👋 Good Thursday morning and Happy Hanukkah!
The Senate unanimously passed a bill yesterday upgrading the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism to the rank of ambassador. The bill now awaits final passage in the House.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is quarantining after coming into close contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19. Pompeo was reportedly slated to meet Tony Blinken, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to succeed him, in person today — but will instead connect virtually.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is reportedly planning a final overseas trip in office, slated for early January, with stops in Egypt, Qatar and Israel.
Vice President Mike Pence is also reportedly considering a foreign trip to the Mideast and Europe — including Bahrain, Israel and Poland — in early January.
The European Court of Justiceruled this morning in favor of allowing EU member states to mandate stunning animals before slaughter, effectively banning kosher and halal meat production.
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A closer look at end-of-term political appointments to the Holocaust museum
In the final weeks of their terms, U.S. presidents appoint dozens of individuals — including donors, friends and staffers — to positions on a number of federal boards, councils and committees. On Wednesday, the White House announced the appointments of Trump’s personal bodyman Nicholas Luna, White House attorney Mitchell Webber and Andrew Giuliani, son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, to the U.S. Holocaust Museum Council. Jewish Insider’s Melissa Weiss spoke to past and present members of the council about such appointments.
Seat at the table: While fundraising is one of the core responsibilities of council members, they also help to set the museum’s policies. “You have to bring some sort of something,” Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt, who served on the council, told JI. “Look, it is a nonprofit, which needs to raise money. So maybe you know very little about the Holocaust but you think the museum is a terrific institution, and you’re a very good fundraiser. Or you have a family institution. You need those people. You know, universities put people on their boards, who are not experts in anything, but who have the means to make other people be able to do their good work.”
Flashback: Fred Zeidman, who was appointed as the council’s chair in 2002, praised the nonpartisan nature of the board. When the Houston-based GOP donor was appointed by President George W. Bush, he inherited an entirely Democratic board of members who were appointed during the Clinton administration. “I basically said, in my first meeting, I’ll never forget this,” he recalled. “I stood up, I said, ‘Look at my tie. There’s no elephants on my tie. You know, we’re here for the survivors. And so whatever our political leanings are, we need to leave them at the door and work for the survivors. This just can’t be political.’ And everybody bought into it.”
Keeping it nonpartisan: Many of the appointments that come at the end of an administration go to White House staffers. “It is abused politically,” suggested former Anti-Defamation League head Abe Foxman. “That’s the other problem, because the appointments are done for politics, rather than scholarship and other values. It’s done for political purposes, which, while it’s good, it undermines it… The Holocaust is neither Democratic nor Republican.”
The Lox Club: Dating cured?
For many online daters, the ordeal of seeking a romantic connection on a crowded digital platform can leave them feeling deflated. The Lox Club, a new membership-based app “for Jews with ridiculously high standards,” according to its tagline, wants to inject some levity into that experience, while creating a sort of heimish space for those who feel overwhelmed and even alienated by online dating. “My thesis is that dating apps don’t have to be cringey,” Austin Kevitch, the Lox Club’s 29-year-old founder, told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel in a recent interview. “I wanted to make it more of a fun experience, and the dating part is disguised within it.”
Different approach: The Lox Club differs from other Jewish dating apps like JDate and JSwipe in that its users, who pay a monthly fee, must apply for membership and wait to be accepted. The app might best be described as an exclusively Jewish alternative to Raya, the members-only dating and social networking app for entertainment industry types. But the Lox Club, whose interface is designed to give users the impression that they have entered a secret speakeasy, has its own approach. It offers a personal matchmaking service to those who want dating advice as well as a feature that limits the number of swipes to approximately half a dozen every six hours, so users won’t just think with their thumbs.
Values dating: Since launching last month, the app — which costs $8 per month for an annual sign-up — has attracted more than 10,000 members, according to Kevitch, and membership is doubling every week. “We’re very intentional about reading every single application,” Kevitch said, estimating that the Lox Club accepts about 20% of those who apply. “We don’t care about the amount of Instagram followers people have,” he added. “We’re looking for more down-to-earth people.” Kevitch isn’t particularly observant but believes in the importance of what he describes as Jewish values, citing family, empathy and ambition — and he hopes he has created a venue for those who share such values to meet.
