👋 Good Thursday morning!
Yesterday was a day of historic firsts: the first South Asian, African American, female vice president, the first second gentleman and the first Jewish vice presidential spouse amid other milestones.
More historic firsts occurred inside the Capitol hours after President Joe Biden took office: Vice President Kamala Harris swore in Sens. Alex Padilla (D-CA), California’s first Latino senator; Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Georgia’s first Jewish senator; and Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Georgia’s first Black senator. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) became the body’s first Jewish leader, as well as the first from New York.
Former President Donald Trump departed Washington yesterday for Florida, hours before China announced it was sanctioning more than two dozen former administration officials, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security advisers Robert O’Brien and John Bolton; United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft and Steve Bannon, the former Trump aide who received an 11th-hour pardon from the president.
The Senate voted to confirm Avril Haines as the next director of national intelligence by a vote of 84-10 yesterday, the first of Biden’s Cabinet members to be confirmed.
At her first briefing as Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki addressed the administration’s plans to engage with Iran, saying that the U.S. “should seek to lengthen and strengthen nuclear constraints on Iran and address other issues of concern. Iran must resume compliance with significant nuclear constraints under the [2015 nuclear] deal in order for that to proceed.”
The Twitter account for the U.S. Embassy to Israel briefly added, then removed, a reference to the West Bank and Gaza, sparking a wave of reactions and speculation.
Securing the 🥯: Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s nominee for secretary of Homeland Security, was spotted by a JI reader yesterday afternoon ordering bagels following the inauguration at Call Your Mother Deli in D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood — which is co-owned by Biden’s COVID czar, Jeff Zients.
Meet the woman behind Bernie Sanders’s viral mittens
While President Joe Biden was the star of yesterday’s inauguration ceremony, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) appeared to have stolen the show on social media thanks to his endearingly informal attire, including a disposable blue surgical mask, gray Burton winter coat and oversized brown mittens made from repurposed wool sweaters. The mittens, patterned and lined with fleece, were the main attraction. Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel spoke with the mittens’ creator, 42-year-old second grade teacher and craft hobbyist Jen Ellis.
Saying thanks: Ellis, who lives in Essex Junction, Vt., gave the mittens to Sanders as a gift five years ago, but has never met him, even though she is an admirer. Ellis was inspired to give a pair to Sanders when he lost the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and she wanted to lift his spirits. “I didn’t think he was going to run again,” she said. “But I wanted him to.” At the time, Ellis’s daughter was attending a pre-school directed by Sanders’s daughter-in-law, Liza Driscoll, so the opportunity was right to slip him a pair. “I was making mittens for holiday gifts for the preschool teachers,” Ellis said, “and I made an extra pair for Bernie. I gave them to Liza to give to him, just as a thank you.”
Out of stock: After the photo went viral, interested customers began reaching out — Ellis received approximately 6,000 emails in the hours after the ceremony — about an old tweet advertising her wares. Not an active social media user, Ellis was in the process of figuring out how to log back into her Twitter account so she could announce that, unfortunately, there was no product left in stock. “I don’t have any mittens to sell.” Despite the interest, Ellis had no plans to meet the demand. “Honestly, I don’t really do it a lot anymore,” said Ellis, who has sold her mittens — which she calls “swittens,” a portmanteau of sweater and mittens — online and at craft fairs. “There’s no possible way I could make 6,000 pairs of mittens, and every time I go into my email, another several hundred people have emailed me,” Ellis added. “I hate to disappoint people, but the mittens, they’re one-of-a-kind and they’re unique and sometimes in this world, you just can’t get everything you want.”
Being resourceful: Ellis has her own personal supply of swittens, which have come in handy — no pun intended — during the pandemic, as she has been conducting classes in the woods beside her school. “I’ve actually been wearing my mittens to teach every day,” Ellis said. “I love them,” she added. “I think it’s a really cool project because it takes a garment, a sweater, that otherwise would have been thrown away. I use sweaters that have moth holes or have ripped or they’ve been sent through the wash and turned into cardboard.” The fleece lining, Ellis noted, is made from recycled plastic, “which diverts material from the landfill.”
