👋 Good Tuesday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we interview Richmond, Va., Mayor Levar Stoney about his recent trip to Israel, and look at the implications of a proposed rules change at the Department of Education. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Dara Horn, L’Chaim OG and Douglas Schoen.
The Biden administration will host its third-annual virtual “People’s Seder” next Monday at 5:30 p.m., Shelley Greenspan, the White House’s liaison to the Jewish community, confirmed to Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch on Monday.
“Every year at Passover, Jews around the world begin the retelling of the Passover story with Ha Lahma Anya, which includes the line, ‘Let all who are hungry, come and eat!’” Greenspan told JI. “This is one of the core values of the holiday — that everyone, no matter one’s income level, deserves to celebrate being free at Passover.”
This year’s virtual White House Seder, which is co-hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will focus on food insecurity. “Even while there is a feast in front of us, our neighbors are hungry and we can never truly be free until each and every one of us is food secure,” said Greenspan. She declined to say whether President Joe Biden would participate in the Seder, and did not name any White House officials who are participating. Read more here.
All eyes are on Chicago today, where voters head to the polls for a runoff to determine who will succeed Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who fell short in February’s election for the city’s top job. Going head-to-head in the Windy City are former education superintendent Paul Vallas and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson. The final poll released before today’s election showed Vallas with a four-point lead.
Both Vallas and Johnson have spent the final weeks of the campaign reaching out to Chicago’s Jewish community, we reported last week, which could play a key role in today’s results.
“This is going to be a very close race,” Leonard Matanky, a rabbi who leads Congregation K.I.N.S., an Orthodox synagogue in West Rogers Park, told JI on Monday. “However, I believe that many in our community are naturally drawn to Paul Vallas — he has a track record and significant leadership experience, and his commitment to education and public safety resonates very strongly with us. Against the backdrop of the rise in antisemitism, the critical need for strong public and parochial education to guide our youth, and the complex challenge of governments, Paul Vallas’ candidacy speaks the loudest.”
Today is also Election Day in Wisconsin, where a closely watched Supreme Court race is set to decide whether conservatives will maintain a majority or if control will tip to the liberal wing, although the court is nominally nonpartisan. Liberal Judge Janet Protasiewicz faces conservative former Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly for a 10-year term on the court. Spending in the race has passed $42 million, including significant outside spending, and Protasiecwicz has substantially outraised Kelly.
The animating issue, particularly for Democrats, is abortion rights. Wisconsin, a key battleground state, has a long-standing law outlawing nearly all abortions, which could potentially be overturned by a more liberal court. “[Today] is going to be a referendum on abortion,” Mordecai Lee, a University of Wisconsin political science professor, told Jewish Insider. The issue, Lee said, could help turn out “disaffected women in the suburbs, college educated [voters]” in favor of Protasiewicz.
Both sides, including outside groups, have been active on TV, with Kelly characterizing Protasiewicz as soft on crime. “I think one of the things that’s different this time around is that… Mr. Kelly also has some problematic history on this front, and so third-party groups have been able to put him on the defensive on that. And it means that it’s sort of a wash,” Joe Zepecki, a Milwaukee-based Democratic strategist, said.
The outcome today could have implications for 2024. A liberal-controlled Supreme Court could revisit Wisconsin’s conservative-led congressional redistricting as well as the Supreme Court’s decision outlawing ballot drop boxes and other election-related decisions, which “would substantively provide an advantage for Democrats,” Lee said.
The result will likely come along tight margins, Zepecki said, and may not be a strong indicator of where the state leans in 2024. Record turnout in a Supreme Court race was 1.5 million voters, he explained, while presidential turnout has been over 3 million. However, results in the Milwaukee suburbs could be an indicator of whether “some of that Trump effect on suburban voters has abated or not.”
We don’t often note state Supreme Court races, but as CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski put it, “The Wisconsin election tomorrow is probably significantly more consequential” than news of former President Trump’s indictment, which is scheduled for today in New York.
