Good Monday morning!
There is one Trump foreign policy that Joe Biden wants to maintain. Biden advisors told Axios that the president-elect wants to build upon the Abraham Accords and push for additional normalization deals — as a way to get Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take more steps toward a two-state solution.
In Bahrain yesterday, Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal harshly criticized Israel on the Palestinian issue at the IISS Manama Dialogue security summit. Prince Turki, a former ambassador to the U.S. who does not currently hold an official government position, has long been outspoken on the issue, and it is unclear how in step he is with the Kingdom.
Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazialso attended the Bahrain summit virtually, and took exception to Prince Turki’s remarks, saying: “I don’t believe they reflect the spirit and changes taking place in the Middle East.”
Netanyahu markedthe third anniversary yesterday of President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the American embassy. U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attended Israel’s weekly cabinet meeting and helped hang the proclamation on the wall of the cabinet meeting room.
A U.S. Navy official based in Bahrain claimed the U.S. has reached an “uneasy deterrence” with Iran amid months of tensions.
Vice President Mike Pence will hold a pre-Hanukkah conference call with Jewish leaders tomorrow, ahead of the White House Hanukkah receptions on Wednesday.
Last night, Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and her Democratic challenger, Rev. Raphael Warnock, sparred in a televised debate over COVID-19, racism and whether Trump lost the presidential election.
Today, a judge will rule on the validity of hundreds of ballots in the still-undecided race between Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) and former Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY) in New York’s 22nd district.
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Jewish Insider’s December gift guide
This year, Jewish Insider is proud to present a December gift guide featuring a few favorite products from both established and up-and-coming companies. Whether buying a Hanukkah gift for family and friends or simply an item for yourself, you are sure to find the perfect purchase below. Happy Hanukkah from the team at JI!
L’Chaim: Covenant Winery is offering JI readers an $85 discount on a unique set of three 2018 cabernet sauvignons: two from Napa Valley and one from Israel. “The Covenant Winery shows the best of California kosher wines,” said Jewish Insider wine columnist Yitz Applbaum. In Chicago, Drs. Sonat Birnecker Hart and Robert Birnecker’s whiskey distillery KOVAL takes its name from the Yiddish word meaning “black sheep.” And as the self-identifying black sheep of the distilling world, the couple have led the way in the growth of grain-to-bottle distillation. “Smooth, interesting and a clean finish. A crowd pleaser!” said JI reader Noam Neusner of 30 Point Strategies.
Jewelry: Rachel Shnay founded her eponymous company — Rachie Shnay — on the principles of quality and lower prices. Shnay stays true to her Jewish roots; among her most popular designs is the Mazel Collection, with each piece proudly displaying the Magen David. Meanwhile, British-born watch connoisseur and entrepreneur Morris Weiss wanted to combine his love of classic timepieces and his love of Israel after recently making aliyah. The result is the classic Israel Design Watch (IWD).
Covid cutlery: Founded by friends Margie Stein and Nataly Neumann, NAMAR (featured in JI in November) was established earlier this year to fill the growing demand for on-the-go cutlery. But rather than replicate notoriously unreliable, unstylish and ubiquitous plastic cutlery, these two millennial entrepreneurs decided to go in an eco-friendly direction.
Books, books: The team at JI prides itself on providing you all the daily news in a five-minute read. But this holiday season, we invite you to return to the longform practice. Over the past year we’ve reviewed more than a dozen books and referenced several more. Now we’ve partnered with Bookshop, a consortium of local bookstores, to bring you the JI bookstore.
joining the tribe
‘Beautiful in its own way’: Converting to Judaism amid the pandemic
Rabbi Adam Mintz, a Modern Orthodox rabbi based on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, has performed conversions for the past three decades, meeting in-person with individuals undergoing the transformative process. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, Mintz is busier than ever. “You would think,” he told Marie-Rose Sheinerman for Jewish Insider, “that people wouldn’t approach me to start studying” for the process these days. “Exactly the opposite,” Mintz said. “I’ve never had more people interested in conversion than I have over the past eight months.”
Bustling business:Across the country in Los Angeles, at the non-denominational synagogue IKAR, Rabbi Keilah Lebell noticed the same pattern. “Pre-COVID, I would hear from someone interested in conversion… maybe once every two months,” she told JI. “But as soon as COVID hit, I started receiving calls from people wanting to convert or at least to explore their Jewish heritage, no longer every other month, but every other week.” The cause for the uptick, which comes despite the fact that the Jewish community does not typically seek out potential converts, remains uncertain, but Lebell posited that for some it came down to two push factors: newfound time in quarantine to pursue “the big questions” and a longing for a higher purpose amid the pandemic.
