👋 Good Thursday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we spotlight a call from Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee to continue pressure on Iran, and interview memoirist Dani Shapiro about her return to fiction writing. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Howard Wolfson, Barbara Leaf and Rabbi A. James Rudin.
The Milken Institute’s Middle East and Africa Summitkicked off today in Abu Dhabi. Speakers today included LionTree’s Aryeh Bourkoff and Marjan Keypour Greenblatt. Tomorrow, Israeli Ambassador to the UAE Amir Hayek, MizMaa Venture’s Yitz Applbaum and OurCrowd’s Jon Medved will take the stage to discuss regional cooperation and innovative finance solutions.
On a panel about the state of the entertainment industry,Bourkoff shared what he’s watching in the region: “I think probably the biggest dynamic here is the Abu Dhabi [Securities] Exchange. I mean, they’re listing companies here as a very good alternative to New York and China, as a middle ground, which I think is a regional dynamic with Tel Aviv and Saudi [Arabia], and Abu Dhabi, I think as a real commerce hub as well.”
On a panel about women driving changearound the world, Greenblatt spoke upregarding the current protests in Iran: “It is the young girls who are leading this movement… when [female genital mutilation] was practiced in Iran, people did not say a word. When honor killings are happening, one a day in Iran, nobody is saying a word. When education has to be approved by the father or the man of the family, when travel of the woman has to be approved by her father. When riding a bicycle became taboo, or eating ice cream in public became taboo, nobody said anything. But now, right now, there is this movement happening, and it is really a sin to be quiet about it and not to reflect their voices.”
On Capitol Hill,the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing today on threats to the homeland, including testimony from Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and FBI Director Christopher Wray, days after the two testified before the House Homeland Security Committee. Ahead of the hearing, committee Chair Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) released a report alleging that the two agencies “have failed to effectively track and report data on the domestic terrorism threat.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) won reelection to his leadership post over Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), by a vote of 37 to 10, with one senator voting “present.”
The Senate voted 62 to 37 yesterday on a procedural motion in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act, indicating that the bill codifying same-sex marriage into federal law will be approved when it comes up for a full Senate vote.
Ahead of the vote, the Orthodox Union sent a letter to Senate negotiators stating that while the Orthodox umbrella group “cannot endorse the main purpose” of the bill, amendments to the bill “appropriately address the array of religious liberty concerns” the proposal raised. Agudath Israel of America’s Vice President for Government Affairs Rabbi Abba Cohen told JI that the group remains opposed to the bill, but that the religious liberty amendments “make some positive changes.”
The amendment added language stating that religious nonprofits cannot be forced to recognize, officiate or host same-sex marriages, and that declining to do so would not impact their tax-exempt status or federal grants.
‘Maintain pressure’ on Iran, House Democrats urge
Seventeen House Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee issued a joint statement on Wednesday urging the U.S. and its allies to “maintain pressure” on Iran in response to the ongoing crackdowns against protesters, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Keep pushing: “We are committed to continuing to work alongside the Administration, as well as our partners and allies around the world, to maintain pressure on the regime and to demand justice and accountability for the brave Iranians who already lost their lives at the hands of state authorities and for those who, despite the brutalities and danger, continue to protest every day,” the lawmakers, led by Foreign Affairs Chair Rep. Greg Meeks (D-NY) and Middle East, North Africa and Global Counterterrorism Chair Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), said in the statement.
Condemned: “The Iranian regime has continued to act with impunity – violently cracking down on its own citizens, holding sham trials, and now issuing a death sentence to a protest[e]r,” the statement reads. “The brutality of the Iranian regime is unacceptable and cannot be ignored.”
From the left: The statement comes amid increasingly explicit calls among some House Democrats for additional punitive action against the Iranian regime. In a tweet on Monday, Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) said that she “echo[es] calls for the Biden administration to tighten sanctions and hold the regime accountable.”
Read more here.
