👋 Good Tuesday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we preview today’s Democratic primary in Virginia and interview three Jewish artists showcasing their work in Miami this month. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Amb. Michele Taylor, Walter Russell Mead and Albert Reichman.
A buffet of latkes, both potato and zucchini, sushi and smoked fish. Hanukkah cookies, including a vegan dreidel option (“which I deliciously consumed,” Conference of President’s William Daroff tells us) and custard-filled sufganiyot. The Marine Band entertaining attendees with traditional Hanukkah tunes (some guests danced the hora to “Hava Nagila” on their way out).
The mood at the White House Hanukkah reception last night, though largely festive, took on some serious tones throughout the evening. First Lady Jill Biden introduced the night’s featured speaker, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, the former rabbi of the Colleyville, Texas, synagogue who, along with three members of his Congregation Beth Israel, was held hostage in an 11-hour standoff earlier this year. Cytron-Walker led the prayers over the Hanukkah candles as President Joe Biden mouthed along to some of the words.
Biden addressed the crowd after Cytron-Walker, deviating from the prepared remarks visible on teleprompters in the room as he said that Cytron-Walker’s actions during the Colleyville siege “took a lot of courage.”
On script, the president discussed rising antisemitism around the world. “I recognize your fear, your hurt, your worry that this vile and venom is becoming too normal,” Biden said. “As your president, I want to make this clear… silence is complicity. We must not remain silent. I made no bones about it from the very beginning. I will not be silent. America will not be silent.”
Biden also spoke about the new White House menorah, constructed from a plank of wood that once formed a part of the White House’s foundation, possibly dating back to the 1800s. “This year, we thought it was important to celebrate Hanukkah with another message of significance — permanence,” he said. “Like this White House menorah, our commitment to the safety of the Jewish people and the vibrancy of Jewish life is tightly woven into every fabric of America, is permanent. Permanent.”
The menorah was lit by Holocaust survivor Bronia Brandman, whom the president greeted with a hug and a kiss; U.S. Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council Michèle Taylor, the daughter of Holocaust survivors; and Avi Heschel, granddaughter of famed civil rights leader Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.
Biden ad-libbed to praise Heschel, saying that “he inspired my generation — that’s how I got involved in public life. Not a joke.”
Biden then spontaneously welcomed several children onto the stage, including a young relative of Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the son of Israel’s antisemitism envoy Noa Tishby and the daughter of Mandana Dayani, cofounder of the organization I am a voter. At the end of the program, Biden interrupted the closing music to answer a question from Dayani’s daughter, Anderson Traugott, who told the president she wants to become president one day and asked Biden how he became president. (“It’s a good question!” the younger Traugott explained to the crowd. “No one better to ask.”) Watch here.
The president responded by posing two questions to Traugott: “Who are you going to help, what do you care most about?” and “[Is] there something so important to you, you’d rather lose the election than win by doing something you don’t believe?”
Spotted in the crowd was a who’s who of Jewish communal leaders, White House officials (notably Ron Klain, Susan Rice and Mitch Landrieu), Cabinet members (Attorney General Merrick Garland) and elected officials, as well as a cadre of Jewish celebrities and comedians including actress Beanie Feldstein, TikTok star Eitan Bernath, comedian Alex Edelman, composer Benj Pasek and chef Michael Solomonov.
At the end of the evening, Malcolm Hoenlein, the longtime executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, remarked to reporters that he holds the record for attending the most White House Hanukkah parties — 21 in total. Hoenlein told Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod, “Although in the early years it was a smaller event, each year was significant. I think the recognition of Hanukkah by the presidents of the U.S. is a positive statement. Each president and administration celebrated in its own way but the theme was in common. It is also a wonderful networking opportunity.”
One missing attraction: “I guess we traded the lamb chops for a White House Rosh Hashanah party,” Bluelight Strategies’ Steve Rabinowitz quipped after not seeing the famous kosher entree of past Hanukkah parties at the White House.
Virginia Democrats to vote for successor to late Rep. Donald McEachin
Three weeks after the death of Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA) — and just a week after the election date was set — Democrats in the Richmond, Va., area head to the polls today to cast their ballots for one of several candidates vying to succeed the late three-term legislator, Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch reports.