Bonus: The image of a well-insulated Sanders sparked a wave of viral memes of the Vermont senator, starting with Chandra Steele’s caption: “In Jewish yoga this pose is: waiting for my wife at Loehmann’s.” Other popular memes included Sanders appearing in “Shtisel,” attending synagogue services and feeling the pain of an unnecessary meeting.
A gripping new Israeli thriller hits Apple TV+
Avid international consumers of Israeli TV have likely already binge-watched “Fauda,” “Shtisel,” “Tehran” and “Valley of Tears.” But they’ve never seen anything quite like “Losing Alice.” The new psychological thriller, which premieres Friday on Apple TV+, takes viewers on a dark and twisted journey through the conscious and subconscious of Alice, played by renowned Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer. Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro spoke with the show’s three main stars and its creator about the boundary-pushing new series.
Deep and dark: Alice, a once-critically acclaimed director who is now more occupied with raising her children and dabbling in commercial work, is married to David (Gal Toren), a successful actor in his prime. While on a train, Alice runs into Sophie (Lihi Kornowski), an up-and-coming filmmaker with a promising new screenplay. Sophie, a self-declared avid fan of Alice, begins to embed herself into Alice and David’s family, and the relationship between the two women devolves into a spiral of jealousy, obsession, ambition and violence. Zurer said she was particularly drawn to the show because “it’s very rare to see characters like that, and the depiction of womanhood was spot-on.”
Female driven: The show is dominated by powerful women, both behind and in front of the camera, something creator Avin said was a boon for the series. “We ended up having a lot of incredible women on board — the director’s assistant and the line producer and the producer,” in addition to Zurer and Kornowski in the leading roles, said Avin. “It was amazing for me and I think also for this kind of production — you could get a lot of input.” Toren told JI that “from the very first moment, Sigal Avin, the creator, the director, had a clear view about what she wanted, and she was very, very motivated to get it the way she wanted… it was pretty obvious that something special is happening,” he said. “The only question was if she could pull it off — and she pulled it off brilliantly.”
New noir: The dark and disturbing nature of the series is a departure for most Israeli audiences — as well as for Avin herself. “I did comedies before this, mainly, but this is my favorite genre and I grew up watching all these psychological thrillers,” Avin told JI, calling the series a type of “new noir” genre. “I think there was a place within me that always wanted to do this and deal with this.” Kornowski, who plays Sophie, said she feels a certain protectiveness toward the character and the show. “I think people in Israel are not used to watching these kinds of shows in Hebrew,” Kornowski told JI, “and I think that we got a lot of love from the Israeli audience, but at the same time, I felt like we don’t get the right recognition of the kind of art that Sigal made.”
meet the press
Chuck Todd steps off the roller coaster
Chuck Todd, who moderates NBC’s long-running “Meet the Press,” has covered every presidential inauguration since 1992, when he began his career in journalism as an intern at Hotline, National Journal’s Washington tip sheet. Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony, he says, is one he won’t soon forget. “It was the most meaningful inauguration, I think, for anybody that has lived and worked in this town for 30 years after what happened on January 6,” Todd said in an interview with Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel yesterday, alluding to the insurrection at the Capitol that left Washington, D.C., in turmoil.
Post-riot reckoning: “I’ll be frank, you spend this much time in this town, you become numb to the pageantry and the ceremony because we never had it any other way,” Todd, 48, elaborated. “It was always ceremonial, and we all knew the order of how this worked.” But the riot two weeks ago changed all that, he suggested. “You suddenly feel vulnerable in what you thought was the safest city in the world,” Todd said. “That was the backdrop today. All of a sudden, every ceremonial part of the inauguration, you couldn’t help but wonder, ‘What’s the vulnerability here?’”