Background: Despite a background in digital entrepreneurship, Kevitch, who lives in Los Angeles, is an unlikely online dating evangelist. He had never used a single dating app until last year, when he was going through a breakup and found himself in a funk. The apps, it turned out, didn’t help. “I tried two of them, and I thought that they felt just superficial,” he recalled. On a whim, he created a website, and to his surprise, “tons of people started applying.” When the pandemic hit, Kevitch was selling his previous startup, Brighten, an anti-bullying app, and he needed a new project. “Lox Club made a lot of sense,” he said. “With COVID, everyone’s stuck at home and lonely and there’s no other way to meet people.”
View from the inside: Users who have joined the app within the past few weeks seem to appreciate it. Isley Walker, who lives in Brentwood and works as an enterprise account manager at a stealth startup, joined Lox Club last week. The app appealed to her primarily because she was frustrated encountering the same supply of eligible bachelors on the publicly available dating apps. With Lox Club, she happened upon a new stock of guys and has been pleasantly surprised. “Honestly, in my opinion, it puts the other dating apps to shame,” she said. “I actually already deleted them after being on this thing for a week. It’s just, in my opinion, far superior. You know, the guys on it are, for lack of a better word, they’re young, they’re hot, they’re rich. They’re guys that your grandma would be proud of.”
On the hill
Wyden invokes family’s Holocaust refugee history on Senate floor
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) invoked his own ancestors’ history of fleeing Nazi Germany in a speech decrying the Trump administration’s immigration policies on the Senate floor on Tuesday.
It’s personal: Wyden’s parents were German Jews who fled the Nazi regime as children, but other relatives, including his great uncle, were killed in Nazi concentration camps. Throughout his speech, the Oregon Democrat accused the Trump administration of having “rebuilt the infamous paper wall” of anti-immigrant regulations enacted in the 1930s, “which kept too many Jews out of the United States, trapping them within the murderous regime of Nazi Germany.” He added: “Both my parents felt so blessed that they could get out of Germany. They made it over the paper wall. They had a chance to become Americans,” Wyden continued. “Most Jewish families in the United States have stories just like these. Some were able to get out; others were left behind, and some were lost.”
Saving lives: Wyden went on to invoke the story of the M.S. St. Louis, a ship that carried hundreds of refugees, mostly Jews, fleeing Nazi Europe in 1939, which was turned away by the United States and Canada. Hundreds of the boat’s passengers were ultimately killed in Nazi death camps. “In 2020, caring people looked back and recognized that paper wall and our failure to save more people from execution at the hands of the Nazis. It was a staggering humanitarian disaster, a real stain on American history,” Wyden said. “Donald Trump and his advisers, on the other hand, must look back and see the paper wall as a big success, a playbook for their administration.”
Read more here.
🙏 Faith Matters: The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins has penned a personal and incisive exploration of Mormonism, “the most American religion.” Members of his faith, Coppins writes, “taught ourselves to play the part over a centuries-long audition for full acceptance into American life,” but today are grappling with questions “about who they are and what they believe.” [TheAtlantic]
🤳 Viral Leader: In Al-Monitor, Ben Caspit examines Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s savvy use of social media, which has made him a sort of “teen idol” amid a political landscape where “he is the only one who has cracked the Israeli genome using state-of-the-art tools.” [Al-Monitor]
🥶 Challenges Ahead: In the Wall Street Journal, Jared Malsin and Amira El-Fekki posit that Egypt and Israel’s chilly 40-year-old peace treaty could serve as a harbinger for the difficulties Israel will face in cultivating goodwill with the populations of the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, where “sympathy for the Palestinians runs deep.” [WSJ]
Around the Web
⏪ U-Turn: Former National Security Advisor John Bolton writes in Foreign Policy that President-elect Joe Biden should undo the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara.
📝 Friendly Advice: Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley suggests that Biden should retain three Trump foreign policies, including encouraging “harmony between Israel and the Arab states.”
🤝 Shifting alliances: Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi lays out a list of suggestions for how Israel and Gulf countries can approach the incoming Biden administration.
🌏 Heading Abroad: Biden is reportedly considering Hollywood executives Bob Iger and Jeffrey Katzenberg for ambassador positions.
💰 Dealmaking: An Israeli-UAE business group linked to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has purchased the scandal-plagued financial services company Finablr for $1.
