👋 Good Wednesday morning!
What does the future look like for in-person conferences? That’s the question after AIPAC announced on Monday that it was canceling its 2022 policy conference.
The American Jewish Committee is planning to hold its annual Global Forum in person next May, and the Jewish Federations of North America will hold a hybrid General Assembly, limiting in-person participation to 500 attendees while providing virtual programming for a wider audience, both organizations informed JI. J Street plans to hold its annual national conference in person in April 2022, with a virtual option for those who cannot physically attend. “Of course we’ll be closely monitoring the guidance of the CDC and local health authorities as to the best ways to hold the conference safely,” Logan Bayroff, J Street’s vice president of communications, told JI.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will discuss and vote today on the “Pray Safe Act,” which would create a database of information to help houses of worship and faith-based organizations protect themselves.
Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, returns to Capitol Hill today to discuss the Biden administration’s USAID budget request.
The House Appropriations Committee approved a budget holding Nonprofit Security Grant Program funding steady at $180 million, but Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R-FL) indicated during the committee meeting that some members will continue pursuing a funding increase. “I think we can do better, and I look forward to working with the committee on doing better,” Díaz-Balart said.
The Appropriations Committee meeting later engaged in a shouting match during debate over a GOP amendment putting the brakes on the Department of Defense efforts to root out extremists within the military ranks until the DoD provides further information on these efforts to Congress.
Four Iranian nationals affiliated with the country’s intelligence apparatus sought to kidnap a Brooklyn-based journalist and human rights activist and transport her to Iran, a federal indictment unsealed on Wednesday revealed.
Former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) was announced as President Joe Biden’s nominee for ambassador to Turkey.
Lawmakers praise new Israeli government’s support for bipartisanship after Mideast CODEL
Months after partisan fights over Israel reached a fever pitch during the recent war between Israel and Hamas, seven House lawmakers who traveled to Israel, the West Bank and Qatar last week told Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod that they were heartened by the new Israeli government’s commitment to ensuring that the U.S.-Israel relationship remains bipartisan.
On the agenda: The 10-member delegation from the House Foreign Affairs Committee met with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, MK Mansour Abbas, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other PA officials, Palestinian business leaders and Qatari officials. The trip also included a July 4 celebration at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, attendance at the inauguration of Israeli President Isaac Herzog and a visit to the U.S. Central Command airbase in Qatar.
Man in charge: The group met for approximately two hours with Bennett, who received high praise from both Republicans and Democrats. “Prime Minister Bennett is really committed to ensuring an open and honest relationship with the United States as the close friends and allies with shared values that we have,” Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) said. Republicans, with whom former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had forged increasingly close ties, said they were confident that the relationship between Republicans and Israel would remain strong amid the change in government. “We still admire Prime Minister Netanyahu on [the security] front. But I was impressed with Naftali Bennett. I really was,” Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) said. “I saw a similar strength and resolve on countering terrorism and countering Iran in Bennett.”
Next up: Republicans who spoke to JI were somewhat less effusive in their praise of Lapid — who is center-left politically, in comparison with the more right-wing Bennett — although Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) noted that the group’s meeting with Lapid was much shorter than the meeting with Bennett. Barr called Lapid “charismatic, jovial, committed to the U.S. alliance and friendship” but added that “clearly he does have a different kind of approach than Bennett and Netanyahu.”
Mending fences: The new Israeli government, and Lapid in particular, has made it a priority to repair bipartisan relations with the U.S., which became strained under the Netanyahu government. Democrats said they have every expectation those efforts will succeed. “We had some frank conversations [with Lapid] about how that has ebbed and flowed over the past couple of years, and how, in some circumstances, the United States’ relationship with Israel was used as a bit of a wedge issue back home here in the United States,” Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) said. “He made clear his honest appreciation of the fact that we had come with a bipartisan delegation and his desire to see the U.S.-Israel relationship be one that is firmly bipartisan.”