Moral leadership: Lorelei Laird had been married to a Jewish man for nine years when she decided to learn more about her husband’s faith. As she met over Zoom with Lebell, whom she has yet to meet in person, Laird said she found more and more aspects of Judaism that spoke to her, in part due to the uniqueness of this past year. “What I want is some moral leadership,” Laird told JI. “2020 was full of nakedly immoral behavior on all sides, and it made me want some sort of authority saying, ‘It’s okay to care about what’s right.’” Laird converted in early September, just in time for the High Holy Days.
Tears of joy:For Katie Berland, whose conversion was overseen by rabbis at Adas Israel in Washington D.C., in October, the experience was “beautiful in its own way,” she said. “Walking into the mikvah,” Berland, who took “Ruth” as her Hebrew name (in the wake of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who attended services at the synagogue), told JI, “it’s supposed to be this beautiful, free-flowing, meaningful moment, but here’s this masked figure [with a face shield], who I know who it is but I can’t see her eyes or her smile, staring at me as I’m saying the prayers.” The awkwardness of the health protocols notwithstanding, as she walked out of the mikvah, Berland shed tears of joy: “It was so beautiful, the chapter was closing.”
Looking ahead:Maxwell Thompson, a recent convert who belongs to Adas, felt something missing from his ceremony. “After [the beit din], they were reading off the document that they had signed,” he said, “and I just wanted so badly to hug all of them, to embrace them, and say thank you for starting this journey for me.” He is greatly anticipating being able to return to physical gatherings once the pandemic restrictions are lifted. “I can’t wait to go back to synagogue, I’m actually waiting with bated breath,” Thompson said. “For me, the conversion process was… really about being in that Jewish space, surrounded by people who love you and embrace you.”
How Betsy DeVos’s Department of Education navigated key issues
Over the past four years, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos found support among many in the Jewish community for her department’s aggressive approach to tackling antisemitism on college campuses and her advocacy of government funding for non-public elementary and secondary schools. But former Department of Education officials who served under DeVos relayed to Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod how the administration was often divided on issues of interest to the Jewish community.
Divided: In December 2019, the White House issued an executive order including antisemitism on a list of forms of discrimination addressed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The administration was split over the decision, according to Ken Marcus, who served as the assistant secretary of education for civil rights from 2018 until earlier this year. Marcus said DeVos was initially opposed to adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism within the department, ultimately a key part of the Trump administration’s executive order. “Her reasoning was that the department did not adopt definitions of discrimination under Title VI. So at the beginning, that was the view that she had developed prior to my arrival at the department, and prior to the discussions with the White House,” Marcus said. “By the end of the administration, of course, President Trump had adopted the executive order and Secretary Betsy DeVos welcomed it and of course, under her leadership, it is being administered.”
School choice: A Trump administration push to pass a federal tax credit program for contributions to scholarship organizations — a key plank of DeVos’s and the administration’s school choice push, which was a top priority for parochial schooling advocates — died in Congress. Jason Botel, who served as a senior White House advisor for education and an acting assistant secretary education, among other roles, told Jewish Insider that DeVos’s efforts were undercut by a lack of support from the White House and from Trump. “I just didn’t see the president weighing in all that much when it came to education issues of any kind,” Botel told JI. “In spite of some of the rhetoric that we heard from President Trump when he was a candidate and even afterward, we just didn’t see… the White House really push for those things,” he added. “If it was a true priority, there’s a lot more that could have been done.”
Campus concerns:Marcus highlighted the steps the department has taken under DeVos to investigate colleges’ Middle East studies programs, as well as foreign funding — particularly from Qatar — received by some American universities, and some schools’ failure to properly disclose the contributions. Marcus argued that such funding can shape the way Israel-related issues are taught on campuses. “These [foreign funding] investigations under Secretary Betsy DeVos, with particular leadership from Deputy Secretary Mick Zais and acting General Counsel Reed Rubinstein, have been an eye-opener,” Marcus said. “And they’ve been the first of its kind within the history of the department.”
