👋 Good Thursday morning!
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency in response to Tropical Storm Ida, as severe weather, including flash floods, hit the city last night.
Soon after, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul made a similar announcement for New York State.
In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency and urged everyone in the area to stay home. At least eight people were killed in New Jersey and New York as a result of the storm, CNN reports.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will meet with Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh very soon, a source in the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed to JI on Thursday. In contrast to previous such meetings between Israeli and Egyptian leaders, this one will be public.
Sisi is set to take part in a summit with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian King Abdullah in Cairo today, for talks about a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“It’s a really special time,” Sandberg told the rabbis. “I definitely have a deep feeling when the New Year starts. We have a new opportunity. It’s kind of nice that it coincides with the school year roughly every year because it’s a new opportunity for, I hope, learning, growing, gratitude, appreciation and tzedakah.”
President Joe Biden will hold a virtual event this afternoon with rabbis ahead of the High Holidays.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog released a video greeting for Diaspora Jewry, wishing “a year of health and of coming together” to all.
“On this Rosh Hashanah, I will be praying for the well-being of my immediate family, as well as my extended family: the people of Israel and the Jewish People at large,” Herzog said in the message, recorded at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.
Bennett is scheduled to deliver a Rosh Hashanah address on Friday at 9:30 ET in a live virtual event hosted by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Loomer swaps Florida congressional districts
Laura Loomer, the far-right conspiracy theorist and anti-Muslim provocateur notoriously banned from most major social media platforms, announced on Wednesday that she is mounting a primary challenge against six-term Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) in central Florida. Until recently, Loomer, 28, had been poised for a rematch in Florida’s 21st Congressional District, where last cycle she ran an unsuccessful campaign to unseat Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL), losing by 20 points despite a strong fundraising advantage. But Loomer switched districts this week to take on the 71-year-old Webster, setting up what is likely to be a heated generational showdown with a member of her own party, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel reports.
‘District-Shopper’: Loomer may be something of an awkward fit for the 11th district, which is the oldest in the country. While its boundaries could shift with a redrawn congressional map, the district currently stretches from Hernando County northwest to the vast retirement community known as the Villages. Loomer has yet to relocate, though she claims to have found a new residence in Lake County, west of Orlando, where she will be settling later this month. “I do not see how the Republicans there could support someone who moves from South Florida just to run in a primary,” said Steven Tauber, a professor of political science at the University of South Florida. “They will see her as a district-shopper.”
Criticism: Loomer received criticism after picking up endorsements from Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Paul Gosar (R-AZ), the controversial congressman whose connection with known white supremacist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes has recently drawn scrutiny. Loomer, however, dismissed such concerns. “I’ve gone to events with Nick Fuentes and Congressman Gosar before,” she told JI. “Look, I’m Jewish, and do I agree with everything Nick Fuentes has said?” she added. “No. Do I think his comments about the Holocaust in the past or some distasteful comments he’s made are, like I said, distasteful? Yes, absolutely. But just because I don’t agree with everything that he says, doesn’t mean that he should be banned, debanked or deplatformed.”
Follow the Money: In the interview with JI, Loomer railed against the social media platforms whose prohibitions against her she believes hindered her prospects in the last election, particularly as traditional campaigning was upended by the pandemic. Still, in her most recent campaign, Loomer managed to garner nearly $2.3 million with high-profile contributions from the likes of Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus and former U.S. Ambassador Eric Javits. “I hope that I’ll receive contributions from everybody who donated last time as well, but we’ll see,” she said. “I’m sure I’ll also expand on my donor list given that I’m running in another district, and it’s more favorable this time, so perhaps people will find it to be a better investment donating to me this time to primary a do-nothing Republican.”
Senate delegation set to meet with Lapid and Herzog while in Israel
A delegation of four Democratic senators arrived in Israel on Wednesday evening local time, and will meet with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and President Isaac Herzog, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rodreports.
On the ground: Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) arrived in Lebanon on Tuesday for meetings with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and others. In a joint statement prior to the trip, the senators said they planned to meet with members of the new Israeli government and Palestinian leadership. The Lapid meeting is set for Thursday and the Herzog meeting for Friday. Following meetings in Israel and the West Bank, Murphy and Ossoff will continue to Tunisia and Greece.
