👋 Good Wednesday morning!
In Berlin yesterday, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin told German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier that he is confident Europe will “stand by us” in countering the International Criminal Court probe.
Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi arrived in Moscow yesterday, and is slated to meet this afternoon with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, for a discussion expected to focus on Syria.
President Joe Biden said yesterday that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo should resign if an investigation confirms multiple allegations of sexual harassment.
The Senate confirmed Isabella Casillas Guzman as the administrator of the Small Business Administration by a vote yesterday of 81 to 17.
Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in South Korea this morning after a visit to Japan yesterday.
cup ‘o Joe
The Jewish Marine behind a proud D.C. coffee institution
Inside Compass Coffee’s new 50,000-square-foot roastery, co-founder Michael Haft poured a glass of cold brew from a pitcher in a mini fridge. The roastery is slated to open to the public with a full-service cafe in a month and a half — or, more likely, longer. “In construction, you always say six weeks,” Haft joked. On a recent tour of the new facility in Northeast Washington — which will eventually produce 10 million pounds of coffee a year — Haft spoke to Jewish Insider‘s Gabby Deutchabout being one of the few Jewish Marines, opening a coffee business with no coffee experience, and trying to get by in the pandemic.
The few, the proud: Haft’s path to becoming a coffee entrepreneur was unconventional, particularly for a Jewish kid from a well-to-do family in Northwest Washington. Haft decided to join the Marines after a summer finance internship in Bethesda. “I hated it so much,” said Haft, who at the time was an undergrad at Washington University in St. Louis. The idea sounded crazy at first: “Nobody in my family is in the military. I don’t think I knew anyone in the military,” he said, and he only ended up meeting one other Jewish person in the Marines. It was 2007 — “not a great time in Iraq,” he acknowledged. “My parents were quite upset. They’re like, ‘We didn’t raise you to do this,’” he recounted. But eventually they came around and supported his decision.
Taste test: When Haft and his friend Harrison Suarez left the military, the pair knew they wanted to go into business together, but they weren’t sure in what field. Their first plan was to do digital publishing, which they attempted with an e-book on coffee, called Perfect Coffee at Home. They quickly learned that digital publishing — though “a lot of fun” — was “not a good business,” Haft said, and “we lost money doing it.” So instead, they took what they learned in writing the e-book and scaled up.
Lay leader: In the seven years since Haft and Suarez opened their first cafe in Washington’s Shaw neighborhood, Compass has become a local favorite. “You don’t meet many people like him in Washington. There are a lot of lawyers. There are a lot of government folks. There are very few coffee entrepreneurs,”said Rabbi Aaron Miller, associate rabbi at Washington Hebrew Congregation. Each Wednesday morning, Haft kicks off Washington Hebrew’s “Espresso Shot of Torah” parsha discussion by teaching some 50 regular attendees about coffee. Compass has also served other communities during the pandemic: The company recently hosted a chai tasting with the Washington region’s Muslim Bar Association, and during the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, a Compass van would deliver water and snacks.
Staying alive: Before the pandemic, Compass operated 12 cafes in Washington and Northern Virginia. Many are in now-empty business districts, and six locations closed last March. “We moved everybody who was willing to do construction out of coffee shops, and taught them how to do construction,” Haft said, gesturing at the people working in the roastery. “Over there, he used to be a barista,” Haft noted, pointing to one employee, “and now he’s doing the metal decking.” But it hasn’t been an easy year: “We’re trying to stay alive as a business.”
dos iz nay
Duolingo is introducing its first Yiddish-language course next month
Everyone knows a few stock Yiddish phrases, but for those who want to expand their knowledge of the language, there are few convenient channels. Now, Duolingo, the popular language-learning app, is introducing its first Yiddish-language course, scheduled to launch on April 6, according to a spokesperson. “For Yiddish, we were getting a lot of interest,” Myra Awodey, Duolingo’s lead community specialist, told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel, “mostly from people who were heritage learners or who wanted to pick up the connection.”
Unique approach: The course, which has been in the works for about five years, represents Duolingo’s effort to branch out into niche languages, including Hawaiian and Navajo. Yiddish, however, which is written using Hebrew characters and sounds similar to German, presented a new set of challenges. “One of the things that we decided pretty early on really needed to happen was a new kind of lesson type that would allow us to teach pronunciation and the script,” said Awodey, who adds that the course includes listening as well as syllable selection lessons. “We kind of parceled out the unit of learning.”
Creative input: Duolingo enlisted a group of contributors to advise on the course, including Hasidic Jews as well as other native Yiddish speakers like Meena Viswanath, who comes from a family of well-known Yiddishists. Viswanath’s aunt is the editor of the Yiddish Forward, and her brother, Arun, recently translated the Harry Potter series into Yiddish. Mordkhe Schaechter, Visnawath’s grandfather, was a prominent Yiddish linguist. “He was very, very adamant that people should be using it in their day-to-day life,” said Viswanath.