A for effort:Although DeVos and the Trump administration failed to pass legislation advancing school choice initiatives, Jewish parochial schooling advocates nonetheless praised DeVos for elevating the issue in the national discourse. “She clearly put school choice at the forefront of the education agenda in Washington and the policy debate that no previous secretary of education had,” said Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center. Rabbi A.D. Motzen, the national director of state relations for Agudath Israel of America, added that the administration’s work has helped advance school choice initiatives at the state level. “Most school choice issues [are] really on the state level. The secretary and president and vice president have talked about this issue when they were in other states,” Motzen said. “So I think that might have a lasting effect, no matter who is running the Department of Education or sits in the White House.”
🖋️ Friendly Advice: In a Washington Post op-ed, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro suggests Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can avoid a rift with the incoming Biden administration if he realizes that he won’t be able to block a U.S. attempt to reenter the 2015 Iran deal, and instead “consider what form an extension of the JCPOA can take that would provide assurance that Iran will remain nonnuclear while buying time for a more comprehensive resolution.” [WashPost]
😢 Still Grieving:The Atlantic’s John Hendrickson explores how loss and grief has shaped Joe Biden’s life and career, including the death in March of his close friend, former campaign secretary and Jewish philanthropist Larry Rasky, who succumbed to COVID-19 shortly after Biden’s Super Tuesday wins. [TheAtlantic]
📈 Optimistic Outlook:In The Wall Street Journal, Rory Jones and Miriam Gottfried spotlight Abu Dhabi sovereign-wealth fund Mubadala Investment CEO Khaldoon al-Mubarak, who “staked billions” this year on his belief that the world economy will bounce back from COVID-19. [WSJ]
👨🏻🦲 Second Choice:Politico’s Burgess Everett reports that Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) was the runner-up to become Biden’s secretary of state, but the president-elect told Coons — who “has spent a decade developing relationships with Senate Republicans” — that he needs him on the ground in the split Senate. [Politico]
Around the Web
🤦♂️ Stay the Course: In an interview with New York magazine, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen predicts Trump will seek to undermine Joe Biden’s presidency to solidify his hold on the GOP and return to power.
👩 New Gig: Rochelle Walensky, the chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, has reportedly been tapped as the next head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
💪 Call for Action: Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and James Lankford (R-OK) are urging the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile-defense system.
🚧 On the Hill:J Street has joined efforts to block the sale of F-35 jets to the United Arab Emirates in the Senate.
💽 Cyber War: The UAE has become the target of cyber attacks after announcing a peace deal with Israel.
👅 Mother Tongue: Hebrew-language schools are opening up in Abu Dhabi and Dubai as business leaders seek to pick up the language in order to improve communication with Israelis.
📦 Clarification: Bahrain said it will not import Israeli settlement goods, claiming comments made by its trade minister last week while in Israel were taken out of context.
⚔️ Internal Strife: Sudanese Information Minister Faisal Mohamed Salih criticized the country’s military for developing ties with Israel without the cabinet’s knowledge.
🔫 New Claim:The Iranian Mehr news agency reported yesterday that nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed by a satellite-controlled machine gun.
🛣️ Full Speed Ahead:A series of new roads and tunnels in Israel are paving the way for major Israeli settlement growth, which one activist described as “de facto annexation on steroids.”
👮 Vindicated: The Israeli Justice Ministry cleared police officers of wrongdoing in the case of 9-year-old Palestinian Malik Eissa, who lost an eye after being hit by non-lethal munitions during a protest.
🚔 Deaf Ears:Activists tellThe New York Times that “a culture of impunity pervades the [Israeli] police force” and that claims of police brutality are rarely taken seriously.
🔥 Hate Attack: A Jewish man was arrested for pouring flammable liquid inside a historic church near Jerusalem’s Old City.
🎥 Now Streaming: A new documentary, “Mayor,” showcases Ramallah Mayor Musa Hadid’s efforts to boost his city and rehabilitate its image.
🧑⚖️ Standing Trial:The trial of Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz on corruption and forgery charges will kick off in Geneva next month after multiple delays.
🏨 Big Buy:British businessmen David and Simon Reuben closed a deal to buy the upscale Surrey Hotel in Manhattan, extending their reach into the U.S. real estate market.
🏖️ Heading South: Goldman Sachs is considering relocating its headquarters from New York to South Florida to save money.
👨💻 Taking Action: Facebook is overhauling its algorithms to detect hate speech and automatically delete slurs directed at Black individuals, Muslims, Jews and the LGBTQ+ community.