Set the scene: In the weeks since McEachin’s death, state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, a vice chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus who mounted a failed primary bid for governor in 2021, shot to the front of the pack, having earned the backing of Virginia’s two U.S. senators; all the Democrats in its congressional delegation; McEachin’s widow; and Del. Lamont Bagby, a state representative who initially challenged McClellan but dropped out of the race and endorsed her last week. McClellan is facing off today against state Sen. Joe Morrissey, a conservative, pro-life Democrat who has been jailed five times, including a three-month sentence for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, whom he later married. Leon Benjamin, a Richmond minister, won the Republican nomination over the weekend, and will face off against either McClellan or Morrisey in February.
All eyes on Va.: The race has attracted national attention, including from major liberal groups such as EMILY’s List and Planned Parenthood, who are supporting McClellan, as well as pro-Israel advocacy organizations. McClellan earned the endorsement of Democratic Majority for Israel PAC and AIPAC PAC. McClellan earned the support of several prominent Jewish Democrats, including Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA), former Speaker of the Virginia Statehouse and now-Del. Eileen Filler-Corn and former state Del. Debra Rodman, who represented Henrico County, near Richmond. “She has a proven track record and really developed the relationships. She ran for governor, so she has that statewide exposure, and she is just known to be a really strong legislator and does the community outreach like no one else,” Rodman told JI.
No conditions: “During her 17 years in the legislature, Sen. McClellan has worked to strengthen Virginia’s long-standing relationship with the state of Israel,” Jared Leopold, Sen. McClellan’s communications advisor, told JI Monday. Leopold declined to make McClellan available for an interview, but added that if elected she would “support foreign aid bills that provide full funding without political preconditions to ensure Israel’s ability to defend itself,” and that, as a supporter of the two-state solution she will “advocate for direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders to ensure a lasting peace.”
Against hate: Morrissey, an iconoclastic legislator who has lambasted the party’s handling of the primary, told JI in an interview on Friday that he has worked closely with the Richmond Jewish community and pledged to stand up against antisemitism as a member of Congress. “There has certainly been an uptick in violence against Jewish people. Not just the people, but also where they choose to worship, including a rise in vandalism to synagogues. I think it is horrific. I have spoken out against it and have decried it,” said Morrissey.
on the bill
Omnibus rolls in
Early Tuesday morning, congressional leaders released their 2023 federal budget compromise bill. Advocates on and off the Hill once again fell short in their calls for $360 million in funding for the chronically underfunded Nonprofit Security Grant Program — negotiators settled on $305 million in funding, up from $250 million for 2022, Jewish Insider‘s Marc Rod reports.
No dice: The agreement on $305 million comes despite significant bipartisan pressure, support from the White House and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and language in the just-passed 2023 National Defense Authorization Act supporting the $360 million funding target.
Mideast money: The bill allocates $225 million for aid to the West Bank and Gaza — surpassing 2022 funding levels and the presidential budget request by $6 million; $75 million for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency; and $50 million for the Middle East Partnership for Peace Act. It also includes the expected $3.8 billion in aid to Israel.
Funding boosts: The bill provides $10 million for implementing the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act, aimed at improving hate crimes reporting, matching the Senate’s proposed funding level but falling $5 million short of the House’s proposal. Significant non-reporting plagued the recently released 2021 FBI hate crimes report. The agreement boosts funding for the Holocaust Survivor Assistance Program to $8.5 million, short of the House’s $10 million target but up from $6 million last year. It increases funding for the Office to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism and the special envoy for Holocaust issues to $1.5 million each, up 50% over last year for each department.
Wrap up: Other legislation folded into the bill will levy sanctions on Iranian agents and related banks involved in targeting Iranian or U.S. citizens opposing the regime; grant a congressional gold medal to Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz; and designate the Kol Israel Foundation Holocaust memorial in Ohio as a national memorial, the first Holocaust memorial to receive such a designation. It also clears the path for the U.S. to rejoin the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It does not include language relating either to the U.N.’s Commission of Inquiry targeting Israel or the death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
sign of the times
Tackling antisemitism in Times Square
“Enough of the blech. Let’s have fun.” That was how comedian Ariel Elias introduced a series of musical performances last night at a rally in Times Square, which drew hundreds of people to the center of Manhattan on a frigid evening to protest antisemitism, celebrate the second night of Hanukkah — and have a good time, eJewishPhilanthropy’s Ben Sales reports.
