👋 Good Monday morning!
In today’s Daily Kickoff, we report on efforts to preserve the last standing synagogue in Mosul, Iraq, and interview New York state Assembly candidate Sam Berger. Also in today’s Daily Kickoff: Jared Kushner, Boaz Weinstein and Brian Roberts.
The first GOP presidential primary debate is taking place on Wednesday in Milwaukee, but the clear front-runner for the nomination – former President Donald Trump – is not planning to attend.
That unusual dynamic sets the stage for a debate that amounts to a battle for second place. The debate, airing on Fox News, will be a test for who can emerge as the most credible Trump rival who can woo the party establishment while being acceptable to the dominant MAGA wing of the party, Jewish Insider Editor-in-Chief Josh Kraushaar writes.
There are several plausible candidates for that position: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis still is one of the few Trump alternatives that can coalesce both ideological wings of the party, and can rely on big bucks from an allied super PAC to sustain his effort. But he’s been struggling to articulate a message on the campaign trail, and has been slipping in polls since announcing his candidacy.
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott is one of the most-liked candidates in the field, and has shown signs of growth in the critical early state of Iowa, boosted by ample early spending from his allies. But his policy portfolio is relatively thin, and he’s benefited from avoiding attacks from rivals that have been trained so far on DeSantis.
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley combines executive experience as governor with an approachable campaign presence – and her allies are just beginning to spend big bucks on ads introducing her to early state voters. But if she can’t get traction after the debate, it’s unclear when she’ll be able to make a move.
Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy is the current trendy candidate, given his rise in some polls and dedication to sticking to a populist MAGA-aligned message. But by running as something of a Trump protege, it’s hard to see how he’ll be able to make the most effective case to dethrone the front-running Trump.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Vice President Mike Pence each have factions of support, mainly with Trump-critical Republicans. Christie, in particular, is positioned to have a strong debate performance – and may end up prosecuting the case against DeSantis as much as against Trump. But while Christie could surprise in New Hampshire or Pence could get a fresh wave of media respect, their high negatives with most GOP voters make it near-impossible for them to win the nomination.
Time is running out for any of these wannabe Trump successors to make their mark. If no one has a defining moment out of Milwaukee, the only thing stopping Trump from the GOP nomination are his growing legal troubles.
The race to save Mosul’s last synagogue
The graceful pointed arches and brickwork in muted earth tones — azure blue, burnt sienna and yellow ochre — evoke a long-ago Jewish past in the now nearly ruined Sassoon Synagogue in the old Jewish quarter of Mosul. It is the only surviving synagogue in the northern Iraqi city, which, prior to Israel’s creation in 1948, was home to a thriving Jewish population of nearly 6,000. Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the synagogue has been used to dump garbage, its mikveh transformed into a barn for horses. A year after the city was liberated from ISIS in 2017 following the U.S.-led military offensive, remnants of historical religious places of worship, monuments and museums began to emerge from the rubble of war. One was the Sassoon Synagogue, Rebecca Anne Proctor reports from Mosul for Jewish Insider.
Rescue mission: Now, an effort led by several Iraqi Jews is underway to preserve the synagogue, and with it the Jewish heritage of Mosul that is in peril of being lost forever. The effort comes as numerous international cultural organizations dedicate funds and manpower to rebuilding the city’s important historic landmarks, such as the Great Mosque of al-Nuri and its distinctive “hunchback” leaning minaret, both of which ISIS blew up in 2017, and Our Lady of the Hour Church (Al-Sa’aa in Arabic). “The Sassoon Synagogue is the only surviving one in Mosul and its preservation is important as a symbol and a reminder of the coexistence that existed in Iraq throughout history,” Edwin Shuker, an Iraqi-born Jew who visited the site in 2019 and continues to champion for its reconstruction, told JI. But a newly passed law cutting off any ties with Israel is blocking funding for the synagogue’s restoration.