👟 Runaway Valuation: StockX, an online marketplace frequently used by sneaker collectors and founded by Dan Gilbert, doubled its valuation to $2.8 billion in its latest funding round.
🏘️ Kicked Out: Dozens of Palestinians in East Jerusalem are facing eviction after an Israeli court ruled that Jewish settlers own the land on which their homes are built.
💉 On Hold: Israel is slated to begin COVID-19 vaccinations next week, while the Palestinian Authority hopes to get vaccines through a WHO-led partnership with humanitarian organizations.
📵 Big Brother: Israel will halt the majority of its controversial COVID-19 cellphone tracking in January.
⏲️ Count Down: Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron warned that if the Knesset fails to pass a budget this year, parts of the Israeli economy will be paralyzed.
📉 In the Red: As uber-rich individuals continue to relocate to Miami and Austin, they could leave significant holes in their home cities’ finances through decreased tax revenue.
🧑⚖️ Guilty: A French court convicted 14 people in absentia yesterday for their roles in the 2015 terrorist attacks on the Charlie Hebdomagazine and a Jewish supermarket.
🤷 No Big Deal: A Turkish defense official said he does not expect new U.S. sanctions targeting Turkey’s defense industry to majorly damage U.S.-Turkey relations.
✡️ Down South: A new museum in New Orleans will explore the history of immigrant Jews and their descendants in the South.
🖼️ No Return: An Amsterdam court ruled yesterday that the Netherlands’ Stedelijk Museum does not have to return a painting sold in 1940 to the heirs of its original Jewish owners.
🇬🇧 Across the Pond: A Jewish student at the University of Warwick says he was interrogated and investigated after complaining about an antisemitic statement made by a lecturer.
🥔 Taking Sides: Dr. Anthony Fauci was “team latke” during the annual Latke vs. Hamentaschen debate at Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, Md., this week.
🚒 Holy Blaze: A fire broke out at a Brooklyn synagogue Wednesday morning, but all occupants and Torah scrolls were safely rescued.
🕯️ Remembering: Jack Steinberger, winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physics, who fled Nazi Germany in 1934, died at 99.
Song of the Day
Israeli pop singer Eden Ben-Zaken recently recorded a duet with none other than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The pair sang a cover of Arik Einstein’s “I’ve Got Love” as a fundraiser for the Ken LeZaken charity.
Longtime chairman and CEO of HBO for 28 years, he now heads the production company Eden Productions working with Apple TV+, Richard Plepler turns 62…
Former chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, she served from 1976 until 2019 and is the longest serving justice in the history of that court, Shirley Abrahamson turns 87… Life-long advocate on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers for the International Rescue Committee and KIND (Kids in Need of Defense), Sheppie Glass Abramowitz turns 84… and Sheppie’s son, president of Freedom House, Michael J. Abramowitz turns 57… Washington attorney and vice chair of the American Jewish International Relations Institute, Stuart Sloameturns 81… Former CEO of the San Francisco 49ers and FAO Schwarz, Peter L. Harris turns 77… VP of strategic planning and marketing at Queens, N.Y., based NewInteractions, Paulette Mandelbaum turns 73… Chair of the physician assistant studies program at Rutgers, Dr. Jill A. Reichman turns 65… Former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Danny Ayalon turns 65…
Founder and CEO of LionTree LLC investment bank focused on media, technology and telecommunications, Aryeh B. Bourkoff turns 48… Israeli soccer goalkeeper who played 386 matches for Maccabi Haifa and 51 matches for the Israeli national team, now on the coaching staff of Israel’s national team, Nir Davidovich turns 44… CEO of the New Legacy Group of Companies, he is also founder and chair man of Project Sunshine, Joseph Weilgus turns 43… Co-director of the Civic Signals project at the National Conference on Citizenship, Eli Pariser turns 40… Associate editor of Commentary and author of Unjust: Social Justice and the Unmaking of America, Noah C. Rothman turns 39… Program officer at the Rowan Family Foundation, Julia Sobel turns 33… Reporter for Vanity Fair and author of the 2018 book Born Trump: Inside America’s First Family, Emily Jane Foxturns 32… MBA candidate in the class of 2022 at The Wharton School, Daniel Ensign turns 30… Actor, singer-songwriter and musician, he starred in the Nickelodeon television series “The Naked Brothers Band,” Nat Wolff turns 26…