Balancing act: Elias — who rocketed to internet fame in October after drinking a beer that a heckler threw at her — had the delicate task that falls to many emcees of Jewish demonstrations: She had to call attention to the grave and worsening problem of antisemitism while keeping the crowd entertained and uplifted. “You know things are rough out there when a bunch of New Yorkers are actually willing to come to Times Square,” she quipped. Less than two minutes later, she got serious: “It’s a hard reality to face, but we have to: Antisemitism is intensifying… It’s become normalized across our culture, on social media, in pop culture, in politics and on the streets. And so our efforts to fight it must be even stronger.”
Artistic expression: The mix of concern and entertainment spanned the arc of the event, part of the national Shine A Light campaign to oppose antisemitism. The rally’s attendees included a robust delegation from the Modern Orthodox Ramaz School, all wearing matching yellow beanies embroidered with the school’s logo. The Ramaz choir (likewise wearing the beanies) closed out the event. Some other rally-goers wore black beanies with the insignia of the UJA-Federation of New York, and some held UJA-branded signs reading, “Fight Jew hatred,” “We stand together” and “Stamp out antisemitism.” In addition to the cast of “Fiddler on the Roof – Yiddish” — which sang “God Bless America” and the show tune “To Life,” both in Yiddish — the event included a performance by the Hasidic rapper Nissim Black, wearing a white overcoat; and speeches by Little Rock, Ark. Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. as well as TikTok influencer Montana Tucker, who recently made a series of videos on the platform about the Holocaust.
Miami Boy appearance: Near the end of the event, Jewish college students who have experienced antisemitism lit an electric menorah, with blessings (sans God’s name) sung by David Herskowitz, perhaps best known as the third Miami Boys Choir soloist in a viral Jewish music hit. The students were accompanied by Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, the chancellor of the City University of New York, who dropped out of testifying at a City Council hearing on antisemitism earlier this year. Later in the year, he committed to CUNY spending nearly $1 million to combat antisemitism on campus.
Official pledges: The highest-profile guests were New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and state Attorney General Letitia James, both of whom pledged to fight antisemitism. Hochul highlighted her efforts to ensure schools were teaching about the Holocaust and to promote security for Jewish institutions. James, who wished the crowd a decently pronounced “chag sameach,” stressed the role of non-Jews in combating hate against Jews. “Working together with non-Jews… is so critically important,” James said. “The only way that we are going to stamp out ignorance is with the light of education and understanding and respect.”
‘Fragile Beauty’ exhibition connects Jewish artists with the environment
Miami, known for its vibrant nightlife, bustling art scene and beautiful beaches, is also ground zero for sea level rise. With the same vigor, city officials are scrambling to find ways to elevate homes, build earthen berms and erect tall sea walls, while simultaneously organizing a weeklong showcase of artistic excellence — making it the perfect spot for an exhibition of three artists whose work calls attention to the problems facing the environment. Mira Lehr, Lauren Shapiro and Beatriz Chachamovits are no strangers to the dichotomy. Separately, the three Florida-based artists create pieces that merge the beauty of nature with its harsh realities, but have come together to paint an even more powerful picture with their newest joint exhibition, “Fragile Beauty,” Jewish Insider’s Tori Bergel reports.
Girl power: Showing through April at the Jewish Museum of Florida in Miami Beach, “Fragile Beauty” combines the trio’s individual works into a larger message about the changes happening to the planet and its struggling ecosystems. The exhibition had its official opening on Dec. 4, the final day of Miami Beach’s annual Art Week. The seven-day event, which this year culminated in the 20th anniversary of Art Basel Miami Beach earlier this month at the Miami Beach Convention Center, brings local and international artists together for a celebration of works along the city’s coastline. “As women, we have a more natural connection with the earth just because of how our body is, how we think, how our process is,” Chachamovits told JI. “We give birth, our body changes just like nature itself to create something new, and that relationship is really deep. So in a way, three female artists that are working in the same role, [coming] together to create an exhibition, I feel that it always makes the voice louder of the situation that needs to be dealt with or seen…that’s ultimately, I think, what we all want to see, the change that we’re asking for.”