Richmond’s Levar Stoney, recently returned from Israel, eyes governor’s mansion
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney leads a very Democratic city that is currently home to Virginia’s popular Republican governor. The 42-year-old mayor is quick to admit he’s got his eye on the governor’s mansion, just a few miles from his home in the Old Dominion’s capital city. “I’m going to seriously consider running for governor in 2025,” Stoney, a Democrat, confirmed in an interview with Jewish Insider’s Gabby Deutch last week.
Looking for allies: Stoney commended Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin for his work fighting antisemitism, including his creation of the first state-level commission dedicated to addressing antisemitism. “When I had my first conversation with Governor Youngkin, I told him that when he’s doing some great things for the Commonwealth of Virginia, I want to recognize him for that,” said Stoney. “When it comes to the commission to combat antisemitism, I think Governor Youngkin was doing the right thing. And I think the recommendations, the follow-through, I applaud that.”
On the scene: Stoney, who leads a city of 226,000, has become a vocal advocate for the city’s 10,000 Jews. As the president of the Democratic Mayors Association and a sometimes-surrogate for the Biden administration, the second-term mayor has carved out a niche for himself on the national stage. He’s also taken an active role internationally. Stoney delivered an address at a December conference in Greece dedicated to antisemitism, and he recently returned from a delegation to Israel for American mayors.
Democracy dish: Stoney’s recent trip to Israel, on a delegation organized by the American Jewish Committee, was his first. “I’ve got two words for you: It’s complicated. That’s what I learned on the trip,” he said. The delegation flew home one day after protests and widespread strikes briefly halted outgoing flights at Ben Gurion Airport, and the group saw firsthand the Israeli public debate over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s now-paused judicial reform legislation. “It’s my hope that, during this pause, we find a way to strengthen democracy in Israel, because Lord knows we don’t need a democracy devolving into an autocracy,” Stoney said. “We need to strengthen democracy. And when you strengthen democracy, you will use it as a tool to combat hate and antisemitism.”
Not as seen on TV: Stoney reflected that the Israel he experienced was very different from what he described as the “Americanized media version” of the country. “For instance, I didn’t know that Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis all live amongst one another. You would not know that from the American media,” he said. “They all want to coexist and live in harmony. Just like we have in this country, in the United States, there’s extremism on both sides, who unfortunately impede the progress towards peace.”
Possible Department of Education rule change could undermine protections for Jewish students, Brandeis Center warns
A potential rules change at the Department of Education could undermine regulations that have been used to protect Jewish students’ rights on campus, Ken Marcus, the chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, warned last week, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
Taking input: The Department of Education (ED) recently solicited comments regarding regulations, implemented during the Trump administration, that conditioned grants to higher education institutions on upholding students’ free speech rights. At public schools, these conditions were tied to First Amendment protections, while at private schools they were linked to enforcement of the schools’ own free expression policies. If students could prove in court that their rights had been violated, ED could penalize the schools for noncompliance with the grant conditions.
Counterarguments: ED’s request for information states that stakeholders had raised concerns that elements of the regulation “unnecessarily go beyond what is required by the courts, encourage campus community members to pursue litigation more frequently and undermine existing campus procedures,” adding additional costs for schools. The document further alleges that the regulations “may incentivize private colleges to limit, eliminate, or reconsider their policies on free speech for fear of losing grant funds.”
Potential ramifications: Marcus told JI that repealing these protections would remove a tool that has been used to protect Jewish and pro-Israel students. He pointed specifically to the 2021 case of Duke University, where a pro-Israel club was denied recognition based on its views before the Duke student government reversed course and voted to recognize the group. “We were able to insist that the university reverse itself because otherwise this would be a free speech violation that could lead to significant liability for the university,” he said.
Other tools: Marcus said that, in some cases, Jewish students are able to bring claims under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Trump administration issued new rules explicitly including antisemitism as a prohibited form of discrimination under this law. But in other cases, he added, “the stronger claim is based on the freedom of speech.” He explained, “This isn’t the most powerful weapon that we have against anti-Jewish activity on college campuses, but it is an important one.”
Bonus: The University of Vermont entered into an agreement to resolve a Title VI complaint filed by Jewish students alleging the school had failed to investigate antisemitic harassment. The school will be required to review and revise its policies and procedures for addressing discrimination and harassment to ensure they align with Title VI, including training staff and students, issue a public commitment to address antisemitism and submit past antisemitism complaints to the ED. The resolution agreement is the first addressing antisemitism under the Biden administration.
