👋 Good Wednesday morning!
Regarding Iron Dome funding, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod on Capitol Hill yesterday: “Talk to Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell. We have complete support on our side to [pass by unanimous consent],” when asked about his plans for passing the stalled $1 billion supplement to replenish the Iron Dome missile-defense system.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez (D-NJ) told reporters earlier in the day that he was not sure of leadership’s strategy, which — barring a reversal or compromise from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) — could involve moving for a free-standing vote on the Senate floor or folding the funding into another bill, a move that caused issues in the initial House of Representatives process.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid addressed The Jewish Federations of North America on Tuesday — his first major meeting with a U.S. Jewish group since assuming his current role — where he highlighted Israel’s relationship with the U.S. Jewish community.
Speaking virtually at JFNA’s Leadership Lab, a component of its annual General Assembly, Lapid slammed the previous government’s approach, referring to comments made by former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer regarding outreach to Evangelicals — the former ambassador described evangelical Christians as the “backbone of Israel’s support in the United States.” Interviewed by JFNA Chair Mark Wilf, Lapid stressed that “the most important relation we have is with American Jewry.”
Lapidwill be in Washington from Oct. 12-14 for high-level meetings with administration officials, the foreign minister’s office confirmed to JI.
Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayancondemned an antisemitic graffiti attack at the site of the former Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. The graffiti, which was discovered on former barracks, was revealed Tuesday by Israel’s Holocaust Memorial and Museum, which manages the site, Reuters reported.
Dayan, who is currently in Ukraine to mark the 80th anniversary of the Babyn Yar massacre, said: “We are very saddened by the attack on Auschwitz, the authentic location where over a million Jews were murdered, and strongly condemn the willful vandalism of the barracks there with antisemitic and Holocaust denial inscriptions. This incident, at such a major and significant site of the atrocities of the Holocaust, constitutes an attack not only on the memory of the victims, but also on the survivors and any person with a conscience. It is also yet another painful reminder that more must be done to raise awareness about the Holocaust and to educate the public and the younger generation regarding the dangers of antisemitism and Holocaust denial and distortion.”
Ahead of D.C. visit, top Bahraini official engages New York Jewish leaders
Bahraini Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Sheikh Abdulla Al Khalifa met with Jewish leaders in New York on Monday and Tuesday as part of the Gulf nation’s efforts to facilitate people-to-people engagement with the Jewish community following last year’s Abraham Accords, Jewish Insider‘s Melissa Weiss reports.
‘Warm peace’ strategy: The series of meetings, which included sit-downs with New York-area rabbis, the leadership of UJA-Federation of New York, Yeshiva University students and faculty and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, saw Al Khalifa share his government’s hope for what Bahraini and Emirati leaders have described as a “warm peace,” both with Israel and the global Jewish community. “I think…that engaging with American Jewry, with world Jewry, is part of the ‘warm peace’ strategy,” Al Khalifa, who holds Bahrain’s Israel portfolio and became the highest ranking Bahraini to visit the Jewish state last August, told JI in an interview in a midtown Manhattan hotel on Tuesday morning in between meetings. “It’s not ‘the undersecretary is here in passing.’”
Grassroots effort: The meetings left an impression on attendees, many of whom had not previously had deep engagement with Bahrain but were optimistic about future people-to-people efforts. “I think it showed an interest in a very low-level, grassroots manner, which you typically don’t see. I think typically countries make peace and everyone moves on,” Rabbi Daniel Sherman of the West Side Institutional Synagogue, an Orthodox synagogue on the Upper West Side, told JI. “I think there was a real effort for a grassroots relationship for Jews and the Bahraini community and obviously Israel in a much more authentic way.”
Positive step: UJA-Federation CEO Eric Goldstein said the “warm peace” concept “requires not simply country-to-country sorts of activities but very much people-to-people initiatives from an economic perspective, from an interfaith religious dialogue perspective, from student-to-student perspective, that it requires the communities to learn each other. And I think he sees not only Israelis, but American Jews, as critical to that process.”
Ongoing work: Al Khalifa told JI the Bahraini government was “very grateful for the Trump administration for their support” in facilitating the Abraham Accords, and “also very much appreciative to the Biden administration, who will continue to support Bahrain and developing the ties with Israel.” He was hopeful that the success of the Abraham Accords would encourage other Arab countries to enter into similar agreements. “The entire world is looking today and asking… ‘What are the fruits that have been built by countries and people of the region?’” Al Khalifa said. “I think, through the processes that we have undertaken through the past 12 months with our counterparts in Israel, [it] is very much encouraging and [is] setting the foundation for cooperation on many different fronts.”