Preserving history: Omar Mohammed, a senior researcher in the Program on Extremism at The George Washington University, recently concluded a project on the documentation of the oral history of the Jewish community in Iraq. He found that most of the Jews in Mosul who were deported and had their land confiscated during the 1950s under Baghdad’s pro-Nazi regime during World War II, and after Israel’s founding, are still alive. They are, however, no longer living in Iraq. “We are interested in reviving the Jewish heritage of Iraq, which is something that has been omitted from our history books,” Mohammed told JI. “It is their own right to be remembered that they lived once in this place that they lived, they owned the property, they had their own life. But now it has been completely omitted.”
GOP senators blast Biden’s Iran hostage deal
Twenty-six Republican senators on Friday condemned the Biden administration’s decision to release $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets in exchange for the release of U.S. hostages held by the regime, Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod reports.
What they said: “While we firmly believe the United States must use every appropriate resource to secure the release of American citizens wrongfully detained overseas, this decision will reinforce an incredibly dangerous precedent and will enable the Iranian regime to increase its destabilizing activities across the Middle East,” a letter addressed to Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen reads.
Follow-ups: The lawmakers requested a briefing on the situation within 30 days and written answers to questions, including whether the administration will offer a specific sanctions waiver for the released funds and what safeguards are in place to ensure the released funds are only used for humanitarian purposes and do not “free up additional resources” for malign activities.
king of queens
Sam Berger running to fill Dan Rosenthal’s shoes in Queens
As voters in central Queens gear up for a Sept. 12 special election to fill a vacant state Assembly seat, Democratic candidate Sam Berger has emerged as the front-runner to succeed state Assemblyman Dan Rosenthal, one of the leading Jewish advocates in the state legislature, eJewishPhilanthropy’s Haley Cohen reports for Jewish Insider.
Handing the baton: Rosenthal has endorsed Berger, and the former assemblyman has reportedly also been calling labor unions and advocacy groups to ensure his seat remains in Democratic control. Berger, like Rosenthal, is an Orthodox Jew. He’s also the grandson of two Holocaust survivors. “When this opportunity came up, I met with Dan and we spoke about what the job could be and there’s a lot of good that can be done. So I said, ‘OK put me in,’” Berger told JI. He touted his deep ties to the local community as a central argument for his candidacy. “I grew up [in Kew Gardens Hills], I went to law school here, and now I have two little girls and I’m raising a family here,” Berger, who graduated from St. John’s Law School in the spring, said.
District makeup: Berger will square off against Republican David Hirsch, 34, an Orthodox rabbi who works in education policy. Orthodox Jewish voters in the district have in recent years been increasingly casting ballots for GOP candidates. In 2022, Republican Lee Zeldin, a former congressman from Long Island who ran for governor against Gov. Kathy Hochul, won the district with 56% of the vote to Hochul’s 44%.
Speaking from experience: A product of yeshiva education, Berger said Orthodox education in New York has been “targeted and put under baseless scrutiny.” A New York Times investigation, published in September 2022, found that many Haredi yeshivas were not meeting state standards for secular education. A subsequent report by the city’s Department of Education revealed that 18 yeshivas failed to provide adequate secular education. “I’m proud of the education I received,” Berger said. “It’s disturbing to me when there’s misinformed information on yeshiva schools. I stand firm in my conviction that any genuine concerns about yeshiva schools should be addressed in an unbiased investigation. There does not seem to be a genuine intent to uplift these institutions, and there needs to be. Rather, we paint them with a broad brush based on select narratives. I will be opposing that as much as I can.”
Wizz Air expands cheap flights in Mideast, pledges better service
At $157 for a round-trip ticket, Wizz Air’s three-hour flights between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv last April were less than half the cost of FlyDubai, El Al and other competitors. Passengers, however, were crammed into some of the narrowest seats in the industry, flights were habitually late and extra charges piled up for luggage, food and legroom. “I’m actually not too worried about how we are performing,” Johan Eidhagen, managing director of Wizz Air’s Abu Dhabi-based Mideast division, told Rebecca Anne Proctor for The Circuit. “But I do understand that, of course, a lot of skepticism comes around being low-cost, of how you can achieve [better service]. And that’s the challenge.”