Covering Biden: Todd predicted that Biden’s apparent willingness to work with Congress will change how reporters seek scoops. Though the new administration is expected to be more disciplined than Trump’s leaky ship, there are ways to bypass tight-lipped presidential staffers, Todd noted. “One of the hallmarks of the Obama years is it was easier to almost cover it outside in,” he said, adding: “It was always a lot easier to report on the White House through Congress.” That precedent likely also applies to Biden, Todd suggested. “If you’re a reporter in this town, the best White House scoops are going to come off from Capitol Hill. As we all know, Capitol Hill isn’t as tight of a ship as the White House, now is it?”
Roller coaster ride: Todd described his chaotic experience bearing witness to the Trump years on national television as akin to a non-stop roller coaster ride. “It finally stopped and it’s like, I’m finally off the ride, I’m not going to throw up anymore,” Todd said. The inaugural proceedings, despite the ominous militarized backdrop, appear to have helped Todd find his balance, even if only temporarily. “I just felt like I sat up straighter paying more attention to every little part of this inauguration,” he said. “It’s not as if I never did, but it was like — you just didn’t want to take it for granted.”
On the hill
Democrats regain chairmanship of Senate committees
With Democrats officially retaking control of the Senate Wednesday afternoon, they will now take leadership of the Senate’s committees, powerful positions that grant significant control over Senate activity. Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod looks at some of the most notable new committee chairs:
Armed Services: Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), a former Army Ranger, will chair the committee overseeing the military.
Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs: Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) will likely become an even bigger thorn in the side of banking executives with the committee gavel.
Budget: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) will give the progressive wing of the Democratic Party a powerful voice from the top seat on the Budget committee.
Energy and Natural Resources: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) may find himself at odds with other Democrats over his defense of the fossil fuel industry.
Ethics: Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) may face the prospect of investigating fellow legislators over their alleged involvement in the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill.
Foreign Relations: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), a mainstay at AIPAC’s annual conference, retakes the chairmanship of the influential committee.
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), who pushed for increases in Nonprofit Security Grant Program funding, will play a role in the country’s efforts to fight right-wing extremism.
Judiciary: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who is also the Democratic whip, will oversee hearings for Biden’s judicial nominees as well as law enforcement reform proposals.
With Democrats maintaining control of the House, committee leadership will largely carry over from the 116th Congress, with a few exceptions for chairs who retired or lost reelection:
Appropriations: Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) will replace former Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) as head of the powerful committee, after winning a three-person competition for the slot.
Agriculture: Rep. David Scott (D-GA) will be the first Black chair of the committee, which also oversees food stamp programs.
Foreign Affairs: Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) won a three-way competition in December to replace former Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY).
Why it matters: Norm Eisen, the former special counsel for the House Judiciary Committee in President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial, spoke to Jewish Insider about some of the most significant shakeups. Sanders’s slot at the top of the Budget Committee will give him a perch to advance progressive policy priorities, Eisen said, although he may struggle to make progress in a 50-50 Senate. Eisen also predicted that Menendez “has the capacity to break through some of the deadlock that has at times afflicted the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.” And he noted that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will not only chair the Appropriations Committee, but is also likely to preside over former President Donald Trump’s upcoming second impeachment trial as the president pro-tempore of the Senate.
📝 Fighting Words: In The Atlantic, Yossi Klein Halevi and Michael Oren make “the case against the Iran deal,” arguing that “even the deal’s fervent supporters need to recognize that its fundamental assumptions — that Iran had abandoned its quest for a military nuclear option and would moderate its behavior — have been thoroughly disproved.” [Atlantic]
☢️ On the Agenda: Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake suggests that William Burns, Biden’s pick to head the CIA, is “all about Iran.” Burns, who as deputy secretary of state pursued the secret talks with Iran that led to the 2015 nuclear deal, will be crucial to Biden’s approach to Tehran, including “managing Israeli sabotage inside the country.” [Bloomberg]
🤔 Taking Stock: In Reuters, Maayan Lubell and Rami Ayyub analyze how much of Trump’s approach to the Middle East is likely to survive in a Biden administration. The Abraham Accords are expected to stick around given that “they have bipartisan support in Washington and brought a strategic realignment of Middle East countries against Iran.” [Reuters]
🇩🇪 Berlin Bound: In Tablet magazine, Joe Baur spotlights the “changing face of Jewish Berlin,” where American expats now living in the German capital are “leaving their mark both inside and outside of the Jewish world.” [Tablet]
Around the Web
👩💼 New Gig: Dana Stroul, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is reportedly Biden’s pick to lead the Middle East desk at the Pentagon.