Flip side: When the delegation traveled to Ramallah, in the West Bank, the PA’s “pay for slay” programs to the families of imprisoned and deceased terrorists were a major topic during a three-hour conversation with PA leadership, lawmakers said, although they offered differing accounts of the PA’s receptiveness to those discussions. “I heard a lot of doublespeak,” Barr said. Some Democrats offered a more optimistic readout. “They understand that that is central to really moving forward in their relationship with the United States. They understand that and they’re working toward addressing it,” Deutch said. Rep. French Hill (R-AR) fell somewhere in the middle, saying that the officials initially appeared to have softened on the issue, compared to previous conversations, but backpedaled during the meeting to a more hardline stance.
The inspiration for Joshua Henkin’s ‘Morningside Heights’ is close to home
For Joshua Henkin, wrestling Morningside Heights, his newly released fourth novel, to the ground has been a long personal journey that spanned eight years and 3,000 pages of drafts. The book tells the fictional story of Pru Steiner’s marriage to Spence Robin, a brilliant Columbia University professor, who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Focusing mostly on Spence’s family, Henkin gives color to a clan navigating a challenging disease and complex relationships. Henkin told Jewish Insider’s Jacob Millerthat writing about the disease presented him with a new challenge: “Fiction has to familiarize the unfamiliar and defamiliarize the familiar,” Henkin explained.
About the book: Spence’s character, a MacArthur “genius” grant recipient who teaches Shakespeare at the Ivy League school, is closely modeled after Henkin’s late father, Louis Henkin, who taught law at Columbia (which is in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan) and also developed Alzheimer’s, albeit later in life than Spence. After Henkin’s mother attended a session for caregivers at the local JCC, Henkin, who teaches writing and runs the master of fine arts program at Brooklyn College, began writing a novella that drew on imagined conversations from that class; that work, many permutations later, became Morningside Heights, which is published by Pantheon.
East side, West side: The book’s title harkens to an era when the poorer neighborhoods of Manhattan’s Upper West Side bore “meaningful differences” compared to the wealthier Upper East Side. “The neighborhood was a character in the book in a certain way,” explains Henkin. “I grew up in Morningside Heights and I went to Ramaz [a Modern Orthodox day school] on the [Upper] East Side of Manhattan,” Henkin reminisced. “I was the son of intellectuals and the relatively poor kid at a wealthy school where my friends had TVs in every room in their apartment and we had a lot of books and a TV we kept in the closet.”
Faith and family: At the same time as Henkin’s characters are navigating health issues and interpersonal relationships, they also grapple with their Jewish identity, reflecting the complex tensions of Jewish practice in contemporary America. Henkin explained that the inspiration for the religious tensions portrayed in the novel came from a familiar place. “I grew up in a complicated Jewish home,” he explained. Henkin’s grandfather was Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, a rabbi so widely respected in the Orthodox community that Henkin jokes his last name earns him free meals in certain circles. “My father was frum until the day he died, and my mother grew up in a Reform family and was much more secular,” he added.
Getting started: Henkin traces his career as a novelist to a job at Tikkun magazine as the first reader of fiction manuscripts, where he pored over many submissions that did not make it to publication. “I didn’t necessarily think I could do any better, but I felt inspired. I thought if other people were willing to try and risk failure, I should be willing to risk failure too,” Henkin explained.
The Cuban Jewish entrepreneur behind 305 Fitness
When 305 Fitness shut down its in-person cardio dance classes and — like so many other fitness companies — began offering free workouts on YouTube in March 2021, 305 founder and CEO Sadie Kurzban offered live-streamed cardio dance classes from her parents’ house in Miami. For Kurzban, 31, who started the company after winning an entrepreneurship competition as a senior at Brown University, 305 is more than just a dance class. It’s a community, and a way of life — one that investors have bought into, pouring more than $15 million into the venture she founded in 2011. “One of the ways that we stand out is it’s not just a good workout, although it is. It’s also just so good for your mind, body and soul,” Kurzban told Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch during a recent Zoom interview. She joined the call from a lounge chair on Miami Beach.
How it started: Kurzban majored in economics at Brown but was unsure what to do with the degree. “I was kind of wandering through college and figuring it out,” Kurzban said. “I knew that [I would do] something, probably, where I was some kind of leader or teacher because that’s where I get the most fulfillment.” She started working on turning her passion into a business a year before graduation, and in her senior year she won $25,000 toward the project in Brown’s Entrepreneurship Pitch Competition.