Dani Shapiro’s ‘Signal Fires’ flickers between past and present bonds between Jewish families
Dani Shapiro’s newest book, Signal Fires, was almost never written. It languished in an office closet for 15 years, until pandemic-induced boredom led Shapiro to clean out her office and find the manuscript, which then contained around 100 pages. It’s fitting that Shapiro rediscovered Signal Fires during the pandemic. The book, which flits between members of two interconnected families in the aftermath of a 1985 car crash, is filled with 2020-specific references, from face masks and Zoom school to moments of applause for health workers — while also emphasizing the importance of human connection. “We experience time as marching inexorably forward, but we’re not living that way. We’re dragging our pasts along with us,” she told Jewish Insider’s Madison Hahamy of the decision to include both the recent reality of the pandemic and the flashbacks into the childhoods of the various characters. “We’re imagining the future. We’re always in this kind of place of multiplicity.”
Drawn from life: Shapiro, who moved to rural Connecticut from New York City before rediscovering the Signal Fires manuscript, also sees her family’s relocation as helping to tease out the spirituality of the work, which she says is not about “God as in the guy with the beard and the sky kind of way, but in a way that really sort of permeates our ethics and our actions and the way that we live our lives.” The move from city to country allowed Shapiro to see a clear night sky, she said, for the first time, which led to the cosmos becoming an essential part of the book — the stars captivate 11-year-old Waldo Shankman, whose interest in astronomy is what first links him to Ben Wilf, the patriarch of the Wilf family. The two characters and their connection, Shapiro said, are the center of the story.
‘A very Jewish book’: The book is also influenced by the author’s own Jewish identity. Shapiro, who grew up in an Orthodox household, had previously written a New York Times bestselling novel, Inheritance, about learning that her biological father was actually a non-Jewish sperm donor. Growing up, Shapiro’s blonde hair and blue eyes meant that she often heard from others that she “didn’t look Jewish,” comments that often led her to focus her writing on her Jewish identity. “I wanted people to know that I was Jewish before they could say something that I might not want to hear,” she added. Signal Fires is different. “To me, it is a very Jewish book that doesn’t announce itself as such,” Shapiro said. “It really was a feeling of wanting the Jewishness to simply be embedded in this family.”
a different knight
A rabbi who has dedicated his career to Catholic-Jewish relations will be knighted by the Vatican
In 1988, Jews in Austria and beyond protested when Pope John Paul II visited the country and met with its president, Kurt Waldheim, a former Nazi solider who had taken part in the deportation of Jews to Auschwitz. For Rabbi A. James Rudin, then the American Jewish Committee’s director of interreligious affairs, the trip posed a challenge. But despite the painful spectacle — Rudin saw a silver lining: He and his allies in the Catholic Church convinced the pope not to visit the Mauthausen concentration camp together with Waldheim — which would have been, he felt, an especially egregious act. And he felt reassured when he was joined in his lobbying of John Paul II by a close friend: John Cardinal O’Connor, the archbishop of New York. Five years later, that friendship bore fruit again: O’Connor was “very instrumental,” Rudin told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Ben Sales, in persuading the pope to establish diplomatic relations with Israel in 1993.
Moving the needle: To Rudin, the Austria incident, and what followed, exemplified his mission over a half-century of interfaith work: to shape a new era in Jewish-Catholic relations — pushing through crises and celebrating breakthroughs in a sometimes difficult quest to create greater understanding. On Sunday, in recognition of his work, Rudin is being honored with the Papal Knighthood of the Order of St. Gregory the Great — only the third rabbi in history to receive the designation. He’ll be knighted at Saint Leo University in Florida, where he co-founded the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies. “We are all blessed by Rabbi Rudin’s achievements in promoting dialogue and collaboration among communities of different faiths,” Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston, who will bestow the honor on Rudin, said in a statement. “The impact of this work continues to grow as successive generations build on the foundation Rabbi Rudin has established.”
Childhood lessons: Rudin grew up internalizing the value of coexistence. As a child in Alexandria, Va., he said, he felt that both Jews and Catholics were minorities in a largely Protestant town, “so we were, in a way, all bound together.” Later, after receiving rabbinic ordination at Hebrew Union College, the Reform seminary, he served as a U.S. Air Force chaplain in Japan and Korea — a position that compelled clergy of different religions to share space and resources. “In the military, at least overseas, we all had to pull together,” he said. “You couldn’t just be off on your own.” Where interfaith work remains, he said, is in dispelling stereotypes from rank-and-file Jews and Catholics, especially in light of rising antisemitism. Although the United States is becoming more secular, Rudin said, nonreligious people who grew up in a Catholic milieu may still be susceptible to traditional Catholic anti-Jewish prejudice. The same may be true, he said, for secular Jews.