A touch of Tuscany in the hills of Jerusalem
KFAR URIA, Israel — When romance first bloomed between British-born Tessa Laws and her Israeli husband, Itzik Ben Aharon, he asked her in earnest what she wanted to do when she “grew up.” Already in her 50s, widowed with three children and working as a lawyer in the U.K., Laws, who met Ben Aharon during a vacation to Israel eight years ago, told him that her dream was to own a farm, or perhaps a guest house somewhere in Spain or Italy. “I had no idea that you could actually own land in Israel,” said Laws, 57, who – together with her now grown daughter, Lotte Beilin, and with help from Ben Aharon – opened the bucolic Sitopia retreat in the tranquil farming community of Kfar Uria last month. “Itzik helped me find the land and together we built this guest house,” she told Jewish Insider’s Ruth Marks Eglash of the exclusive adults-only luxury retreat that sits almost equidistant from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and boasts breathtaking views of the rolling Judean Hills region in between.
Family business: Laws and Ben Aharon, who have six children between them, also built their dream home right beside Sitopia and, together with Beilin, now manage the intimate lodgings, including cooking meals and entertaining guests, with top-level service and homegrown warmth.
What’s in a name: Named after the ancient Greek words for food, “sitos,” and place, “topos,” Sitopia is a unique experience for those looking for something beyond the busy, bustling tourist hotels of Israel’s big cities.
Suite style: Each of the four suites is named after the dominant color of the stylish decoration – White Room, Black Room, Green Room and Blue Room – and the feeling in each one is quite different. The White Room, for example, has clean lines and a refreshing aesthetic, while the Black Room is more imposing and dramatic. Each of the tiny lodgings is self-sufficient, with a gallery-style bedroom overlooking a cozy living room, kitchen and a neatly tucked-away bathroom. The fixtures and fittings are well-thought-out and high-end, with details that make a stay almost flawless.
Cooking therapy: Snaking behind the buildings is a relaxing heated pool and soon-to-be-completed steam room. A lounge deck surrounds the pool and an open table farm-style dining room allows guests – even those that don’t know each other – to dine together during mealtimes. “I am a sociable person, I like food and I like people,” explained Laws, who moved to Israel in 2022 and invested her life savings into building Sitopia. “After I was widowed, I found real joy in cooking and hosting people. I think cooking is an underrated therapy, and I hope that in the future we might be able to open a cookery school here for that.”
holiday of freedom
Still under fire, Ukraine’s Jews seek ‘spiritual power’ this Passover
The war in Ukraine is still raging more than a year after Russia invaded the country, but for Ukrainian Jews, the upcoming Passover holiday will be a time for togetherness, with thousands set to gather for large communal seders, as well as smaller ones in people’s homes. Preparations for Passover this year were easier than last year, when the festival fell a little over a month after the invasion began and the country was still in a state of major upheaval and uncertainty, according to a number of people involved in the efforts told eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross. Now, however, the Jewish community – and the country as a whole – is facing a different challenge: A war with no clear end in sight.
A shift in focus: The feelings and themes that will be discussed at the seders will reflect that, according to Rabbi Irina Gritsevskaya, the executive director of Midreshet Schechter in Israel and the head of Ukraine’s Masorti community. “Last year, there were a lot of refugees so that was more the focus. This year is more about salvation and hope. People feel like [the war] is not going to end so they need more spiritual power to keep going,” Gritsevskaya told eJP this week, speaking over the phone from Poland as she made her way by train to Kyiv, where she will remain for the holiday.
Hearing from the kids: She will lead a Seder with more than 100 people in Kyiv, including children from the war-torn city of Kharkiv who will have a chance for respite and a chance to interact with other Ukrainian Jewish youngsters. “They will meet other kids from Kyiv and have meaningful conversations about what Pesach means today. I am so interested to hear what they’ll say,” Gritsevskaya said.