How it’s going: She took that seed money with the dream of building “a single studio in New York that felt like a nightclub with the best talent. Obviously, we’ve grown bigger since,” said Kurzban. 305 Fitness now also has studios in Boston and Washington, and Kurzban hopes to open more; it also has an online membership program, “305 At Home,” where people can stream classes on their phones or TVs; and the company certifies instructors around the country, who can teach 305-inspired classes outside the company’s three brick-and-mortar locations.
Ms. 305: Raised on Key Biscayne, a barrier island across from Miami, Kurzban has no formal dance training. “I’m half-Cuban, half-Jewish. I think the dancing comes a little bit more from the Jewish side. It’s just a lot of love of music and confidence and expressing yourself through your body,” she explained. “Latin people, we are a very expressive bunch and do a lot of that through physical humor and movement.” The name “305” is an homage to her hometown (Miami’s area code is 305), and the company’s vibe is “Miami Vice,” with neon blues, pinks and greens coloring the studios and branded apparel.
Jewish journey: The daughter of liberal activists, Kurzban was taught to “question everything, including Jewish teachings.” She attended Jewish day school as a kid and learned Hebrew for an hour and a half daily — “Sadly, I know none of it” now, she admits — and is now trying to find ways for Judaism to fit in with her life. “Friday nights were the time to get together, [and] we did the blessings [growing up],” she recalled, but her family became less observant when her father’s parents died. “[My father] allowed us to choose for ourselves what we believed in,” Kurzban explained. “I ended up marrying a guy who’s Jewish and whose family really relates to it. So definitely, it’s in my culture and I feel very culturally Jewish. But like many people our age, we are figuring out what it means for us to be Jewish in 2021 and beyond.”
🤝 Next Steps: In Foreign Affairs, Yohanan Plesner, a former MK and current president of the Israel Democracy Institute, offers steps the Bennett-Lapid government must take to reconcile the extremes in Israeli government and society. “To a degree that might surprise international observers, Israel’s internal debate has increasingly focused on the country’s character and identity. How much emphasis should be placed on the nation’s Jewishness relative to its status as a democracy, and who gets to decide? Should laws passed by a simple majority in the Israeli Knesset be the final say on all matters, or should an independent judiciary determine whether these laws contradict Israel’s Declaration of Independence and the nascent constitution,” Plesner writes, recommending electoral reforms and changes to the Basic Laws that better fit a demographically changing society. [ForeignAffairs]
🪖 Growing Pains: In Al-Monitor, Ben Caspit expounds upon the warning issued by Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, the outgoing deputy head of the IDF, that Israel’s shrinking army is too small to handle attacks from multiple fronts, which Caspit argues was underscored by the multi-front battle fought by the army and security forces in May. “The simultaneous violence rang alarm bells for the top IDF’s brass given the police’s initial failure over several days to quell the domestic rioting even as the IDF was bombing targets in Gaza. This convergence of threats prompted doubts among senior office holders regarding the IDF’s capacity to deal effectively with a simultaneous attack on Israel by Hezbollah, Hamas, Arab-Israeli citizens and perhaps other elements such as Iran, its proxy Shiite militias or the Islamic State group in Sinai.” [AlMonitor]
Big Plans: In Tablet, Flora Tsapovsky previews the plans to turn the Sea of Galilee into a luxury resort destination. “The common thread uniting the new openings is opulence that targets high-end clientele in a way that’s unusual for Tiberias—a city whose socioeconomic status is lower than the national average. [Omri Yizhak, the owner of St. Urban Wine Bar in Tiberias], who has family ties to the area, said: ‘I’m 33, and ever since I can remember myself, I’ve been hearing the same thing every day about Tiberias: Wow, there’s so much potential here!’ He’s part of a familiar pattern, hardly unique to Israel: young people returning to their childhood landscapes to infuse them with an upgraded—in Yizhak’s words, ‘Tel Avivian’—flair.” [Tablet]
Around the Web
🤝 Deal or No Deal: Israeli officials are reportedly considering a request for advanced technological assistance from the U.S. in the event that world powers reach a new nuclear agreement with Iran.
🚀 Looking for More: A senior IRGC commander urged militias in Iraq to increase attacks against U.S. military targets during a meeting in Baghdad last week.
🪙 Big Dig: Archeologists working in the Judean Desert discovered two coins dating back nearly two millennia, to the time of the Jewish revolt against the Romans.