👋 Stepping Down: Andrew Borans, CEO of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, is resigning from the board of the controversial pro-Trump group Turning Point USA after backlash.
💻 Shifting Hate: With QAnon followers reeling from Trump’s exit, researchers are concerned that adherents may dig even deeper into antisemitic activity and conspiracies.
👗 High Fashion: Ella Emhoff, the daughter of Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, chose to wear a gown by designer Batsheva Hay to the inauguration.
💉 Shot Up: Israel is now advising pregnant women to receive the COVID vaccine.
🤝 Joining Forces: Bennie Begin, a former Likud minister and the son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, has joined Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party.
📉 Money Problems: New analysis suggests that Israel’s plan to buy $30 billion in U.S. currency in 2021 will not be enough to slow the shekel’s appreciating value.
💸 Spending Spree: The United Arab Emirates reportedly signed an agreement to buy 50 F-35 fighter jets and up to 18 drones from the U.S. as part of a deal worth around $23 billion.
🎞️ Did They Get the Rabbi?: “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” began filming its fourth season in New York City yesterday.
✒️ Rethink Ink: Paul Singer’s Elliott Management is investing $50 million in Removery, the country’s largest specialized provider of tattoo removals.
🎰 Casinos in the City: Amid a commercial real estate slump and government deficits, New York developers are leaning on lawmakers to grant approval for Manhattan casino projects.
💼 Packing Up: Michael Pack, the controversial head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, resigned at the request of President Joe Biden yesterday.
🍕 Deep Dish Drone: Pizza Hut is gearing up to introduce drone deliveries in Israel this summer.
🕯️ Remembering: Dr. Alex Goldfarb, a Boston critical care physician who treated COVID patients, died at 56 while hiking in Pakistan. Longtime Hollywood publicist Ben Halpern died at 99.
Gif of the Day
Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer handed over the reins in Washington to incoming Ambassador Gilad Erdan yesterday.
Erdan told Israeli radio this morning that he has already spoken with Biden — during a coincidental meeting on a train — and said “there is a strong basis for optimism.”
Co-founder of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Lynn Schusterman turns 82…
Writer specializing in modern Judaism and women’s issues, Blu Greenberg turns 85… Owner of the NHL’s Boston Bruins and chairman of food service and hospitality company Delaware North, Jeremy Maurice Jacobs turns 81… Literary critic and writer on cultural and social issues, Elaine Showalter turns 80… 82nd attorney general of the United States, now a partner at Covington & Burling, Eric Holder turns 70… Actor who is the voice of Beast in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” Robby Benson turns 65… Chairman of the ZOA and chair of the real estate group at Sills Cummis & Gross, Mark Levensonturns 64… U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) turns 60…
Chairman and CEO of Norfolk, Virginia-based Harbor Group International, a $12.6 billion real estate investment firm, Jordan E. Slone turns 59… Guest political editor at the Washington Monthly, Matthew Cooper turns 58… Managing director of OneTable, Andrea Greenblatt turns 54… Senior fellow at the USC Annenberg School, Cindi Leive turns 54… Born in Trinidad and Tobago, SVP and Washington bureau chief at CNN, Sam Feist turns 52… Ramat Gan native and producer of the six films in the “Paranormal Activity” series, Oren Peli turns 51… Dean of School at Yavneh Hebrew Academy in Los Angeles, Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn turns 42… Peruvian model and TV host, she represented her country in Miss Universe 2009, Karen Schwarz turns 40… Congressional reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Jennifer Haberkorn turns 38… Israeli actress, screenwriter and filmmaker, Romi Aboulafia turns 37… Counsel at DC-based Co-Equal, Jordan Grossman turns 35…