Lehr’s look: Lehr, who was featured in two other exhibitions during Art Week Miami Beach in addition to “Fragile Beauty,” has been a prominent figure in the art world for over five decades. At 87, her work has shown in over 300 solo and group exhibitions, and been featured in museums and galleries across the country, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in D.C. Born in Brooklyn but raised in Miami, Lehr remembers the antisemitism she faced after moving from central to northern Miami Beach, which was predominantly Christian. “I was asked the first day of school what my religion was and when I replied ‘Jewish,’ a bunch of kids said, ‘Oh my God, another one!’ When walking home from school, a kid shot a bobby pin into my ear and said, ‘Let’s get rid of the Jews,’” she recalled. While experiences like those made Lehr “frightened and very conscious of being a minority,” she added that they also made her more empathetic, empowering her to fight for social causes like climate change and fair publicity for women in the arts.
Coral connection: Chachamovits’ art focuses on the decline of the earth’s coral reefs — with particular attention to what scientists say are their three main causes of deterioration: coral bleaching, ocean acidification and plastic pollution — a cause she literally swam upon. “A coral in itself is a bunch of polyps joined together to form a being, and I feel like that represents very much what Jewish culture is,” she said. “We all come together to form a bigger body, a bigger understanding, a bigger community, and in that sense…I’m seeing really this connection between the ocean environment and the interdependence and the symbiosis that exists, that is so vivid and is so strong, inside of the ocean.”
🌎 Mind the Gap: In the Wall Street Journal, Walter Russell Mead cautions that global uncertainty over the U.S. leadership has pushed allies to step up and fill the voids left by American policy-making. “Bidenites high-fiving each other and claiming, ‘Diplomacy is back!’ need to understand that America’s allies are becoming more active because they fear American decline. Given the inconstancy of 21st-century American presidential leadership (George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Joe Biden), few of our allies are confident about where we’re headed. Japan is stepping up defense spending because the American foreign-policy establishment, during two decades of passive incompetence, failed to anticipate, counter or deter China’s massive military buildup. Germany’s Zeitenwende, or turning point, resulted from the Biden administration’s failure to deter a weakened Russia in Ukraine. The Abraham Accords in the Middle East are best understood as a regional vote of no confidence in American leadership and reliability.” [WSJ]
💲Qatari Cash: In the wake of the arrests of E.U. officials who allegedly accepted bribes from Qatar, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Jonathan Schanzer and Hussain Abdul-Hussain write in Politico that Doha’s financial pressure campaigns have extended well beyond the sports realm. “Since 2016, Qatar — a nation of only 300,000 citizens — has spent a whopping $198 million to buy influence inside Washington, ranking fourth behind the much bigger China, Japan and South Korea. It has sponsored the annual Congressional baseball game, and it even kept the metro running when the Washington Capitals hockey team made a successful push for the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup in 2018. The country’s influence campaign extends into education as well. Between 2002 and 2021, Qatar spent $4.9 billion on American universities, six of which maintain campuses at Education City in Doha — where France’s HEC Paris also has a branch…Meanwhile, Qatari money isn’t hard to find in Europe either. This year, the country’s sovereign wealth fund announced it plans to invest $5 billion in projects in Spain; the Qataris hold an estimated £10 billion in British real estate; and other European investment targets include Germany, France, Greece and Switzerland.” [Politico]
↔️ Double-sided Antisemitism: In The Hill, the Hudson Institute’s Jonathan Schachter suggests that antisemitism on the far left and far right share the same goal, and at times overlap. “These two categories of antisemitism share a common desire to impose unbearable costs on American Jews’ exercising of their most fundamental rights — speech, assembly, worship. Among their adherents, some would deny Jews the right to life and liberty, and some deny that the Jewish people have the right to self-determination. The various types and tactics of antisemitism have something else in common: They should be fought together. Far too many are willing to name and shame the antisemitism of their political rivals while downplaying or even excusing the antisemitism of those in their own camp. The best way to challenge antisemitism is to do so with vigor and consistency, regardless of its source or expression and despite the discomfort of doing so against one’s in-group.” [TheHill]
Around the Web
☎️ Bibi + Biden: Politico reports that the Biden administration plans to work with the incoming Israeli government by directing its outreach to Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, whom U.S. officials “will publicly turn to, refer to and rely upon for any remotely serious talks.”
🗳️ Take Two: Martin Gruenberg was confirmed by the Senate to serve a second term as head of the FDIC.
