👋 Good Wednesday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we interview Sir David Adjaye, the award-winning architect of the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi, which includes the Moises Ben Maimon Synagogue. We also talked to senators on Capitol Hill yesterday about the recent China-brokered agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Others in today’s Daily Kickoff: Chanan Weissman, Jacob Steinmetz and Amelia Dimoldenberg.
The Maimonides Fund is opening an in-house institute to turn ideas generated by its quarterly Sapir Journal into viable plans of action, tapping Chanan Weissman, the former two-time White House liaison to the American Jewish community, as its director, the organization plans to announce today.
According to Maimonides Fund President Mark Charendoff, the impetus for the SAPIR Institute was feedback from readers of the journal, who wanted to see programs and initiatives inspired by the articles. “We found that every time we put an issue out, people contacted us and said, ‘In this article you raise really good questions, so who’s doing something about this?’ And our response was, ‘We’re a journal, we’re not doing something about this, we just put the idea out there,’” Charendoff told Judah Gross of JI’s sister publication eJewishPhilanthropy on Tuesday. “After a year, we thought maybe there is a vacuum in the market.”
The new institute is scheduled to launch on April 1. For now, Weissman will be the sole member of the team, though it will likely expand with time. Weissman, who is coming to Maimonides Fund from the State Department, served two stints as the White House liaison to the American Jewish community, first in the final year of the Obama administration and then in the first year of the Biden administration.
Though Weissman will be the only employee of Sapir Institute for the time being, he will not be alone in this work. The plan is for Weissman to identify the topics for the institute to develop and then invite representatives from other organizations, stakeholders and thinkers to discuss the topic and come up with an actionable plan.
“Chanan is the conductor, and we’ll put together an accomplished symphony,” Charendoff told eJP. “Chanan has already got a range of meetings set up with key individuals so that he can learn what people’s priorities are and what the best ways are to have these discussions.”
Interview with Sir David Adjaye, the architect of Abu Dhabi’s Abrahamic Family House
Sitting quietly with his young son lying on his lap on one of the back rows of the oak wood benches in the Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Sir David Adjaye appeared keen to blend in with the crowd. As bright midday sunlight filtered into the sanctuary on a recent Sunday in February, the architect of the Abrahamic Family House was soaking in the moment among the approximately 325 guests gathered to mark the opening of the synagogue. Jewish Insider’s Tamara Zieve sat down with Adjaye that day to meet the individual responsible for the design of the first-of-its-kind complex.
Among the crowd: “Hello, rabbi! I’ve been caught,” the award-winning Ghanaian-British architect laughed good-humoredly moments later, greeting Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, chief rabbi of the synagogue, as Sarna passed him. As JI began the interview with Adjaye, several admirers of his work quickly caught wind of who he was and began eagerly questioning him about the inspiration for the three iconic houses of worship he designed — a mosque, church and synagogue that stand side by side in a monumental interfaith complex on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi’s cultural hub.
Equal but different: “The deep history of all the religions,” Adjaye said, was the inspiration for the synagogue, named after the 12th-century rabbinic philosopher Maimonides, the His Holiness Francis Church, named after St. Francis of Assisi, and the Imam Al-Tayeb Mosque, named for the grand imam of the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo. “The concept is three temples, 30-by-30-by 30 [meters] — three. Three pylons. So if you notice each room, each volume from the exterior to the exterior and the height are all equal,” Adjaye, 56, told JI. “So they’re three equal forms. But in each — three different atmospheres.”
Sukkah style: Adjaye’s inspiration for the synagogue, which is oriented towards Jerusalem, was the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. The criss-cross beams that rise up to the roof, allowing light to filter in through the gaps, represent palm leaves or plants covering the sukkah, and allow congregants to look “up to the heavens,” Adjaye said. Adjaye, whose works include the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and the National Cathedral of Ghana, had initially wanted to make the roof open, but noted that this wasn’t possible for technical reasons. A bronze mesh tent — symbolizing the original tabernacle, known to have included a bronze laver — cascades from a skylight in the ceiling, which allows in midday sun and creates the effect of dappled light, a theme that carries through the three houses of worship.
