opens up about his experience with his former friend Jessica Krug, a Jewish woman who lied for years about being Black. “The story of Jessica Krug is a story about how there is something special and tangible about Blackness that all Black people know and feel innately.” [VanityFair]
🤔 Worth It? The Atlantic’s Peter Nicholas asked John Kelly, John Bolton and other former Trump staffers if they regretted serving under the 45th president. They all said no, suggesting that “it wasn’t the man they were serving, but the nation.” [TheAtlantic]
Around the Web
🛰️ Photo Evidence: Iran has begun construction on an underground nuclear facility at Fordo, according to new satellite images obtained by The Associated Press.
☢️ Fresh Start: The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said that a new Iran nuclear deal is required in order to address Tehran’s breaches of the 2015 agreement.
🇮🇱🇲🇦 Double Standard: In The Wall Street Journal, Eugene Kontorovich compared and contrasted Israel’s occupation of the West Bank to Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara.
👍 Sticking It Out: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), 87, told Los Angeles Times’ political columnist George Skelton that she has no intention of retiring early and dismissed concerns about memory loss or cognitive decline.
💊 Under Oath: Members of Purdue Pharma’s Sackler family deniedpersonal wrongdoing in the opioid crisis in testimony yesterday before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
🌐 Digital Hate: Survivors of the terrorist attack last year on a synagogue in Halle, Germany, have created an online portal to track racist extremism around the globe.
🇬🇧 Across the Pond: The U.K.’s Labour Party is creating a Jewish advisory board to assist the party in dealing with antisemitism in its ranks.
🙅 Show of Disapproval: Hundreds of spiritual leaders including multiple rabbis have signed onto a letter calling for a worldwide ban on gay conversion therapy.
🃏 House Money: Gershon Distenfeld, an Orthodox Jewish resident of New Jersey, has advanced to the final round of the 2020 World Series of Poker.
🎅 Ho Ho Ho: Blackstone President Jon Gray led an eight-minute skit, in the style of “The Office,” poking fun at corporate efforts to celebrate the holiday season during COVID.
🖼️ Going Once: Millions of dollars worth of furniture and art once owned by the Salomon Brothers chairman John Gutfreund is slated to go on auction next month.
🎥 Play Acting: “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” star Rachel Brosnahan tells The Independent that she is aware her role “doesn’t give me the lived experience of someone who is Jewish.”
🕯️ Remembering: Longtime Jewish Ukrainian politician Gennady Kernes, who survived a 2014 assassination attempt, died of COVID-19 complications at age 61. Gideon Gartner, a tech research pioneer, diedat 85. Al Cohen, the longtime owner of Al’s Magic Shop in D.C., died at age 94.
🎉 Scene Last Night: Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY) hosted their annual Hanukkah party. Chef Michael Solomonov cooked doughnuts from scratch in a live demonstration, and a cappella groups JewKvox, Six13 and Kol Sasson performed via video. Chaplain (Colonel) Laurence Bazer, U.S. Army National Guard staff chaplain and deputy director of the National Guard Bureau, lit the menorah. Spotted: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Reps. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Elaine Luria (D-VA), Andy Levin (D-MI), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Donna Shalala (D-FL); Reps.-elect Sara Jacobs (D-CA), Nikema Williams (D-GA) and Kathy Manning (D-NC); and Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates Eileen Filler-Corn.
Wine of the Week
JI’s wine columnist Yitz Applbaum reviews the Aura di Valerie Amarone della Valpolicella 2017:
For the first time in a year, my entire family is together under one roof as we celebrate Hanukkah and enjoy fried foods, a combination that calls for a special bottle to reflect our excitement. Last night, I chose the Amarone della Valpolicella 2017, the first kosher Amarone ever produced. It is indeed a miracle that the kosher world finally has a spectacular Italian wine. The grapes used in this wine are picked in October before being left to dry for 120 days where they are then crushed on their skins and left to age in new French barrels. This makes for a sensationally tannic wine. The softness of the grape cushions the tannins to deliver flavors of dried cherries, dark chocolate and a moment in the world to come. Enjoy this wine with latkes and let it breathe for at least an hour.