👩 Incoming:Punchbowl News scoops that incoming House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) is expected to nominate Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA), the chair of the New Democrat Coalition, as DCCC chair. The DCCC is currently facing criticism from party members over its failure to vet Rep.-elect George Santos (R-NY), who beat Democrat Robert Zimmerman in the Long Island district before the surfacing of accusations that Santos had lied about his education and prior employment.
⚖️ SBF Saga: Sam Bankman-Fried’s legal team is sorting out details for the FTX founder’s extradition to the U.S., where he will face criminal charges.
✡️ Young and Jewish: NPR interviews Washington, D.C.-area Jewish teenagers about the recent rise in antisemitism.
🕍 Increased Consequences: The Ohio state legislature passed a measure imposing a maximum of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine on individuals who “Zoom-bomb” religious services.
👨⚖️ Nazi War Crimes: A German court convicted a 97-year-old woman of complicity in the murders of more than 10,505 people during her time working as a typist at the Nazi concentration camp Stutthof during World War II.
🌻 ‘Sunflowers’ Suit: The descendants of Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy are suing a Japanese company over possession of a painting by Vincent van Gogh, which the German-Jewish banker was forced to sell to the Nazis in 1934.
⛏️ Weinstein Verdict: Los Angeles jurors found Harvey Weinstein guilty of rape and sexual assault of one of four accusers he was charged with abusing.
🚑 Jailed Terrorist Dies: Nasser Abu Hmeid, a founding member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade serving multiple life sentences for his role in the attacks that killed seven Israelis and five Palestinians during the Second Intifada, died from lung cancer.
🇮🇷 🇸🇦 Discussions Deadlock: Iraqi-mediated talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia are at an impasse over Iranian claims that Riyadh is supporting the demonstrators protesting against the regime in Tehran.
📱 Hack Attack: CNN reports on efforts by Iranian officials to hack the phones of protestors in an attempt to suppress the anti-regime demonstrations that have swept the country.
🛰️ Syria Strike: Two people were killed in a strike near the Damascus airport that targeted a weapons facility believed to be linked to Iran-backed forces.
☢️ Iran Talks: Iranian media reported that Iran’s foreign minister and top nuclear negotiator met with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell today in Jordan.
🕯️ Remembering: Austrian-born Canadian philanthropist Albert Reichman, who was a vocal advocate in the movement to free Soviet Jewry, died at 93.
Pic of the Day
Taking NCJW Chief Policy Officer Jody Rabhan’s phone, President Joe Biden takes a selfie with attendees at last night’s White House Hanukkah party.
Owner of the Beverly Hilton Hotel and the Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills, Binyamin “Beny” Alagem turns 70…
Founder of an online children’s bookstore, Yona Eckstein… Former chair of the executive committee of the Jewish Federations of North America, Michael Gelman turns 78… Illusionist, magician and self-proclaimed psychic, Uri Geller turns 76… Television producer, he is the creator of the “Law & Order,” “Chicago” and “FBI” franchises, Richard Anthony (Dick) Wolf turns 76… Southern California resident, Carol Gene Berk… President of the University of Miami since 2015, he is a Mexican-born physician and former secretary of health of Mexico, Julio Frenk turns 69… Bob Lindenbaum… Educational advocate and strategist at the Melmed Center in Scottsdale, Ariz., Ricki Light… Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Yale since 2014, she is a professor of both philosophy and psychology, Tamar Szabó Gendler turns 57… Author of the 2019 book “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” she writes the “Dear Therapist” column for The Atlantic, Lori Gottlieb turns 56… IDF general and commander of the Israeli Air Force until this past April, Amikam Norkin turns 56… CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, Jeremy Burton… Swiss-born British philosopher and author, Alain de Botton turns 53… Former tight end for the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints, now a senior sales rep for Medtronic, Scott Lawrence Slutzker turns 50… Israeli-American television and film writer and producer, Ron Leshem turns 46… Actor, producer, screenwriter and comedian, known by his first and middle names, Jonah Hill Feldstein turns 39… Associate managing director of Hadassah Metro, Adam Wolfthal… Denver-based COO at Israel on Campus Coalition, Megan Nathan… Humor and fashion writer best known as Man Repeller, Leandra Medine Cohen turns 34… Israeli singer who performs Hebrew, English, Arabic and Spanish songs and covers, Ofir Ben Shitrit turns 27…