Location, location, location: The architect, who hails from Ghana’s capital city of Accra, spent a lot of time in the UAE while working on the buildings. “I think that what Abu Dhabi is doing by opening up is very powerful,” he remarked. Adjaye describes as “critical statements” the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, signed by Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar Mosque on Feb. 4, 2019. “And to do it here, I think, on this continent was so symbolic and so powerful. And I hope that it has a ripple effect in the world,” he added.
‘Magical moment’: Sitting inside the Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue on its first day of prayer was a meaningful moment for Adjaye. “It’s just such a magical moment to see it full of people,” he said. “I always love the moment when something we’ve been working on, something that’s been in the head, is suddenly taken over by people,” the architect continued. “And they know how to use it because of the rituals and the patterns of what these things mean. So it’s beautiful. It’s always humbling.”
on the hill
Coons says he is ‘very concerned’ about growing Chinese engagement in the Middle East
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), a close ally of President Joe Biden on foreign policy matters, told Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod yesterday that he is “very concerned” about China’s growing engagement in the Middle East. Coons’ comments come following last Friday’s announcement of an agreement that was brokered by China to restore diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
China concerns: “I am concerned about what this signals in terms of China’s expanded efforts and engagement in the Gulf,” Coons, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee’s foreign operations subcommittee, said. “Anything that reduces tension in the Middle East in general is a positive, but I’m very concerned about the indication, the signal, the sense that China’s engagement in the Middle East is strengthening.” Coons’ comments echo concern among many, across party lines, on Capitol Hill about China’s growing influence in the region.
Other side of the aisle: Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that “if I were the Biden people, I’d be a little concerned” about the Saudi-Iranian agreement’s implications for U.S. interests in the Middle East. Asked about how the deal might impact the prospects for Saudi-Israeli normalization, Graham emphasized that it would likely not impact Israel’s posture toward Tehran. “I think that the Iranians are marching toward a nuclear weapon,” Graham told JI. “Israel’s not going to let that happen without a fight. And if Saudi Arabia doesn’t see that, they’re missing a lot.”
In a first, Hebrew University launches undergrad class in UAE studies
Since the Abraham Accords were signed two-and-a-half years ago, some half a million Israelis have visited the United Arab Emirates for diplomacy, business or to sample the Gulf state’s high-end, luxurious tourism. Now, for the first time, an Israeli university has launched a certified undergraduate course offering students the chance to gain a deeper understanding of what its new regional ally is all about, Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash reports.
Class curriculum: Titled ‘The Geopolitics of the UAE,’ the course, which started Sunday and is offered within the department of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, delves into the history of the economic powerhouse, explores its unique physical geography and influential role in a volatile region. The course also looks at the delicate make-up of the country’s people – from the native Arabian tribes to the multinational foreign residents – as well as the political policies and philosophies that turned it into a friend of Israel.
Looking at history: “The Abraham Accords is only a small part of the course,” Moran Zaga, the founder of the program and one of the few researchers of the UAE in Israel, told JI. “The central question that we will explore is the stable foundations of the United Arab Emirates, and within that we will learn about the country’s physical geography, its social geography, its history, about the tribes that make up its population, the structure of its political authority and its political and economic principles.” Zaga, a political geographer and expert on the Arabian Gulf, said her interest in the UAE began as an undergraduate student at Tel Aviv University in 2005. As the holder of a foreign passport – in addition to her Israeli one – she was afforded the rare opportunity to visit the country despite the absence of diplomatic relations with Israel and has been researching it ever since.
Filling the void: While the announcement of the normalization agreement between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain in August 2020 caught much of the world by surprise, for Zaga, who had already been studying the Gulf federation for nearly 15 years, the warming of ties was a natural progression. But, Zaga told JI, she immediately understood that there was a big gap in terms of Israelis’ knowledge of their newfound ally. “There was a lacuna in Israel in terms of understanding the UAE beyond the Abraham Accords,” Zaga, who was suddenly called on by business leaders and government officials to share her unique insights about the country, explained. “I tried to share as much as I could,” she said. “Israelis really had no idea about this country – most thought that Dubai was the country, and I worked very hard to close that gap in knowledge.”