⚖️ Justice Served: France has charged Walid Abdulrahman Abu Zayed, a suspect in a 1982 attack on a Jewish eatery in Paris that killed six people, following his extradition from Norway.
🙇♂️ Litte and Late:The family of British novelist Roald Dahl, who died in 1990, quietly acknowledged and apologized for his “prejudiced” antisemitic comments.
🧳 Moving Up: Journalist and author Amy Klein describes how she ended up moving to the Upper West Side after seeking to move to the suburbs of New York amid the coronavirus.
🎼 Loud and Clear:The Harold Green Jewish Theatre in Toronto is planning a global community concert with other international theatres to celebrate Hanukkah.
🎶 Blowin’ in the wind: Songwriter Bob Dylan has reportedly sold his entire catalogue of songs to Universal Music in a deal worth an estimated $300 million.
📝 Odd Op-ed:A New York Times op-ed by a non-Jewish woman explaining why she will no longer celebrate Hanukkah has garnered widespreadcriticismonline.
✍️ Rewriting History:Herman J. Mankiewicz wrote less of the final script for “Citizen Kane” than the new Netflix film “Mank” suggests, according to The New York Times.
⚰️ Laid to Rest: Ashes from victims of the Holocaust who died in Dachau were finally laid to rest yesterday in a Jewish cemetery in Columbia, South Carolina.
🕯️ Remembering: Character actor Warren Berlinger died at age 83. William Aronwald, a noted prosecutor who was the target of a botched mob hit in the 80s, died at age 79. David Lander, who played Squiggy on “Laverne & Shirley,” died at 73. Sam Gary, the oil baron-turned-philanthropist who was born Sam Garfinkle, died at age 94.
Song of the Day
Actor, rapper and “Hamilton” star Daveed Diggs has released a new song in collaboration with Disney titled “Puppy for Hanukkah.”
Former Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, now CEO of a $225 million initiative to combat disease called Resolve to Save Lives, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden turns 60…
Political activist and professor emeritus at MIT, Noam Chomsky turns 92… Rabbi emeritus of The Jewish Center of Princeton, NJ, author and editor of over 50 books including Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul, Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins turns 83… Hedge fund manager and co-founder of Taglit-Birthright Israel, Michael Steinhardt turns 80… Professor of mathematics at Princeton University, Nicholas Michael Katz turns 77… Novelist (15 books), essayist and screenwriter, Susan Isaacs turns 77… Former Israeli Foreign Ministry legal advisor and then Israeli ambassador to Canada, now at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Alan Baker turns 73… Chair emeritus of the Longmeadow, Massachusetts Democratic Town Committee, Candy Glazer turns 73… Director and vice chairman of Simon Property Group, Richard S. Sokolov turns 71… Immediate past board chair of AIPAC, Lillian Pinkus turns 69… Co-chairman of Loews Hotels and co-owner of the NFL’s New York Giants, Jonathan M. Tisch turns 67… Pamela Decker turns 66… Haifa-born composer and professor of music at Harvard, Chaya Czernowin turns 63…
Teacher in the Elko County School District in the northeast portion of Nevada and leader of the local Jewish community, Shawn Welton-Lowe turns 57… Former deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and currently senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Bonnie Glick… Co-Founder of Laurel Strategies, a CEO advisory firm based in Washington, Dafna Tapiero turns 51… Director, writer, actor and comedian, best known as the director of “Modern Family” and “Life in Pieces,” Jason Winer turns 48… President of baseball operations of the Chicago Cubs, Jed Hoyer turns 47… Leading actress in multiple television series including “Roswell,” ” Life Unexpected” and “Unreal,” Shiri Appleby turns 42… President of NYC-based Capitol Consulting, Jeffrey Leb turns 42… Food critic for The New Yorker, Hannah Goldfield turns 34… Co-author of “Union: A Republican, a Democrat, and a Search for Common Ground,” he is the director and head of talent at Schmidt Futures, Jordan Blashek turns 34… Director of recruiting at NYC’s Mission Staffing, Jaime Leiman turns 30… Founder of Go Dash Dot, an active wear accessories brand, Hannah Fastov turns 30… Freelance fashion stylist, Hannah Vilinsky turns 29… Partner in Cornerstone Venture Partners and founder of “Made in Jerusalem,” Hanan Brand… Jeff Blum… Toby Lerner…