Rocky relationship: Murphy and Van Hollen led a letter last year urging Israel not to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. An early draft of that letter threatened that such a move would end bipartisan congressional support for Israel. Van Hollen told JI in June “the jury’s still out” on whether the new Israeli government would behave differently from that of Netanyahu.
Point of contention: Earlier Wednesday, Lapid addressed U.S. efforts to reopen the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem, calling the potential move a “bad idea.” The consulate has historically served as a base from which to conduct outreach to the Palestinians and was closed by the Trump administration in 2019. In May, Van Hollen spearheaded a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to reopen the consulate.
Bonus: The senators condemned Lebanon’s decision to import Iranian fuel and floated alternative proposals to resolve the fledgling country’s energy deficit.
Bringing Torah to the blockchain
The going rate these days for Noah’s Ark is $3,700. No, that’s not the cost of the physical ark Noah used to save Earth’s animals when God flooded the planet. Nor would that money get you a book about the famed boat or a painting depicting the Flood. That amount of money — equal to the current value of one coin of the cryptocurrency Ethereum — would get you a non-fungible token (NFT) of the Torah portion Noach, the section of the Torah where the classic biblical tale appears, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports. The parsha NFTs are part of NFTorah, a new project that is using cryptocurrency and digital assets to fund the writing of 18 Torah scrolls.
Transcendent technology: “We want to try and give a deeper, lasting, eternal value to the technology itself, that it can be used for something truly transcendent,” said Mordechai Lightstone, a Chabad-trained rabbi who co-founded NFTorah and also runs Tech Tribe, an organization for Jews who work in tech. “I want tech people to see that what they’re doing is something that has value to their Jewish selves as well.”
Big year: The buying and selling of NFTs exploded earlier this year, particularly after the $69 million sale of an NFT from the digital artist Beeple went viral in March 2021. “The idea is that scarcity creates value,” NPR explained at the time. NFTs are purchased with cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum and Bitcoin, which saw their value skyrocket during the pandemic.
How it works: NFTs are unique digital assets, and the transfer of NFTs is recorded on the blockchain, meaning that there is a digital ledger of all purchases of the assets. This generally allows for an artist to get paid every time their work is sold, and it also allows people to see who the original purchaser was. So the original buyer of, say, the Parshat Noach NFT could then transfer ownership to her son for his bar mitzvah, and that transfer will be recorded in the blockchain.
Mitzvah motivation: The idea to fund the writing of a Torah by selling NFTs has its roots in a long-running practice first promoted by Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. “In the ‘80s, the Lubavitcher Rebbe launched a campaign that every Jewish man, woman and child should get a letter in a Torah, meaning they would pay a small amount of money — really talking about a dollar, whatever it is — to pay towards the writing of an entire scroll,” said Lightstone.
Generation to generation: NFTorah goes beyond simply touting the potential spiritual benefits of NFTs and blockchain. The project’s mission is rooted in the notion that the Torah is actually a form of the technology itself. “Judaism is the original blockchain,” argued Jonathan Caras, the Israeli-based chief technology officer of crypto hedge fund Lionschain Capital and a co-founder of NFTorah. “It’s expressed by handing down the Torah from one generation to the other.”
On the hill
House Armed Services Committee votes in favor of 2022 defense spending bill
The House Armed Services Committee voted nearly unanimously in the early hours of Thursday morning to approve an amended version of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act after a daylong meeting revising the bill, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports. Only two members, Reps. Sara Jacobs (D-CA) and Ro Khanna (D-CA) voted against approving the bill, which includes $500 million in aid to Israel for missile defense programs.
Topline increase: Fourteen Democrats voted with the committee’s Republicans to increase the total defense budget by $25 billion. Committee Vice Chair Elaine Luria (D-VA) said the spending boost would send a strong message to allies and enemies, including Israel and the “malign actors” that attack it. “I have been saying ever since [the president’s budget] was released, that it does not do enough,” she added. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WA) subsequently warned that the increase could endanger the bill’s full-House passage; progressives have been opposed to increasing the topline.