🤝 Friends and Foes: In Foreign Policy, Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, lays out his top takeaways from the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran and raises questions about a “golden era” between the two countries. “It strains credulity to the breaking point to believe that conflict reduction can be achieved over such a broad region with so many moving parts by this latest agreement alone. Economic relations will be hampered by Saudi concern about running afoul of U.S. sanctions. And, of course, there’s the unresolved and potentially explosive matter of Iran’s nuclear program, which, if left unchecked, might lead to a Saudi effort to acquire a bomb of its own. That said, the Saudis have informed Washington that the main result of the accord is that Iran has agreed to stop attacking Saudi interests and supporting anti-Saudi proxies. How long this will last is unclear. But if this is simply a glorified cease-fire without a concerted Iranian-Saudi effort to make things work, it won’t be long.” [FP]
🇸🇦 Saudi Strategy: The Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Kalin and Summer Said analyze a perceived pragmatic and nonaligned foreign policy strategy pursued by Saudi Prime Minister and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. “Some analysts say Prince Mohammed is using closer relations with China and Russia to gain leverage for a deeper U.S. security relationship that some in Washington have resisted. Saudi officials are still negotiating over U.S. security guarantees that could convince Riyadh to eventually normalize relations with Israel — a decision that is likely to be some time away because of domestic resistance, the heating up of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and opposition in Washington to meeting Saudi demands. The Saudis are ‘dealing with everyone — Israel and Iran, China and the U.S., Russia and the Europeans — and being quite ambiguous about what they want to do and what’s their ultimate goal,’ said Cinzia Bianco, Gulf research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank. ‘Create a lot of confusion where everyone keeps wondering what they’re really up to, that’s exactly the point.’” [WSJ]
👴 Eye on Epshteyn:The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, Alan Feuer and Jesse McKinley spotlight Boris Epshteyn, a top aide to former President Donald Trump, who has been hired by Republican candidates hoping for some degree of access to the former president. “Mr. Epshteyn is the latest aide to try to live up to Mr. Trump’s desire for a slashing defender in the mold of his first lawyer protector, Roy M. Cohn. He serves as a top adviser and self-described in-house counsel for Mr. Trump, at a time when the former president has a growing cast of outside lawyers representing him in a slew of investigations and court cases… Mr. Epshteyn speaks with Mr. Trump several times a day and makes it known that he does so, according to interviews with Trump associates and other Republicans. He has recommended, helped hire and negotiated pay for several lawyers working for Mr. Trump on civil litigation and the federal and local criminal investigations swirling around him. ‘Boris is a pair of heavy hands — he’s not Louis Brandeis,’ said Stephen K. Bannon, a close ally of Mr. Epshteyn and former adviser to Mr. Trump, referring to the renowned Supreme Court justice. But Mr. Trump, he said, ‘doesn’t need Louis Brandeis.’ ‘You need to be a killer, and he’s a killer,’ Mr. Bannon added.” [NYTimes]
Around the Web
📃 Santos’ Signal: Rep. George Santos (R-NY) filed paperwork with the Federal Elections Commission declaring his intent to seek reelection in 2024.
👨 Coming Soon: In a video address, former N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he is launching a group called “Progressives for Israel.”
👀 Positive Perspective: The Hill explores how Saudi Arabia’s embrace of Chinese diplomacy in its rapprochement with Iran could benefit U.S. strategy in the Middle East.
⚾ Dashed Dreams: Team Israel was knocked out of the World Baseball Classic on Tuesday night following a 10-0 loss to the Dominican Republic. Among the team’s seven pitchers in the game was 19-year-old Jacob Steinmetz, the first known Orthodox Jewish player drafted by MLB, who struck out San Diego Padres’ star Manny Machado.
🏦 VC Pitch: Private equity firm Apollo Global Management has asked major venture capital firms to support its bid for the assets of Silicon Valley Bank.