♟️ Putin’s Pawns: The Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian, who previously served as the Post’s correspondent in Tehran and was imprisoned by the Iranian authorities for 544 days, calls out fellow journalists for their reporting on Russia’s arrest of Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich. “[Russian President Vladimir] Putin didn’t simply move to expel foreign journalists as a group. He instead picked off one, took him hostage, and will now in all likelihood subject him to a lengthy show trial. As the Brittney Griner affair demonstrates, Putin considers hostage-taking a key part of his foreign policy arsenal. As news broke of Gershkovich’s arrest, however, most of the news coverage conveyed a different message. Almost unanimously, it suggested that Gershkovich was accused of espionage, and usually did so in the headline. This is, at best, doing the dirty work of perpetuating an unproven narrative of a bad-faith state actor. It may sound unorthodox for me to say this, but as a journalist who has not only seen this movie before but starred in it, I think my colleagues are perpetrating journalistic malpractice.” [WashPost]
❌ Holocaust Ed’s Failing Grade: In The Atlantic, Dara Horn observes the state of Holocaust education around the U.S., and considers its effectiveness amid an uptick in antisemitism nationwide. “The Holocaust educators I met across America were all obsessed with building empathy, a quality that relies on finding commonalities between ourselves and others. But I wondered if a more effective way to address anti-Semitism might lie in cultivating a completely different quality, one that happens to be the key to education itself: curiosity. Why use Jews as a means to teach people that we’re all the same, when the demand that Jews be just like their neighbors is exactly what embedded the mental virus of anti-Semitism in the Western mind in the first place? Why not instead encourage inquiry about the diversity, to borrow a de rigueur word, of the human experience?” [TheAtlantic]
🇺🇸🇮🇱 Schoen’s Strategy: In The Hill, former Clinton administration advisor Douglas Schoen suggests how President Joe Biden could approach his relationship — and disagreements — with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Biden, who has a four-decade-long relationship with Netanyahu, understands the immense weight that the American president’s words carry with respect to Israel. To Israelis, friendship with the U.S. is essential. In that same vein, both the U.S.’s allies and our enemies hold the American president’s articulation of our foreign policy priorities in high regard — and arguably as instructive, as with Ukraine. It is not hyperbole to suggest that a close Israeli-American relationship is vital to preventing the Iranian regime — a true autocracy — from acquiring nuclear weapons, ensuring stability in the Middle East and protecting U.S. and European national security.” [TheHill]
👴 Acting on Instinct: The Washington Post’s Yasmeen Abutaleb explores President Joe Biden’s foreign policy approach and how it may play out in the third year of his presidency. “Biden has articulated a foreign policy doctrine as explicitly as any president in recent years, saying the United States will side with democracies in their global battle with autocracies. But ultimately, allies say, Biden is guided by instinct and experience — not sweeping theories or cut-and-dried principles. ‘He has very strong instincts,’ [Secretary of State Tony] Blinken, who has worked with Biden for more than 20 years, said in an interview. ‘But they are deeply informed by experience, deeply informed by constant conversations, engagements, discussions and debates with his senior team and with others.’…At the heart of Biden’s foreign policy is the singular importance he places on his rapport with foreign leaders. “He frequently says all foreign policy is personal, that personal relationships with leaders really matter,” [National Security Advisor Jake] Sullivan said.” [WashPost]
Around the Web
☢️ Iran Talk: The U.S. has discussed with European allies and Israel the possibility of an arrangement with Iran that would see some sanctions lifted in exchange for a partial freeze of Tehran’s nuclear program, Axios’ Barak Ravid reports.
💰 Money Matters: Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) and Ruben Gallegos (D-AZ), who are mounting Senate bids in their respective states, announced their fundraising hauls for the first quarter: Slotkin pulled in $3 million, while Gallegos raised $3.7 million.
📄 Santos Challenger: JP Morgan analyst Kellen Curry filed paperwork to run in New York’s 3rd Congressional District, becoming the first Republican challenger to Rep. George Santos (R-NY).
🕍 This Year in Squirrel Hill: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette spotlights the region’s Jewish community as it prepares for the Passover holiday, which falls weeks before the beginning of the trial of the accused shooter in the deadly attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in 2018.