Acclaimed actor, on his 13th birthday he says he performed a “bar-mitzvah-like act without the typical trappings,” Jake Gyllenhaal turns 40…
FRIDAY: Founder of supply chain firm HAVI, he and his wife Harriette pledged $25 million to BBYO in 2019, Theodore F. Perlmanturns 84… Winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Medicine, he served as director of NIH and director of the National Cancer Institute, Harold Eliot Varmus turns 81… Office manager in the D.C. office of Kator, Parks, Weiser & Harris, Ramona Cohen turns 75… Co-founder of DreamWorks Studios, Academy Award-winning director of “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan” plus many other box-office record setters like “E.T.” and “Jaws,” Steven Spielberg turns 74… Member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 2009 (R-FL-8), William Joseph (Bill) Posey turns 73… Former CFO of the Pentagon, he is presently a senior fellow at CNA, Dov S. Zakheim turns 72… Film critic, historian and author of 13 books on cinema, Leonard Maltinturns 70… Winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Economics, professor at both Stanford and Harvard, Alvin Elliot Roth turns 69… Computer programmer and network engineer sometimes called “the mother of the Internet” for her inventions of the spanning-tree protocol (STP) and the TRILL protocol, Radia Joy Perlman turns 69… Co-creator and executive producer of the award-winning series “24,” Joel Surnowturns 65… President of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten turns 63… Founder and chief executive of Third Point LLC, Daniel S. Loeb turns 59… Editor of The Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard turns 56… Deputy chairman of the World Zionist Organization, Gael Grunewald turns 56… Acting director of development at Yonkers, N.Y.-based Greyston Health Services, Erica Skolnick turns 55… Principal with the communications firm 30 Point Strategies, Noam Neusner turns 51… Motivational speaker and teacher, his book about coping with Tourette syndrome was made into a Hallmark movie, Brad Cohen turns 47… Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Jared Moskowitz turns 40… Former head of policy and communications at Sidewalk Labs, Micah Lasher turns 39… Manager of public policy and government relations for Wing Australia at Google, Jesse Suskin turns 38… Senior producer at CNN’s “State of the Union,” Rachel Streitfeld turns 38… Chicago-based Midwest regional political director for AIPAC, Marc Ashed turns 33… J.D. candidate at Columbia Law School, Eliezer H. (Elie) Peltzturns 30… Project manager at the Brussels-based Buildings Performance Institute Europe, Jessica Glicker turns 30… Global desk lead for the Middle East and North Africa at Dataminr, Emily Cooperturns 29…
SATURDAY: Israeli novelist, essayist and playwright, A. B. Yehoshuaturns 84… Co-chair of the Democratic Majority for Israel, she was the communications director in the Clinton White House, Ann Frank Lewis turns 83… Journalist and playwright, he worked as a foreign correspondent for TheNew York Times based in Saigon, London, Nairobi and New Delhi, Bernard Weinraub turns 83… NYC-based real estate investor, Douglas Durst turns 76… Ardsley, N.Y., resident, Ruth Wolff turns 74… Israeli scientist, high-tech entrepreneur and leading businesswoman, Orna Berry turns 71… Town justice in Ulster, N.Y., Marsha Weiss turns 67… Host of RealTalk MS Podcast, Jon Strumturns 66… SVP at the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, Eli Schaap turns 66… CFO at wine importer and distributor, New York Wine Warehouse, Jane Troy turns 66… British cellist, Steven Isserlisturns 62… Former member of the Knesset for the Meretz party, he has served as secretary general of Peace Now, Moshe “Mossi” Raz turns 55… President and chief creative officer of Rachel G Events, Rachel L. Glazer turns 48… VP and head of federal government relations at American Express, Amy Best Weiss turns 43… Washington correspondent and senior political reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, Tal Kopan turns 34… Senior news editor at LinkedIn News, Callie Schweitzer turns 32… Partner in Tel Aviv-based venture capital firm Aleph, Aaron Rosenson turns 31… Legislative assistant and policy advisor to Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Haim Engelman turns 28… Senior reporter at Recode, Theodore Schleifer turns 28… JI readers, Sarah Wagman turns 16… and her brother, exactly two years younger, Daniel Wagman turns 14… David Ginsberg…
SUNDAY: Founder of an online children’s bookstore, Yona Ecksteinturns 79… Former president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, Michael Gelman turns 76… Illusionist, magician, television personality and self-proclaimed psychic, Uri Geller turns 74… Television producer, he is the creator and executive producer of the “Law & Order” and “Chicago” franchises, Richard Anthony (Dick) Wolf turns 74… Marina Del Rey, Calif., resident, Carol Gene Berk turns 70… Owner of the Beverly Hilton Hotel and the Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills, Binyamin “Beny” Alagem turns 68… President of the University of Miami since 2015, former secretary of health in Mexico, Julio Frenk turns 67… Bob Lindenbaum turns 67… Director of education at the Melmed Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, Ricki Lightturns 63… Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Yale, Tamar Szabó Gendler turns 55… Author of the “Dear Therapist” column for The Atlantic and her 2019 book Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, Lori Gottlieb turns 54… Executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, Jeremy Burton turns 52… Swiss-born British philosopher and author, Alain de Botton turns 51… Actor, producer, screenwriter and comedian, Jonah Hill turns 37… Development executive at the UJA-Federation of New York, Adam Wolfthal turns 35… Denver-based managing director at Israel on Campus Coalition, Megan Nathan turns 35…