Yiddish revival: With that view in mind, Viswanath hopes that the course, which uses a standardized version of Yiddish developed in the 20th century, will help revive the language for any number of people who are interested in learning to use it. “I hope that what people come away from the course with is that Yiddish is part of a culture and has this fully formed language, grammar and spelling,” said Viswanath, “and is not just a language that you tell punch lines in or curse people out in.”
Outside enthusiasm: Yiddish-language experts are enthused by the new course. “Duolingo’s Yiddish course is a welcome development: anything that promotes Yiddish language study can only be a good thing, and the more people who avail themselves of the richness of Yiddish, the better,” said Eddy Portnoy, an academic advisor and exhibitions curator at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. “In coming years,” he added, “it will be interesting to see students in the YIVO summer Yiddish program who got started by using an app.”
on the hill
Democrats reintroduce grant bill to benefit charitable nonprofits
Congressional Democrats this week reintroduced a bill creating a new grant program to help charitable nonprofit organizations weather the pandemic, by providing resources to retain staff, meet the greater demands for services and hire unemployed workers, reports Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod.
Details: The legislation, known as the WORK NOW Act, was first introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in May 2020. The $50 billion grant program the bill aims to create would be administered by the Treasury Department, which would provide block grants to state and local governments, who in turn would provide funding to nonprofits at their discretion. Grant funding would go primarily to covering salaries up to $50,000 per employee, as well as other employee benefits, personal protective equipment and some operating and program costs. Grants to individual nonprofits would be capped at $3 million.
Creative solutions: Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s vice president for government affairs, praised the bill as a “creative, yet straightforward” way to address the twin issues of funding challenges for nonprofits and unemployment. “At this particularly difficult time, when the drying up of their own private sources of income are leaving them bereft of resources, nonprofits are still being asked to step up and help address America’s most pressing needs. At the same time, the nation is confronted with the plight of millions of unemployed Americans and their families,” Cohen said. “This legislation fuses these needs together, providing relief to both nonprofits and the unemployed, and ultimately helping them, in turn, help our nation.”
Round two: The bill failed to gain traction when it was first introduced last year, in part due to a lack of Republican support, according to Orthodox Union Advocacy Center executive director Nathan Diament. “For whatever reasons, we didn’t have Republican support for it. We don’t have Republican support for now, it only has Democratic co-sponsors,” Diament told JI. “The relief packages that moved last year did move on a bipartisan basis and Republicans had other priorities. But I don’t think there was anything as far as we know substantively against it.” Diament believes “there’s a reasonable prospect” of gaining bipartisan support for the legislation this term.
Also on Capitol Hill: The House of Representatives passeda bill last night extending the deadline for Paycheck Protection Program applications until May 31 by a vote of 415 to 3. Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY), Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) voted against the measure. The provision is one that nonprofit groups had hoped to see included in the recent American Rescue Plan relief bill.
Iran attempted to undermine Trump’s reelection, declassified intelligence report finds
Iran’s military and intelligence services attempted to undermine former President Donald Trump’s reelection prospects, according to a declassified report from the U.S. intelligence community.
From the top: The report, declassified Monday by Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, concluded that “Iran carried out a multi-pronged covert influence campaign intended to undercut former President Trump’s reelection prospects — though without directly promoting his rivals — undermine public confidence in the electoral process and U.S. institutions, and sow division and exacerbate societal tensions in the U.S.”The report further assessed that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei authorized the “whole of government” campaign, which was carried out using “overt and covert messaging and cyber operations.”
Goals: Iran’s efforts were “driven in part by a perception that the regime faced acute threats from the U.S.” under Trump, the report details. The efforts were aimed largely at “sowing discord in the United States and exacerbating societal tensions” and influencing U.S. Iran policy through methods such as promoting anti-Trump social media content, spreading pro-regime messages and attacking pressure points such as the COVID-19 pandemic response, the pandemic’s economic impacts and domestic civil unrest.