Gulf gains: Over the last few years, Wizz has increased flights to the Gulf, particularly the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The airline said in March that it plans to increase its fleet to 200 aircraft this year and 500 by 2030. The Mideast subsidiary, Wizz Air Abu Dhabi, is a joint venture between Wizz Air Holdings and ADQ, a government-owned Abu Dhabi investment company, which owns 51% of the airline. Eidhagen is a Swedish native who joined Wizz Air as a marketing executive in 2015 and previously worked for Nokia.
🏗️ Building Bluster: The Wall Street Journal’s Kris Frieswick spotlights a debate playing out in the tony New York suburb of Scarsdale over an effort to demolish a midcentury home built by architect Simon Zelnik. “Why are people in one of America’s wealthiest towns suddenly obsessed with the résumé of a long-deceased designer? Undergirding this architectural inquiry is a messy squabble about a local historic-preservation code. Scarsdale’s intricate array of rules includes a requirement that anyone seeking to demolish a home must demonstrate it isn’t worthy of preservation, which involves proving, among other things, the building wasn’t ‘the work of a master.’ The Scarsdale fight, which has now reached Westchester Supreme Court, centers on 76 Birchall Drive, a handsome Midcentury Modern that Zelnik designed in 1949. Its owner, a company controlled by Howard Milstein, of the prominent banking, construction and philanthropic Milstein family, wants permission to demolish it. To do that, members of the owner’s camp have portrayed Zelnik as a good but not masterful architect. Neighbors against the demolition have become Zelnik’s biggest fan club.” [WSJ]
🪖 Berlin Brass: The BBC looks at the relationship between Germany’s Jewish community and the country’s military. “So determined was Anne to join the German military that she researched the founding principles of the Bundeswehr to be in a better position to counter any challenge. ‘The Bundeswehr is an armed force that exists to defend values that we share as a society – protecting human rights, protecting the constitution, based on a free and democratic order,’ she says. ‘When you understand how those values were violated by the Nazis, you can see that their armed forces were built on a completely different foundation. I was so thankful to live in a society based on the principles of the modern German constitution, and I wanted to protect that.’ Johannes, a 24 year-old technician in the German air force, goes further. ‘There’s a lot of cross-over between Jewish teachings and the values of the Bundeswehr,’ he argues. ‘For example, in Jewish ethics, everyone has the right to self-defence. Defending our values, defending the German constitution, that is self-defence. So for me, being Jewish is very compatible with being a soldier.’ It is perhaps a reflection of how younger Germans feel about the country’s military past that Johannes did not even consider that joining the armed forces could be seen as an unusual choice for a Jew. Today it is estimated there are around 300 Jewish serving personnel, many of whose families came to Germany following the break-up of the Soviet Union.” [BBC]
Around the Web
✈️ In the Region: New York City Mayor Eric Adams landed in Israel today for a three-day trip that will include meetings with religious, political and civil society leaders in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
🤝 Work in Progress: The New York Times spotlights the White House’s efforts to achieve a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
🛢️ Oil Transfer: The contents of an American-owned ship believed to be carrying sanctioned Iranian oil were off-loaded to another vessel off the coast of Texas, four months after the tanker was first seized by U.S. authorities.
✍️ On the Dotted Line: The Wall Street Journal assesses Jared Kushner’s deliberate start in inking deals through his Affinity Partners.
⛔ More Layoffs: Justice Democrats laid off three additional staffers from the far-left group’s political nonprofit arm, a month after firing nine of its 20 employees amid fundraising challenges.
🗳️ McCormick’s Moment: The Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito looks at the state of play in Pennsylvania, where David McCormick is considering a second Senate bid.
👍 Endorsement Alert: Rep. David Trone (D-MD) announced that 27 congressional Democrats are backing his Senate campaign against Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.
💰 Money Moves: A group that includes Boaz Weinstein, Bill Ackman and Marc Lasry made an offer for Sculptor Capital Management, despite Sculptor — previously known as Och-Ziff Capital Management — agreeing to a sale to Rithm Capital.
🎶 Bernstein’s ‘Kaddish’:The Wall Street Journal reviews “Leonard Bernstein’s Kaddish Symphony,” a performance of which by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will air on PBS tonight.
🏡 Beverly Hills Bounty: Comcast CEO Brian Roberts’ Beverly Hills, Calif., home, which he purchased for $11 million in 2016, reportedly sold for $20.1 million.
