👋 Good Wednesday morning!
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is the featured guest on this week’s episode of Jewish Insider’s “Limited Liability Podcast.” Make sure to subscribe to the podcast here to be notified when the episode goes live. Apple | Spotify | Stitcher
The Biden administration withdrew Neera Tanden’s nomination to become director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, after it becane clear she would not have enough votes for confirmation.
The Senate Intelligence Committee voted unanimously yesterday to advance William Burns’s nomination as CIA director to a full confirmation vote.
The Senate voted 84-15 to confirm Gina Raimondo as secretary of commerce and 95-4 to confirm Cecilia Rouse as head of the Council of Economic Advisers. Rouse is the first Biden nominee to receive a vote from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO).
The Republican Study Committee, an influential conservative caucus within the House GOP, released a memo laying out its plan on Iran, emphasizing fighting against rolling back sanctions.
man with a plan
Is Naftali Bennett Israel’s next kingmaker?
For the past year, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett has found himself in a new and unwelcome position: the opposition. Now, the former minister is angling not just to return to the government, but to lead it. Barring that, Bennett is setting himself up for the all-powerful role in Israeli politics: kingmaker. “What we need to achieve is three things,” Bennett averred in a recent interview with Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro. “We need to replace Netanyahu, but retain a national right-wing government — that at least the backbone of the next government needs to be right-wing; we could have partners that are not right-wing — and a government that will implement a national economic plan.”
Between blocs: Late last year, Bennett, 48, declared that he was running not just for the next Knesset, but for prime minister. But the current polls render that a distinct longshot, with Yamina predicted to receive 10-11 seats in the March 23 election, compared to 28 for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, 18 for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and 13 for Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope. Despite his heavy criticism of the prime minister, Bennett hasn’t ruled out joining forces with either Netanyahu or the anti-Netanyahu bloc, positioning himself to serve as a kingmaker in a future coalition, as polls show the math for either side exceedingly tight.
Time to go: Bennett said the country has been divided into two cults: pro-Netanyahu and anti-Netanyahu. “And I decided not to belong to any of those cults,” he said. “We need to replace Netanyahu, not because of the just not-Bibi cult, but because he profoundly failed — such a huge failure of leadership and management over the past year or two,” he said, citing four consecutive elections, the COVID crisis and the rising cost of living. “In 30 years of Netanyahu in politics, it’s time to say, ‘Thank you, bye, and now it’s Bennett’s time.’”
Planning ahead: Since entering the Knesset in 2013, Bennett has served in a variety of ministerial positions as a reliable Netanyahu ally and coalition partner. But when Netanyahu formed a shaky national unity coalition with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz last year, Bennett was left in the opposition. “It’s better to be in government and effect change,” he chuckled as he reflected on his experiences over the past year. But he sees his time in the political wilderness as instrumental in building support for his current campaign. “I didn’t just criticize, I actually suggested alternative plans, and I actually made them public,” said Bennett. Over the past year, he has painted himself as the man with the plan, laying out approaches to revitalizing the economy, cutting bureaucracy, fighting COVID-19 and integrating haredim into the workforce.
Eye on Iran: The former defense minister expressed cautious optimism at the election of U.S. President Joe Biden. “The relationship with the United States goes way deeper than any individual,” Bennett said. “Biden is a well-known friend of Israel who has been here many times… And that’s why I’m fairly optimistic, while recognizing that there are differences that we’ll have to iron out.” The most pressing concern, he said, is Iran. “If we want to maintain a degree of stability in the Middle East, we have to ensure that Iran does not progress to nuclear weapons. And therefore we cannot return to the original JCPOA [nuclear deal] as is — it needs a bunch of upgrades.”
No quid pro quo: Bennett was critical last year of Netanyahu’s decision to halt annexation of some West Bank settlements in return for normalization with the United Arab Emirates under the Abraham Accords. If faced with a similar decision as prime minister, he said, he would have refused such a quid pro quo. “I don’t view the two things as contrarian — it’s not either or,” he claimed. “I think the way to make progress is not by giving up land, because we’ve tried that and… each time we got a new intifada.” Bennett said Arab countries will want to normalize ties with Israel if it shows strength, not weakness. “So the last thing I would do is give up more land and create more rocket centers for Iran in the middle of Israel.”
moses and marvel
New haggadah brings big-screen superheroes to the Passover seder
When the U.S. went into lockdown at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic nearly a year ago, Rabbi Moshe Rosenberg — a congregational rabbi and educator in Queens — did what millions of other Americans did to keep busy: He turned on his TV. After watching all 23 movies in the Marvel cinematic universe with his children, Rosenberg wrote The Superhero Haggadah: A Story of Signs and Marvels, available online this week. In a recent interview with Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch, Rosenberg explained what comic book characters like Iron Man and Spider-Man can teach even the most learned Jews about the lessons of Passover.
How it happened: Until COVID-19 hit, Rosenberg had only seen a handful of Marvel movies. But then, at the start of the pandemic, he was undergoing radiation treatment for prostate cancer. “I was an emotional wreck, and I was physically weak,” Rosenberg recalled. His seven children, he said, “wanted to help distract me, and they came up with a list of Marvel movies that I should watch. And they made sure I watched them by watching them with me.” Rosenberg is now disease-free.