Reckoning with Judah Benjamin, the Jewish slaveholder and Confederate mastermind
The Jewish Lives biographies published in an ongoing series by Yale University Press have typically functioned as succinct celebrations of Jewish achievement, covering figures including Franz Kafka, Albert Einstein and Barbra Streisand. But the latest book, out this week, grapples with a knottier subject: Judah Benjamin, the Southern lawyer and Louisiana senator who served as secretary of state of the Confederacy. “Ambition makes men do terrible things, and he was an ambitious man,” James Traub, the author of Judah Benjamin: Counselor to the Confederacy, told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel. “He had to come to terms with slavery in order to achieve what he wanted to achieve.”
‘Deplorable’ cause: “Judah Benjamin was the most politically powerful, and arguably the most important, American Jew of the nineteenth century,” Traub, whose previous books include a biography of John Quincy Adams, writes. “He was also the most widely hated one, not only in the North but in portions of the South. Benjamin does not deserve our admiration; but like some other figures who have yoked their lives to deplorable causes, he nevertheless deserves our attention.”
Thin paper trail: Traub, a senior fellow at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, knew little of Benjamin when he first began the book — and found that was likely his subject’s preference. Benjamin left behind scant documentation of his controversial life, forgoing a diary and discarding written correspondence, perhaps aware that future historians would view him unfavorably. Still, Traub had enough material to work with.
Jewish identity: Born in the West Indies, Benjamin grew up in Charleston and later moved to New Orleans, establishing himself as “the most prominent Jewish member of the bar,” Traub writes, and “by far the largest slave-owning Jew in America.” Rather than embracing his Judaism, however, Benjamin largely eschewed his faith. He married a Catholic woman, ate pork and did not observe the Sabbath. “I think that Judah Benjamin wanted to efface his Jewishness as much as he could,” Traub told JI. “For him, success meant success in a slave culture.”
Eluding the past: After the war, Benjamin escaped to England, enduring a shipwreck on the way, and built a new life as a successful British barrister. “In a universe ordered by our moral imagination, Judah Benjamin’s life would have ended with a terrible reckoning,” Traub writes. “But the universe is not a movie. Benjamin died in 1884 wreathed with honors and probably quite content with the path he had hewn through life.”
meet and greet
Young ‘mavericks’ envision new GOP
Last Friday night, after Democrats failed to pass two major spending bills, a small but exclusive group of young Republicans gathered to mingle with others of their kind. A mile and a half away from Capitol Hill, at a trendy music venue at the Wharf, fried chicken was abundant and the drinks were free. The guests’ preferred political party controlled none of the levers of power in Washington, but everyone was having a good time, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports. The 150 or so people filling out Pearl Street Warehouse were members of Maverick PAC, a national network of conservative young professionals that makes donations to Republican politicians.
Moving on: More than just a social gathering, the two-day conference served as a test case for the Republican Party in a post-Donald Trump era. Some prominent speakers, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, served in the Trump administration, while others, like Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), are known as moderates.
The whole spectrum: The former president, widely seen as the current standard-bearer of the Republican Party, was referenced infrequently; Trump supporters were in the room, but so were others who backed Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) when she blamed the Jan. 6 insurrection on the former president. One woman recalled hardly leaving her apartment last winter until she got the COVID-19 vaccine, while a young Ohio politician known to be an anti-masker described himself “as conservative as they come.”
Rooted in reality: While MavPAC members didn’t hesitate to share a few laughs at the expense of the Biden administration, they also tried to present a policy-focused, public service-driven approach to conservative politics separate from the world of election fraud and COVID-19 conspiracy theories that has animated segments of the Republican Party for the past year.
Not trying to fit in: “We just don’t get into the weeds of having that fight,” said Ben Proler, a Houston-based employee at Shell who sits on MavPAC’s national board. “Just because we’re not in line with maybe what [the] mainstream GOP is talking about doesn’t mean we’re wrong. In fact, I think we’re right. And we’re talking about the issues that matter to our members, who are young and diverse.”
The newest challenge for SpaceIL co-founder — virtual biopsies
Two years ago Yonatan Winetraub watched with anticipation as the Israeli spacecraft Beresheet, launched by the Israeli organization SpaceIL, which he co-founded, crash-landed on the Moon. A second mission is in the works, but today the ambitious 34-year-old Israeli engineer told Jewish Insider’s Tamara Zieve that he has his sights set on a new — and entirely different — challenge, having just been named a winner of the $1.25 million U.S. National Institutes of Health Director’s Early Independence Award.
Fast track: The award offers an on-ramp for talented junior investigators to be able to carry out independent research by allowing them to bypass the traditional post-doctoral training program and helping them start their own labs.