🏟️ Sixers Standoff: The owners of the Philadelphia 76ers, including Josh Harris, are quarreling with Comcast’s Brian Roberts over the owners’ desire to build a new arena for the basketball team.
🌸 Business is Blooming: The Financial Times spotlights Bloom & Wild co-founder Aron Gelbard.
🚓 On the Case: Police in Los Angeles are investigating the weekend burglaries of five kosher restaurants in the city’s heavily Jewish Pico-Robertson neighborhood.
👨 Musk Matters: The New Yorker looks at Elon Musk’s interactions with U.S. government officials on issues related to Russia and Ukraine.
📰 Covering Haredim: NPR’s “All Things Considered” spotlightsShtetl, a news blog that covers the Haredi community and promotes itself as an unrestricted free press.
🏙️ Buying Up: British real estate tycoons David and Simon Reuben were revealed to be the buyers of a $124 million Vornado retail portfolio.
📉 No Sense for Venture: The Circuit looks at the challenges facing Gulf startups amid a year-over-year drop in venture activity in the Middle East and North Africa.
💥 Terror Attack: An Israeli father and son were killed in a terror attack at a car wash in the West Bank town of Huwara.
🚄 Rail Tale: Tel Aviv inaugurated the first functioning line on its light rail, connecting Petach Tikvah to Bat Yam.
🏀 Wildcat Streak: The Arizona Wildcats men’s basketball team swept their Middle East exhibition games in the UAE, beating Lebanon 85-71 after besting both the Israeli and Emirati teams.
🎭 Theater Scene: An Arabic adaptation of “Chicago” is taking audiences in Beirut by storm.
🕯️ Remembering: A&M Records co-founder Jerry Moss died at 88.
Pic of the Day
Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY), left, and New York City Mayor Eric Adams attend the Anti-Defamation League’s annual Walk Against Hate in New York’s Van Cortlandt Park on Sunday.
Co-founder of Google, Sergey Brin turns 50…
Retired owner of Effective Strategy Consultants, Boynton Beach resident, Irwin Wecker… Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (with chambers in Chicago), the first woman appointed to this court, Judge Ilana Kara Diamond Rovner turns 85… Past president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, L. Rafael Reif turns 73… Former chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, he was the first Jewish chief justice in Ohio history, Eric S. Brown turns 70… Israeli-born pawnbroker and star of the reality television series Beverly Hills Pawn, Yossi Dina turns 69… Businessman and collector of modern and contemporary art, he recently became an owner of the NFL’s Washington Commanders, Mitchell Rales turns 67… U.S. senator (D-MT), Jon Tester turns 67… Israeli physician who was a member of the Knesset, he now serves as mayor of Ashdod (Israel’s largest port and its seventh largest city), Dr. Yehiel Lasri turns 66… Photographer best known for his fashion and celebrity images, Jerry Avenaim turns 62… Israeli career diplomat who served for six years as consul general in New York, Ido Aharoni turns 61…
Co-founder of BlueLine Grid, he was previously an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles and a member of the Los Angeles City Council, Jack Weiss turns 59… Director of school strategy and policy for the UJA-Federation of New York, Chavie N. Kahn… Global head of public affairs at Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Ken Mehlman turns 57… President of Berger Hirschberg Strategies, Rachel Hirschberg Light… MLB pitcher for 9 teams in a 16-season career, he was the starting pitcher in three of Team Israel’s first four games in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Jason Marquis turns 45… Former district attorney of San Francisco, elected in 2019 and recalled in 2022, Chesa Boudin turns 43… Head coach of the Temple Owls men’s basketball team, Adam Fisher turns 39… President at Bold Decision, Adam Rosenblatt… Missions manager at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Erica N. Miller… Communications director at Breakthrough Energy, David Abadian Heifetz… Pop singer and songwriter, Madeline Fuhrman turns 30… Assistant editor at Simon & Schuster, Tzippy Baitch… Lynn Sharon… James Barton… Creator of the Weekly Israeli Bites newsletter, Noa Rakel Perugia…
Birthweek: Retired Judge of Montgomery County, Pa., Gary Silow turned 72 over the weekend…