By the book: The Superhero Haggadah is Rosenberg’s second foray into haggadot — his (Unofficial) Hogwarts Haggadah, published in 2017, was briefly a viral phenomenon.Over the years, Rosenberg wrote a couple of other books on Harry Potter and Judaism, including the Muggle Megillah for Purim, but they didn’t get much pick-up. He quickly learned that haggadot sell: “Everybody wants a novel haggadah, and… everybody wants to do a gift of a haggadah,” he said. So he started writing a superhero-themed haggadah last summer when he finished the Marvel movies, not expecting that the Jewish community would be approaching a second year of Zoom seders, or certainly much smaller seders than normal.
Superheroes are serious: Rosenberg’s haggadah uses the stories of the Marvel superheroes to discuss serious moral issues, like human character, how to use power for good rather than evil, the meaning of freedom, and so on — major topics that are also referenced and debated in Jewish texts. “You can understand Torah better when you have a frame of reference outside of it,” Rosenberg told JI, noting that literature and the Torah can “mutually illuminate” each other.
lost and found
Saved from auction, looted Jewish treasures highlight dark market
A Brooklyn auction house’s attempt last month to auction off two Jewish communal registries was set to proceed until it was halted at the last minute. The sudden move highlighted a wider issue regarding items looted from Jewish communities that, decades later, are being sold at auction, reports Stewart Ain for Jewish Insider.
Last connection: “The private market sale of Judaica and historical Judaica items tends to operate in the dark,” Gideon Taylor, chief of operations at the World Jewish Restitution Organization, told Jewish Insider. “There is not a visible or known market [for these items], and there is no central registry or depository. What we do know is that these were treasures of Jewish history that belong to a Jewish community and, thus, to the Jewish people… For many, it is the last connection with people who died and their roots.” Taylor said he wants to use the attempted sale to “open up and expose this trade… to try to ensure that such items of huge significance to the Jewish people are not held privately but instead are available as part of the heritage of the Jewish people.”
Living history: Just days before the Feb. 18 auction at Kestenbaum & Company, members of the two Romanian Jewish communities to whom the registries had belonged learned of the impending sale and wrote to the auctioneer asking that it be canceled. One letter was from the Jewish community of Oradea in Romania, whose more than 30,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz by the Nazis in May-June 1944. The other item was a registry that contains a handwritten list of all Jewish burials in what is today Cluj/Napoca, Romania, between the years 1836 and 1899. Most of the city’s 16,000 Jews were murdered in Auschwitz and the community’s offices were “ransacked and robbed.”
Deeply complex: In an email, Daniel Kestenbaum, the founding chairman of the auction house, wrote that the items were withdrawn from auction to give the communities time to “present necessary documentary evidence” of ownership. On its website, Kestenbaum & Company said the seller of the registries is a “scholarly businessman who for decades has exerted enormous effort to rescue and preserve historical artifacts that would otherwise have been destroyed — either willfully or due to neglect.” It said the registries were “saved from certain destruction in the horrifying war years and through the [subsequent] decades of repression and institutional neglect” that make the matter of their ultimate title “deeply complex.”
🇮🇱🇦🇪 Changing Times: New York Times columnist Tom Friedman posits that “something big seems to be stirring” in the burgeoning ties between Israel and the UAE — bigger than previous peace deals with Egypt or Jordan. And if the Saudis follow suit, “their participation could create new energy for an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution… Then you really do have a new Middle East.” [NYTimes]
🌳 New Lease on Life: Lawrence Garbuz, the New Rochelle lawyer who was considered “patient zero” in New York, spoke to The Wall Street Journal’s Leslie Brody about his life one year later, and how he “feels deep gratitude for the joys of being alive — his family, his Orthodox Jewish community and the beauty of a tree near his doorstep.” [WSJ]
🏕️ Building Trust: In Newsweek, Dr. Mohammed Al-Nabari, former mayor of the Hura Bedouin village in Israel’s Negev, explains how the COVID-19 vaccine was successfully rolled out in a population often skeptical of government-provided medicine. “Effectively getting people to receive vaccines in hard-to-reach communities requires bottom-up, grassroots problem-solving generated from within the community itself.” [Newsweek]
📚 Back Again: The Atlantic’s Helen Lewis explores “What happened to Jordan Peterson?,” the once-wildly popular conservative provocateur who “dropped out of sight” amid a struggle with drug addiction, but is now back with a new book, Beyond Order. “The Peterson of Beyond Order, that preacher of personal responsibility, dances around the question of whether his own behavior might have contributed to his breakdown.” [Atlantic]
👶 Be Fruitful: In the Deseret News, Bethany Mandel writes about the upsides of having a large family. Mandel, who announced she is pregnant with her fifth child, wrote that in her research she “discovered a strong-willed cohort of mothers bucking the trends. They’re buying up minivans, bunkbeds and double-wide (sometimes triple-wide) strollers. Like me, many of these parents are religious. From Jews to Catholics, and from evangelicals to Latter-day Saints, they seem to take Genesis seriously.” [DeseretNews]
Around the Web
🚔 Legal Shield: Israel is moving to protect hundreds of citizens who might be subject to war crimes probes by the International Criminal Court, including Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
🤝 Bridge Building: Gantz said yesterday that Israel will develop a “special security arrangement” with new allies the UAE and Bahrain, with a focus on countering Iran.