Bridge-building: Rudin’s knighthood comes at a time of resurgent conservative Catholicism in the United States. The U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference just elected a conservative, Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul Coakley, as one of its top officials. And celebration of the Latin Mass has spiked in the United States — a choice Pope Francis said may indicate opposition to Vatican II more broadly. But Rudin said such debates are for Catholics to resolve internally. “This struggle that’s going on inside the Catholic Church, of course that’s for Catholics to settle,” he said. “I hope it does not slow down or impede… the relationships we’ve built. It’s like building a bridge… It can get knocked down. Bridges have to be sturdy enough.” He added, “Catholics and Jews who have this long, long, long, often bitter history — if they can begin the process of reconciliation, begin the process of mutual respect, of listening to each other, understanding each other… if we can do it, then it’s a model, I think, for other groups.”
🗳️ Party Foul: In The New York Times, Democratic political strategist Howard Wolfson takes New York Democrats to task for the state’s showing in the midterms, where Democrats lost six congressional districts that had been carried by President Joe Biden in 2020. “The party just came up agonizingly short in its attempt to buck history and retain a majority in the House of Representatives — a failure that is directly attributable to decisions New York Democrats made this year that cost four House seats and wasted tens of millions of dollars in national party resources that could have been deployed to win seats in other states. Some elections are determined in the mad rush of a campaign’s final days. And others are effectively over before they begin. In New York, the Democratic supermajority in control of the legislature made two fatal mistakes driven by arrogance and incompetence that sealed the fate of its congressional candidates many months ago. Those mistakes point up the dangers of one-party rule, especially when it becomes so entrenched and beholden to its most activist wing — and in this case causes some Democrats to vote Republican just to break that stranglehold.” [NYTimes]
🗞️ Media Matters: In Tablet, Ashley Rindsberg explores the role played by the media in the astonishing collapse of the FTX crypto exchange. “How could Sam Bankman-Fried, the brainiac financial visionary, crowned earlier this year the ‘crypto emperor’ by The New York Times, have steered his armada of crypto firms into the rocks so recklessly? With allegations of an enormous, brazen fraud lingering, the first place to look is at the central role of the media in this fiasco. Through an almost endless churn of fawning coverage, the news media turned an inexperienced — and, it seems, ethically deranged — trader into the second coming of Warren Buffett…With all of the puff pieces from the press, there was apparently little interest in investigating SBF’s web of interlocking firms. A number of high profile outlets best known for investigative reporting took money from Bankman-Fried — in some cases money earmarked to fund investigative journalism — and yet did little, it appears, to investigate the source of those funds.” [Tablet]
Around the Web
✔️ Power Shift: With the outcome of most races determined, the Associated Press called control of the House of Representatives for Republicans.
🛰️ Drone Debacle: New intelligence collected from downed Iranian drones in Ukraine indicated that a majority of the aircrafts’ parts are manufactured by companies in the U.S., Europe and other Western countries, prompting a U.S. government investigation, The Wall Street Journal reports.
🚫 Sanctioned: The Treasury Department announced new sanctions against six Iranians linked to the country’s state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.
🚢 Making Waves: National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that Iran was likely behind a drone attack this week on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman.
🇧🇭 Manama Meeting: Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf is in Bahrain, where she is participating in a regional security summit.
👋Trump Dumped: Blackstone Group Chairman and CEO Stephen Schwarzman toldAxios that he will not support former President Donald Trump’s White House bid, and will instead back a candidate from “a new generation of leaders” within the GOP. In addition, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said yesterday that he won’t be backing the former president’s new campaign.
💻 Exception to the Rule: Facebook’s fact-checkers will stop fact-checking former President Donald Trump in light of his announcement that he is running for president, due to an exception made for politicians, according to a company memo obtained by CNN.
↩️ Back Online: Meta’s Oversight Board overturned the decision to remove a Facebook post comparing Russian soldiers to Nazis.
🇮🇱🇺🇸 Transition Talk: Incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to keep on Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Mike Herzog following the formation of a new government.