Bypassing biopsies: Winetraub, who recently received his Ph.D. in biophysics from the Stanford University School of Medicine, will put the $250,000 per year that he has been awarded for the next five years toward developing technology that will enable doctors to “read” skin tumors without the need for physical biopsies, but rather with a virtual one.
Less invasive: Winetraub explained that today, a biopsy is needed to ascertain whether a person has skin cancer. “It’s invasive and you can’t do it everywhere — especially in elderly patients where sometimes they get a lot of spots that are suspicious,” he told JI on Tuesday. His research focuses on utilizing Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) and machine learning to create virtual histology tools to non-invasively image cancer at a single-cell resolution.
Looking ahead: He hopes that the same device can eventually also be used for brain tumors. “It’s the same issue there. You don’t want to take everything out, you just want to take the tumor out — so doing this virtual biopsy to get those images that the doctors need in order to determine if there is cancer or not is really important.”
Bonus: The SpaceIL team is working on ideas for its second mission to the Moon, which is scheduled for 2024. Winetraub’s personal favorite is the vision of trying to grow a plant on the Moon. “Chickpeas might be part of the mission,” he told JI. But that “remains to be seen.”
🤝 New partnerships: The Washington Post’s David Ignatious writes about the pros and cons of new regional partnerships now emerging in the Middle East. “These regional realignments are helping ‘depressurize’ an area that has been dangerously stressed in recent years. Countries increasingly are trying to solve their own problems, through regional economic links, rather than depending on U.S. military might. The danger is that some countries may turn to China as a new security partner, to replace what they see as an unreliable United States… The most notable diplomatic initiatives include Iranian talks with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and a UAE rapprochement with Turkey and Qatar. In each case, the shared agenda is trade and economic prosperity. U.S. diplomacy has encouraged this ‘deconfliction,’ but its momentum is outside Washington’s control.” [WashPost]
👀 2024 Preview: In an interview with The Wall Street Journal’s John McCormick ahead of her speech at the Reagan Presidential Library, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley offered a more positive tone towards former President Donald Trump than her criticisms of him following the Jan. 6 riot. “He has the ability to get strong people elected, and he has the ability to move the ball, and I hope that he continues to do that. We need him in the Republican Party. I don’t want us to go back to the days before Trump,” Haley said. “In the beginning of 2023, should I decide that there’s a place for me, should I decide that there’s a reason to move, I would pick up the phone and meet with the president…I would talk to him and see what his plans are. I would tell him about my plans. We would work on it together.” [WSJ]
🇭🇺 Budapest Boss: The New York Times’s Kenneth Vogel and Benjamin Novak explore Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s efforts — which have cost him millions of dollars — to rebrand himself in D.C. circles as a global conservative leader. “Carried out by a network of government offices, Washington lobbyists, Hungarian diaspora groups, educational institutions and government-funded foundations, the effort’s main impact has been to bolster Mr. Orban’s image as a conservative leader on the world stage — and to counter his reputation as an authoritarian nationalist who is cozying up to Russia and China.” [NYTimes]
📚 Fact Check; In a review of a new biography of late writer W.G. Sebald in The Atlantic, Judith Shulevitz examines the writings of the German literary giant, who has been found to have lied about the people on whom his Jewish characters were based, and in some cases modeled characters on real individuals without permission. “But to the degree that Sebald culturally appropriated (if that’s what you want to call it), I believe that, for him, understanding the Jewish quest for an obliterated past was inextricable from the work of excavation required to recover a usable German present. Literature is parasitical, sometimes in disturbing ways, and that is a source of its power.” [TheAtlantic]
🔬 Saved by cancer: The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Marie McCullough talks to author Sam Apple about his book Ravenous: Otto Warburg, the Nazis, and the Search for the Cancer-Diet Connection, which explores “the rise, fall, and recent resurgence” of the German-Jewish scientist’s research into cellular metabolism’s relationship to cancer. “Warburg was a Jewish gay man living openly in Berlin with his partner as Hitler rose to power. Warburg was also a biochemist, as brilliant as he was arrogant. In the 1920s, he discovered a hallmark of cancer, now called ‘the Warburg effect.’… As the author explains, cancer rates were inexplicably rising in Germany and other developed countries, and the Nazis’ fear of the disease ran almost as deep as their antisemitism and homophobia They despised Warburg, but needed his scientific genius.” [PhillyInquirer]
Around the Web
⛔ Access Denied: The City of London denied an application to build a skyscraper in the city’s financial district over concerns the proposed building would overshadow the historic Bevis Marks Synagogue.