Countering extremism: The committee voted 31 to 28 in favor of Rep. Anthony Brown’s (D-MD) amendment explicitly granting military commanders the authority to bar or expel individuals who are part of extremist groups or espouse extremist beliefs, including on social media The amendment would also create a Pentagon Office of Countering Extremism. The legislation requires the Secretary of Defense to provide a definition of extremism within 60 days, in an attempt to address one concern from critics of such measures. Republicans opposed to the measure argued that Democrats are overstating the extent of the extremism issue and that military leaders could use the initiatives to target political opponents.
Iran agenda: Other successful amendments to the defense bill banned the use of military resources to transfer pallets of currency or other items of value to Iran and requested reports on Iranian support for the Syrian Assad regime, Iranian-Chinese military ties and Iranian military capabilities and the potential impact of sanctions relief on those capabilities.
Blocked: Reps. Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) introduced an amendment that would have required the Department of Defense to work with the Israeli Ministry of Defense to establish a joint U.S.-Israel Operations-Technology Working Group to develop and acquire weapons and other capabilities. Rep. Pat Fallon (R-TX) introduced an amendment that would have repealed previous provisions creating a carveout to Iran sanctions for Afghanistan reconstruction given the Taliban takeover. However, neither amendment had obtained necessary House Foreign Affairs Committee waivers to allow the issues to be considered by Armed Services and were therefore withdrawn.
Boycott: While advocating for two amendments to limit U.S. support for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, in protest of the Chinese government’s alleged human rights abuses, Rep. Michael Waltz (R-FL) argued the U.S. “probably should have” boycotted the 1936 Berlin Games to protest the Nazi regime. Both of Waltz’s amendments on the issue failed.
🤔 Reflection:The New York Times’s Jessica Bennett sits down with Monica Lewinsky ahead of the premiere of the new season of the “American Crime Story” — of which Lewinsky is a producer — that focuses on her affair with then-President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. “The good news for Lewinsky is that this time she’s shaping the story herself. The bad, perhaps, is that it means reliving the darkest period of her life — and introducing it to at least one generation that wasn’t around to see it. She still isn’t exactly sure how she feels about the whole thing.” [NYTimes]
🔎 Outside Man: In The New York Times, Adam Satariano and Mike Isaac spotlight Accenture, the consulting firm hired by Facebook to moderate content on the social media behemoth. The taxing job of combing through thousands of posts, they report, has affected workers’ mental health and opened debates about Facebook’s responsibilities towards Accenture employees. “[Facebook’s] contracts, which have not previously been reported, have redefined the traditional boundaries of an outsourcing relationship. Accenture has absorbed the worst facets of moderating content and made Facebook’s content issues its own. As a cost of doing business, it has dealt with workers’ mental health issues from reviewing the posts. It has grappled with labor activism when those workers pushed for more pay and benefits. And it has silently borne public scrutiny when they have spoken out against the work.” [NYTimes]
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Around the Web
🖼️ Work of Art: San Francisco’s de Young Museum is hosting an exhibition featuring the works of pioneering Jewish feminist artist Judy Chicago, whose career has spanned six decades.
🕵️ Spymaster: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennetthas appointed a new director of the Shin Bet, the Prime Minister’s Office announced on Wednesday. The identity of the new chief, referred to only as “R,” will be released after his appointment has been confirmed by the advisory committee on senior civil service appointments and the government.
🗽 New Hire: Former New York City mayoral candidate and sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia will join Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration as director of state operations.
🤷 Hands Tied: The town board of Williamstown, Mass., said it lacks the ability to fire a police officer accused of keeping a photograph of Adolf Hitler in his locker for decades.
💰 Court Case: The Sackler family will pay $4.5 billion to settle the litany of lawsuits charging that its Purdue Pharma, which is being dissolved in the settlement, was a driving force behind the country’s opioid crisis.
📗 New Page: Author Salman Rushdie will begin writing fiction and essays on Substack after the platform approached him about creating content.