🥘 On the Menu: The New York Times Style Magazinespotlights the chefs and bakers transforming traditional Jewish cuisine for the modern palate.
✡️ San Diego Statement: County supervisors in San Diego passed a resolution condemning antisemitism, three years after one person was killed and three others injured in an attack on a synagogue in Poway, Calif.
🍗 Chicken and Celebs: The Washington Post interviews British comedian and presenter Amelia Dimoldenberg about her YouTube series ‘Chicken Shop Date’ in which she interviews celebs in a dating-style format at fried chicken eateries.
🤔 Strategy Session: New York Times columnist Tom Friedman looks at the strategic decisions made by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
🇮🇱 Calming Concerns: Israeli Ambassador to Bahrain Eitan Na’eh suggested that the recent warming of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran would not affect Israel’s relationships with signatories to the Abraham Accords.
💳 Bank Balance: Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron told CNN’s Richard Quest that the judicial reform moving forward in Israel could seriously hurt the country’s economy.
⚖️ Coalition Compromise? Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich suggested to Citibank executives in New York yesterday that the coalition will agree to a compromise deal on the proposed overhaul of the judicial system.
🛫 Bibi to Berlin: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to travel to Berlin today where he is scheduled to meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
👶 New Life: Devora Paley, who lost two sons in a terror attack in Jerusalem last month, gave birth to her 10th child this morning.
🕯️ Remembering: Children’s book author Amy Schwartz died at 68.
Pic of the Day
Philanthropist Karen W. Davidson affixes a mezuzah to the doorpost of the Davidson Center in the Old City of Jerusalem, which reopened on Sunday night after three years of renovations. The renovations and expansions were funded by the William Davidson Foundation. Ethan Davidson said that the center lives up to his father’s vision of “a historical place of great significance for the Jewish people.”
Rapper, comedian and actor, better known by his stage name Lil Dicky, David Andrew Burd turns 35…
Theoretical chemist and winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Martin Karplus turns 93… Emmy, Golden Globe and Tony Award-winning actor, Judd Hirsch turns 88… Founder of Baer & McGoldrick (now Schulte, Roth & Zabel) and a film producer, Thomas H. Baer turns 86… UCLA professor, biochemist and biophysicist, David S. Eisenberg turns 84… First-ever NYC public advocate starting in 1994, he is an author of 23 books, Mark J. Green turns 78… British businessman Sir Philip Nigel Ross Green turns 71… Managing member at Buena Vista Fund Management in San Francisco, Robert Mendel Rosner… Animator and director of numerous episodes of “The Simpsons,” David Silverman turns 66… Real estate agent at Signature Realty Associates in the Tampa and Florida Gulf Coast market, Ze’ev (Wolf) Bar-El… Real estate investor and owner of many trophy properties in NYC, Chicago, Philadelphia and Hawaii, Steve Witkoff turns 66… Los Angeles-based writer, director and producer, Andrea Blaugrund Nevins turns 61… Freelance writer and consultant, Bathsheva Gladstone… AVP of JFNA’s LiveSecure program, Debra Barton Grant… Member of the Knesset for the Likud party, currently serving as speaker of the Knesset, Amir Ohana turns 47… Retired MLB infielder, he now owns Loma Brewing, a brew pub in Los Gatos, Calif., he is Team Israel’s batting coach in the World Baseball Classic, Kevin Youkilis turns 44… Global business editor for Defense One, Marcus Weisgerber… Psychotherapist at North Raleigh Mental Health & Wellness, Mindy Beth Reinstein Brodsky… Member of the New York State Assembly for the northeast portions of Queens, Nily Rozic turns 37… Board chair at the African Middle Eastern Leadership (AMEL) Project and executive director of the 30 Birds Foundation, Justin Hefter… Co-founder of Punchbowl News, Rachel Schindler and Rachel’s twin brother Max J. Schindler, a college admissions consultant and SAT/ACT tutor… Jewish Caucus chair of the Young Democrats of America, Zach Shartiag… Professional wrestler, Maxwell Jacob Friedman turns 27…