👎🏻 Bad Service: A Westin hotel in Leipzig, Germany, is conducting an investigation after a Jewish musician said a front-desk employee ignored him and then told him to “pack up” the Star of David necklace he was wearing before he could check in.
🕯️ Never Forget: Ahead of the 80th anniversary of the Jewish massacre at Babyn Yar, Ukraine is engaging in an unconventional digital advertising campaign to alert Ukrainians to the dark history of the massacre and promote the memorial at the death site.
🗣️ Talking Shop: Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI)engaged in an extended conversation with President Joe Biden yesterday during his visit to Michigan. “I was frank with the President that my highest priority is for the bipartisan infrastructure bill to become law” and that the budget bill “needs to be transformative and targeted,” Slotkin said in a statement. Biden praised Slotkin, thanking her for “the advice you’ve given me” and emphasizing “we’re going to make sure that everything… is paid for.”
👀 Private Personas: Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s two top executives, have been reportedly deliberately keeping a low profile to distance themselves from controversy associated with damaging leaked documents published by the Wall Street Journal.
📱 Aspiring Politicians: Social media platform Snapchat, led by its head of policy partnerships and social impact, Sofia Gross, released a tool on Tuesday to help young people navigate the process of running for local office.
🇪🇺 Big Plans: The European Commission released the first official strategy to fight antisemitism and promote Jewish life on Tuesday, including spending millions on education, Holocaust remembrance and securing Jewish sites across Europe.
📕 Noms: In her blog, “The Jewish Table,” cookbook author Leah Koenig looks at how family recipes passed down through the ages sometimes turn out wrong.
🇺🇦 What Lies Beneath: Historians and diggers in Ukraine uncovered hiding spots in Kyiv’s sewer system where Jews hid from the Nazis during World War II.
🚀 Nuclear Plan: National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told his Israeli counterpart, Eyal Hulata, that the U.S. is committed to diplomatic engagement with Iran on nuclear issues, but will consider “other avenues” if diplomacy fails.
💲 Bad Deal: The U.S. rejected an Iranian demandfor “a goodwill gesture” in order to restart nuclear talks, such as the release of $10 billion in frozen Iranian funds, a senior U.S. official told reporters.
🌊 Sea Storm: Israel said it is ready to resume negotiations with Lebanon over a disputed area in the Mediterranean Sea, but under the condition that Beirut does not control the terms of negotiation.
➡️ Transitions: Federal Reserve veteran Naomi Feldman was confirmed by the Israeli cabinet to an appointment on the Bank of Israel’s monetary policy committee.
🚍 New Bus Station: The building housing the iconic and much-reviled Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv is to be vacated by 2023 and a new site for a bus terminal has been found in south Tel Aviv, Israel’s Ministry of Transport announced Tuesday.
🎥 Israeli Oscars: The Palestinian drama “Let It Be Morning,” based on the novel by author Sayed Kashua, will be Israel’s official submission to next year’s Academy Awards after winning Best Picture at Israel’s Ophir Awards on Tuesday night.
💼 Next Step: The Senate voted 51-47 to confirm Jonathan Meyer as general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security. h/t Playbook
Pic of the Day
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed Israeli President Isaac Herzog to Mariinsky Palace in Kyiv on Tuesday during the start of Herzog’s state visit to Ukraine.
Mayor of Jerusalem since 2018, Moshe Lion turns 60…
Owner of Lancaster, Pa.-based industrial supplier Samuel Miller & Son, Rosanne Selfon turns 73… Awarded a Ph.D. at University of California San Diego in space science, consultant to NASA and author of many science fiction novels, David Brin turns 71… Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel, Uzi Vogelman turns 67… CEO at Hillels of Georgia, serving 24 campuses throughout the state, Elliot B. Karp turns 66… Bexley, Ohio-based real estate agent, Jan Kanas turns 66… NBC correspondent and best-selling author, Jonathan Alter turns 64… Spiritual leader of Congregation Ner Tamid in the Las Vegas suburbs, Rabbi Sanford Akselrad turns 64… Former member of the New Jersey General Assembly, now the managing director of Quest Associates, Joel M. Weingarten turns 62… Attorney in Lakewood, N.J., Samuel Zev Brown turns 56… Member until last year of the Florida Senate, Kevin J.G. Rader turns 53… Candidate for governor of Arizona, Aaron Lieberman turns 50… Actor Sean Weisbord turns 48… CEO of Community Security Service, Evan R. Bernstein turns 47… Deputy chief planning officer at UJA-Federation of New York, Hindy Poupko… Senior advisor for Israel strategies at the William Davidson Foundation, Deena Pulitzer… Actress Olivia Thirlby turns 35… Director of community outreach and constituent affairs for the governor of Nevada, Madeline S. Burak turns 29…