🇬🇧 Across the Pond: London’s historic Bevis Marks Synagogue is pushing back against developers looking to build high-rise office buildings next to the shul that the synagogue’s leaders say would block much of the natural light it currently gets.
💵 Banking Business: Bank Leumi said it has been in talks with an American company considering buying all or part of the Israeli bank’s American operation.
🧑🎨 Design > Code: Israeli startup Anima, founded by Avishay and Michal Cohen and Or Arbel, raised a $10 million Series A round led by MizMaa Ventures.
📺 Small Screen: “Fauda” producer Maria Feldman is teaming up with Israeli director Dror Shaul to create “The Collective,” a drama series about a New Yorker who settles on an kibbutz and goes on to defend Israel — and the Gaza-adjacent kibbutz — during several of Israel’s wars.
🤝 Reaffirmed Understanding: President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reportedly reaffirmed strategic understandings regarding Israel’s alleged undeclared military nuclear program during their meeting last week at the White House.
🙅♂️ Unwanted alliances: Israeli officials have repeatedly urged their U.S. counterparts to refrain from heavy criticism of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, warning that it could drive them to seek support from Iran, China and Russia, the Times of Israel reports.
🙏 High Holiday Plea: In an op-ed for JTA, Israeli Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai writes that it is “increasingly imperative” for Diaspora Jewry to engage with Israel despite perceived differences.
🗣️ Table Talk: France and Germany urged Iran to return to Vienna for a seventh round of talks addressing the country’s nuclear program, hoping for a breakthrough after previous rounds of discussion each ended at an impasse.
🗞️ Hot off the Press: The Associated Press announced Washington bureau chief Julie Pace will become the news agency’s chief executive.
Pic of the Day
Port Authority Chaplain Rabbi Mendy Carlebach blows the shofar at an event hosted by the Port Authority Police Department and the Consulate General of Israel in New York this week commemorating the 20th yahrzeit of the victims of the September 11 attacks.
CEO of Lions Gate Entertainment, Jon Feltheimer turns 70…
Diane Leshefsky Troderman… Attorney who was part of the “Dream Team” that defended O.J. Simpson in 1995 and co-founder of LegalZoom, Shoedazzle and RightCounsel, Robert Shapiro turns 79… One of Israel’s earliest high-tech entrepreneurs, Yossi Vardi turns 79… Rabbi of Baltimore’s Shearith Israel Congregation and president of the Baltimore Vaad HaRabonim, Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer turns 77… Lincolnwood, Ill., resident, Tobi Rebecca Kelmer turns 75… Tech entrepreneur and consultant at Xynetics Group, Richard Mandelbaum turns 75… Member of the Knesset for the United Torah Judaism party, Yaakov Litzman turns 73… SVP at Southern Bank & Trust in Norfolk, Va., Steven Kocen turns 72… Founder of TMZ, Harvey Levin turns 71… Retired president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, Lee Wunsch turns 69… Editor-in-chief of Yahoo News, Daniel Klaidman turns 57… Washington correspondent for Sinclair Broadcasting, James Rosen turns 53…
Founder of TheMarker and a deputy publisher of the Haaretz daily newspaper, he is also a clinical professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, Guy Rolnik turns 53… Serial entrepreneur, co-founder and chairman of Groupon, Eric Lefkofsky turns 52… Executive producer at PBS’s “Frontline,” Raney Aronson-Rath turns 51… Managing director of the Israeli office of Koch Disruptive Technologies, previously director general of the Israeli prime minister’s office under Benjamin Netanyahu, Eli Groner turns 51… Chief of staff for U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jessica Fassler turns 44… D.C.-based U.S. tax policy reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Richard Rubin turns 43… SVP at Axiom Strategies, Ethan Zorfas turns 36… General manager of the San Francisco Bay area office of Edelman, Margot Edelman turns 34… Assistant to the SVP at the University of Pennsylvania, Seth Zweifler turns 30… Free agent baseball pitcher, he was a first round pick in the 2013 MLB draft, Rob Kaminsky turns 27…