🔍 Questions Swirl:The Washington Post’s editorial board argued that the Justice Department’s probe into the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is “a step in the direction of determining the truth,” while both the White House and State Department told the Israeli government they were not behind the decision to open the investigation.
📺 Harsh Reality: Lizzy Savetsky has exited “The Real Housewives of New York City” in the middle of her freshman season, citing the onslaught of antisemitic comments by fans of the reality TV show since her casting was announced.
🎙️ Switcheroo: Comedian Dave Chappelle reportedly changed his controversial “SNL” opening monologue last Saturday night between the rehearsal and live show in an effort to keep his set secret before the taping.
🎤 Stewart’s Two Cents: Comedian and political commentator Jon Stewart said during a guest appearance on CBS’ “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” that he doesn’t “believe censorship and penalties are the way to end antisemitism,” in reference to Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving’s suspension, which is set to expire in the coming days.
🇮🇷 Eye on Iran: The director general of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency said Iran has made at least 10 attempts to kidnap or kill British nationals or U.K.-based individuals whom Tehran views as a threat.
🖼️ Art History: The New York Timesspotlights the work of 17th-century Italian artist Jona Ostiglio, a Jewish painter who worked for some of the most prestigious families of the era, despite regulations on the kinds of jobs Jews could hold.
☎️Weapons Considerations: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Israel’s Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will look into supplying the Eastern European nation with air defense systems.
⚽ Unchartered Territory: Israel is cautioning citizens, who have been permitted to travel to Qatar for the World Cup despite the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries, to keep a low profile and obey local laws, and is sending a consular delegation to assist those on the ground.
🕯️ Remembering: Robert Clary, a Holocaust survivor and actor who starred in television sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes,” died at age 96.
Pic of the Day
Washington Wizards Israeli-born forward Deni Avdija, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog and his wife Shirin Herzog celebrate Jewish Heritage Night at last night’s game against Oklahoma City Thunder in Washington, D.C.
Director of the Domestic Policy Council in the Biden administration, Susan Rice turns 58…
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) turns 88… Rabbi of Agudath Israel of Baltimore, he is also the rabbinic administrator of the Star K Kosher Supervision service, Rabbi Moshe Heinemann turns 85… Original creator and producer of “Saturday Night Live,” Lorne Michaels (born Lorne Lipowitz) turns 78… Detroit philanthropist and director of the William Davidson Foundation, Karen Davidson… Global editorial director of the Huffington Post Media Group, his bar mitzvah was at Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh, Howard Fineman turns 74… Editor-at-large for Washingtonian magazine and author of a biography of Bernie Sanders, Harry Jaffe… Film and television director, writer and producer, Jon Avnet turns 73… Founder and principal of ourCovenant, Diana Aviv… Warehouse logistics manager at NPC Global, Daniel Gastaldi… Nonfiction author and journalist, he lectures in the graduate journalism program at Stanford University, Gary M. Pomerantz turns 62… Attorney and business executive who once played on the South African national teams in both cricket and field hockey, Mandy Yachad turns 62… Retiring U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) turns 61… “The Travelling Rabbi” of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies who serves 11 sub-Saharan countries, Moshe Silberhaft turns 55… U.S. ambassador to Switzerland during the Obama administration, Suzan Gail Davidson (Suzi) LeVine turns 53… Executive editor and Washington bureau chief of Talking Points Memo, David Kurtz turns 53… Segment producer at HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Michele Tasoff… Partner in Seven Letter, Ralph Posner… Director of human resilience at Apeiron ZOH, Michael Ostrolenk… President of NBC News, Noah Oppenheim turns 44… Executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, Halie Soifer turns 44… Partner at AKPD Message and Media, Isaac Baker… Baseball player for 14 seasons, NL Rookie of the Year, five-time NL All-Star and NL MVP in 2011, Ryan Braun turns 39… NFL fullback for six seasons (2010-2016) with the Bucs and Saints, he has since earned an MBA from Wharton, Erik Lorig turns 36… U.S. foreign affairs and defense correspondent for the Financial Times, Felicia Schwartz… Mortgage lender at Baltimore-based River Holdings, Zack Teichman… Student at Harvard University, he serves as executive director of the Israel Summit at Harvard, Aidan Golub…