🤼♂️ Tag Team: Ari Emanuel’s Endeavor and World Wrestling Entertainment announced the merger of WWE with Ultimate Fighting Championship to form a more than $21 billion company, with Emanuel serving as CEO of the new company in addition to his current role.
✡️ Never Forget: The Los Angeles Times’ Tyrone Beason spotlights the efforts of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance to relay the lessons of the Holocaust to high school students.
📚 Bookshelf: The New York Times’ Jeff Shell reviews Timothy Egan’s new book, A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan’s Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them.
🍷🍷🍷🍷 Seder Table Talk: The Associated Press looks at the ways in which conversations about Israel will be approached this Passover.
🍽️ Symbolic Seat: An Israel-based colleague of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is calling on people to set an extra place at their Seder table for the detained journalist, who was arrested by Russian officials last week.
🏦 Tense Times for Tech: Reuters explores the impact the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, coupled with the proposed judicial reform, has had on Israel’s tech sector.
🔪 Suspected Terror Attack: Two Israelis were wounded in a stabbing attack in central Israel this morning, Israeli police said.
💻 Hack Attack: Hackers attacked the websites of several major Israeli universities this morning.
🫓 The Bread of Affection: For NPR, Rabbi Dan Ornstein reflects on the lessons he has learned from his online friendship with a member of Uganda’s Abayudaya Jewish community, to whom he mailed matzo for Passover.
👮 Thinking Ahead: Israeli officials preemptively detained a Jewish activist who campaigns for the right to pray at the Temple Mount in an effort to get ahead of any effort to conduct a Passover sacrifice at the site ahead of the holiday, which coincides with Ramadan.
✋ Frozen Fire: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will postpone the firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, whose dismissal Netanyahu’s office announced more than a week ago.
👛 Wallet Warning: The Bank of Israel warned that proposed judicial overhaul plans could set back the country’s economic output by 2.8% over the next several years.
⚖️ Talkin’ Bout a Constitution: The Wall Street Journal looks at the debate in Israel in regard to drafting a constitution, and spotlights previous efforts to do so.
🇦🇪 In for The Long Haul: The UAE’s ties with Israel are likely to survive the current political tensions, analysts told Reuters.
Pic of the Day
Israeli actress and model, Sendi Bar turns 47…
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, he was the executive editor of The New York Times, Joseph Lelyveld turns 86… Former vice-provost of the California Institute of Technology where he also served as a professor of applied physics, David L. Goodstein turns 84… Research scientist and former CEO of the Ontario Genomics Institute, Mark J. Poznansky turns 77… Marketing consultant Eugene Kadish… Professor emeritus in the department of Jewish thought at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Daniel J. Lasker turns 74… Engineer, inventor, businessman, best known for his invention of the Segway, Dean Kamen turns 72… CEO of Hess Corporation, John Barnett Hess turns 69… British novelist, author of over 50 books specializing in mystery and suspense, his Alex Rider series is estimated to have sold 21 million copies worldwide, Anthony Horowitz turns 68… Founder of merchant bank Alnitak Capital Partners and chairman of the board of Sodastream, Stanley B. Stern turns 66… Russia editor for BBC News, Steven Barnett Rosenberg turns 55…
Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle P. Walensky turns 54… Film and television writer, producer and co-founder of Quantity Entertainment, Lee Eisenberg turns 46… Assistant managing editor for CNN Politics focused on legal and justice issues, Dan Berman… Senior director of global sanctions policy and strategy at PayPal, Howard Wachtel… Boston-based musician and fine artist, Marissa Nadler turns 42… VP at D.C.-based Porter Group, Benjamin J. Rosenbaum… Israeli screenwriter and political activist focused on disability benefits, Alex Fridman turns 35… Program director at 2U educational technology company, Adam Maslia… Director at Bully Pulpit Interactive, Sarah Horvitz… British Labour party Member of Parliament, Charlotte Louise Nichols turns 32… Congressional analyst at GovTrack Insider and box office analyst at BoxOffice Media, Jesse Rifkin… Manager at Schmidt Futures, Wilson Shirley… Executive and brand consultant at Creative Artists Agency, Camila Seta… Adam Ross Rubenstein… Harvey Levin…