🇮🇱🇦🇪 Grand Opening: The UAE’s Ambassador to Israel Mohamed Al Khaja and Israel’s President Isaac Herzog inaugurated the UAE’s new embassy in Tel Aviv earlier today.
👜 Own Path: In an interview with The New York Times, Julia Haart, the protagonist of the upcoming Netflix reality series “My Unorthodox Life,” discusses her journey away from haredi Judaism and into the world of fashion.
🀥 Tile Time: A new book about the history of mahjong explores how the Chinese tile game found popularity in Jewish American social circles during the mid-20th century.
👨💼 You’re Fired: The Trump Organization removed CFO Allen Weisselberg from his leadership posts at the company’s subsidiaries following his recent indictment on criminal tax charges.
👔 You’re Hired: Apollo Global Management announced that David Krone, who previously served as chief of staff to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), has joined the firm as a senior partner and its global head of public policy.
🌊 Making Waves: Eric Reiner and Daniel Povitsky’sNew York-based venture capital fund Vine Ventures recently closed a $50 million seed fund after just over a year in operation, according to the Wall Street Journal.
💸 Bidder Battle: Monmouth Real Estate Investment Corp. reportedly received a takeover bid from Barry Sternlicht’s Starwood Capital Group, likely endangering acquisition plans from Sam Zell’s Equity Commonwealth.
🎓 I Quit: Scholar Cornel West announced his resignation from Harvard University, citing in part the “anti-Palestinian prejudices of the Harvard administration.”
🎒 School Blues: Parents and teachers in Rhode Island are pushing back against the decision by some school districts to begin classes on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.
📸 Making the Rounds: Conference of Presidents leaders William Daroff and Malcolm Hoenlein met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett yesterday and Israeli Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu today.
Pic of the Day
Mike Bloomberg hosted a book party for Gary Ginsberg’s new book, “First Friends,” on New York’s Upper East Side on Monday evening. Prominent attendees included Tina and Steven Price, Howard Wolfson, Kevin Sheekey, Michael Lynton, Susanna Aaron, Sam Ginsberg, Lili Lynton, Patti Harris, Cheryl and Blair Effron, Cathy and Walter Isaacson, Jake Siewert, Stu Loeser, Wes Moore, Tammy Haddad, Kate Bolduan, and David Gergen.
Chairman and CEO of both Cantor Fitzgerald and BGC Partners, Howard Lutnick turns 60…
Architect and designer, he is most identified with Habitat 67, Moshe Safdie turns 83… Former MLB pitcher for the Giants, White Sox, Cubs and Orioles, now a sportscaster and author, Steve Stone turns 74… Los Angeles resident, Susan Farrell turns 74… Film producer, best known for the “Lethal Weapon” series, the first two “Die Hard” movies and the “Matrix” trilogy, Joel Silver turns 69… SVP and wealth management advisor at the Los Angeles office of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, Scott Shagrin turns 60… Venture capitalist and a partner at Accel Partners, James W. Breyer turns 60… Columnist for the Chicago Tribune until two weeks ago, Phil Rosenthal turns 58… Principal at Oakland-based Full Court Press Communications, Daniel Eli Cohen turns 52… Member of the Washington State Senate, David S. Frockt turns 52… Rapper and record producer from Brooklyn known as “Ill Bill,” he is the producer, founder and CEO of Uncle Howie Records, William “Bill” Braunstein turns 49… Professor in the department of genetics at the Harvard Medical School, David Emil Reich, Ph.D. turns 47… Retired mixed martial artist, now a life coach, Emily Peters-Kagan turns 40… Editor-in-chief of the Washington Free Beacon, Eliana Yael Johnson turns 37… Interior designer, Tehillah Braun turns 34… Professional golfer with four tournament wins in the Asian and European tours, David Lipsky turns 33… Founder at Bashert Group, LLC, Daniel B. Jeydel turns 32… Program officer at Crown Family Philanthropies in Chicago, Rachel Giattino turns 31… Rabbi Menachem Shemtov… Special projects associate at GlossGenius, she also operates the Instagram feed called Second Date Shadchan, Elizabeth Morgan “Lizzy” Brenner turns 27…