✈️ Slow Open: The Israeli cabinet approved a plan to reopen Ben-Gurion Airport but limit arrivals to 3,000 Israelis per day, who will be subject to heightened home quarantine tracking.
📦 Vaccine Dustup: Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit criticized Netanyahu for sending vaccines to allies without consulting the cabinet first — an initiative since halted.
🚢 Set Sail: An Israeli-owned cargo ship that was targeted in a blast Israel blamed on Iran is now back at sea after docking in Dubai for repairs.
💉 Jab Jeers: The Palestinian Authority is facing criticism for diverting some COVID-19 vaccines intended for medical workers to senior politicians and soccer players.
📼 Oral History: Anthropologist Clinton Bailey has donated 50 years of photos, audio recordings and studies of Israel’s Bedouin communities to the National Library of Israel.
⚖️ Behind Bars: Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar was sentenced to two years in Israeli prison after pleading guilty to membership of an outlawed group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
😡 Sidelined: Senate Democrats are unhappy that Biden launched a military strike on Iranian sites in Syria without first consulting with — or informing — Congress.
💸 Local Leadership: Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is donating $150 million to Harvard University to fund a program to provide training to mayors around the world.
📈 Big Bet: Oscar Health, the health startup co-founded by Joshua Kushner, raised $1.4 billion in its expanded IPO.
📝 Falsely Accused: Former White House trade advisor Peter Navarro reportedly falsely accused former Deputy National Security Advisor Victoria Coates of being “Anonymous” in a 15-page dossier sent to Trump.
🤨 Huh? Amazon tweaked the new icon for its app after critics claimed it looked similar to Adolf Hitler’s infamous mustache.
📱 Perilous Posts: Christian Barranco, who is running for New Jersey’s State Assembly, has posted images of swastikas on social media while comparing Democrats to Nazis.
🇬🇧 Across the Pond: A Palestinian activist in the U.K. Labour Party has lodged a legal complaint over the party’s hiring of a former IDF intelligence officer to run its social media.
🍿 Silver Screen: Israeli singer and actress Noa Kirel will star in and produce an untitled movie described as a “globe-spanning escapist event film.”
🎞️ Coming Soon: The documentary “The Meaning of Hitler” has signed a deal for North American distribution with IFC films.
🚘 Inspiring Plates: In The Wall Street Journal, Alan Ripp details his journey to track down the owner of a “mensch” vanity license plate in New York City.
🗞️ Media Watch: New York Times reporter Lisa Lerer was promoted to national political correspondent. Gideon Lichfield, the editor in chief of MIT Technology Review, will become the global editorial director of Wired.
👩🏻 Transition: Rachael Baitel, former deputy chief of staff at the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, is now chief of staff at healthcare firm Russell Street Ventures.
🕯️ Remembering: Civil rights activist Vernon Jordan, an advisor to former President Bill Clinton who called for restoring ties between Jewish and Black communities, died at 85. Roger Englander, an Emmy-winning TV producer, died at 94.
Song of the Day
Popular Israeli singer Ishay Ribo has released a new single titled “Sibat Hasibot” (Reason of Reasons).
Australian developer, colloquially known as “High-Rise Harry,” builder of more than 75,000 residential units, Harry Triguboff turns 88… Former Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel, Dalia Dorner turns 87… Author and professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, Michael Laban Walzer turns 86… Researcher in Yiddish language at Sweden’s Lund University’s Centre for Languages and Literature, Henrik Lewis-Guttermann turns 72… Best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, Ron Chernow turns 72… President of CBS News, Susan Zirinsky turns 69… Retired chief investment officer of Neuberger Berman, former president of AIPAC, Michael Kassen turns 68… Fashion designer and founder of an eponymous publicly traded company, Steve Madden turns 63… NPR personality and host of “This American Life,” Ira Jeffrey Glass turns 62…
Director of State Policy for New York State, he is a Dean Emeritus of Pace University School of Law, David Yassky turns 57… Former MLB pitcher and pitching coach, Scott David Radinsky turns 53… Co-founder and co-president of Clarity Capital, and co-founder and trustee of the Natan Fund, David Steinhardt turns 52… Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Eli Lilly and Company, Anat Hakim turns 52… Co-Chair of JFNA’s National Young Leadership, he is a co-owner of the Miami Marlins as a member of the Jeter investment group, Ari Jack Ackerman turns 50… British rabbi who has run for mayor of London (2016) and mayor of Manchester (2017), Shneur Zalman Odze turns 40… Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and an adjunct professor of law at NYU, Danielle R. Sassoon turns 35… Communications director for DC37, NYC’s largest municipal workers union, Freddi Goldstein turns 31… Member of AJR, an indie pop multi-instrumentalist trio, together with his two brothers, Ryan Metzger turns 27… Steven Kantor…