🗳️ Non-Issue: New York Times contributing columnist Shmuel Rosner suggests that President Joe Biden is a “nonentity” in Israel’s upcoming national election, a sharp contrast from the past three votes while Donald Trump was in office. “An Israeli election with no America as a background noise is disturbingly strange. Is this another proof that America is less interested in the country that much depends on its support?” [NYTimes]
⚠️ Behind Bars: The Atlantic’s Graeme Wood spotlights Xiyue Wang, the Princeton graduate student who was imprisoned in Iran on trumped-up charges of spying for more than three years. “The regime that held him, Wang came to feel, had no intention of altering its behavior if the United States made concessions: This was its true self, and not the product of American aggression.” [Atlantic]
😷 Long Haul: Israel’s largely successful COVID vaccine rollout is now contending with small “hardened pockets of resistance,” which could serve as a stumbling block to achieving herd immunity, reports Felicia Schwartz in The Wall Street Journal. “The further you go the more difficult it becomes,” said Health Minister Yuli Edelstein. “It’s exactly like running a marathon.” [WSJ]
😧 Faking It: In The Atlantic, Helen Lewis explores the phenomenon of people who fake a history of oppression, from Rachel Dolezal to Jessica Krug and even those who lied about surviving the Holocaust or 9/11. “A scar on history as big as the Holocaust attracts troubled people who want to affix their own suffering to a grand narrative.” [Atlantic]
Around the Web
🌎 Eye Abroad: Richard Blum, the husband of 87-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), is reportedly seeking an ambassador post, which could provide a path for her to resign amid growing questions over her fitness for office.
💥 Air Strike: Israeli forces reportedly carried out air strikes on suburbs of Damascus last night.
🚀 Next Generation: Israel announced yesterday it had completed an upgrade of the Iron Dome rocket defense system, including the ability to intercept drones.
🤝 New Friends: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised yesterday that four more Arab countries will soon normalize relations with Israel.
🤰 Good News: A new study from Israel indicates that pregnant women who receive the COVID-19 vaccine could pass on protection to their fetuses.
💉 Jab Time: 60,000 COVID-19 vaccines funded by the World Health Organization’s COVAX program arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport this morning, bound for the Palestinian Authority.
🚨 Making a Scene: Israeli Arabs held a flash mob in Tel Aviv yesterday to protest an uptick in gang- and crime-related shootings in the community.
🛬 Laser Target: A Virgin Atlantic flight from London to Tel Aviv was forced to turn back earlier this week after a laser beam was shone at pilots in the cockpit.
📈 Big Deal: Israeli online stock brokerage eToro will go public in a $10 billion SPAC deal with backing from banking entrepreneur Betsy Cohen and SoftBank.
💰 Startup Nation: Japan’s NTT Finance announced that it will invest in Israeli tech startups alongside venture capital firm OurCrowd.
🏠 Mystery Buyer: Former Goldman Sachs executive Michael Daffey reportedly purchased Jeffrey Epstein’s Manhattan home for $51 million in cash.
📺 Hollywood: CBS Studios is working on an American remake of “Shtisel,” written by “Insatiable” creator Lauren Gussis.
🎥 Silver Screen: Author Tony Robbins is part of team working on a feature film based on the Holocaust memoir Man’s Search for Meaning by psychiatrist Viktor Frankl.
💼 New Posting: Joel Klein, a former New York City schools chancellor under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is joining the board of directors of Juul Labs.
🕯️ Remembering: Dr. Thafer Eliyahu, one of the last remaining Jews in Iraq, died at age 61.
Song of the Day
The Shalva Band, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and top singers from the United Arab Emirates collaborated on an English, Hebrew and Arabic version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
CEO of Wilherst Developers and trustee of publicly traded Ramco-Gershenson Properties Trust, Mark K. Rosenfeld turns 75… Oral and maxillofacial surgeon in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Michael Iczkovitz turns 72… Susan Schwartz Sklarin turns 66… Founder and CEO of Laurel Strategies, Alan H. H. Fleischmann turns 56… Director of Legislative Affairs at B’nai B’rith International, Eric A. Fusfield turns 54… Lead field/floor reporter for CBS Sports football and basketball broadcasts, Tracy Wolfson turns 46… VP at Las Vegas-based Gold Coast Promotions assisting non-profits in fundraising, Richard Metzler turns 44… Hasidic singer and composer, Lipa Schmeltzer turns 43… Television writer and producer, he co-created the Netflix animated series “Big Mouth,” Andrew Goldberg turns 43…
Actor, music producer and stand-up comedian, best known as Gustavo Rocque on the Nickelodeon television series “Big Time Rush,” Stephen Kramer Glickman turns 42… Musician and digital strategy executive, Rick Sorkin turns 42… Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, Judge Robert Joshua Luck turns 42… Digital reporter and producer for ABC News, Emily Claire Friedman Cohen turns 36… Assistant professor at GW University in the School of Media and Public Affairs, Ethan Porter turns 36… Grants officer at the Open Society Foundations, Jackie Fishman turns 35… Director of field operations at Uber, Annaliese Rosenthal turns 34… Los Angeles-based tech journalist and founder of the TechSesh blog, Jessica Elizabeth Naziri turns 33… Analyst at CrossBorder Solutions, Zachary Silver turns 27… MBA candidate at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, Zach Sherman turns 25…