Monday, December 19, 2016

A Story I Thought I'd Never Read

Jared and Ivanka
From Politico:

At the intimate, light-brick synagogue in Georgetown, members don’t fuss over their famous-for-Washington congregants. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew prays at Kesher Israel just like everybody else in the tight knit Modern Orthodox community.

And when longtime Kesher congregant Joe Lieberman became the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000, the shul addressed a unique question in order to accommodate him: Could practicing traditional Jews pass through magnetic detectors without violating the strict rules of Shabbat? No, ruled Kesher’s rabbi at the time. Congregants would need to be swiped by wands, so that the Secret Service would do the work that observant Jews couldn't.

But even for a congregation accustomed to dealing with power brokers, the potential arrival of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner is being treated as something extraordinary.

The possibility that influential members of the first family could attend services at Kesher next year — the only Modern Orthodox synagogue servicing downtown D.C. — has become the premier topic of conversation at Shabbat dinners, and among members gossiping after services.

Nobody is certain where Trump and Kushner, who comes from a devout Orthodox family and typically observes the Sabbath, will ultimately end up. A source close to Ivanka Trump said the couple has yet to decide where they will attend synagogue. They will be choosing from several Modern Orthodox synagogues in the area. They could settle in Potomac, Maryland, and attend Beth Sholom, or they could head to Silver Spring and join the Kemp Mill Synagogue.

But many Kesher members assume their shul is the front-runner because of its central location, prestigious reputation and experience handling famous congregants. It is Washington’s answer to the establishment congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side that Kushner and Ivanka Trump attend regularly. Plus, Kesher’s most direct Washington competitor, Ohev Shalom, is seen as a long shot after its rabbi blasted Donald Trump as a bigot earlier this year.

Ivanka Trump and Kushner will make history next month as the first members of a presidential family who are practicing Modern Orthodox Jews. They observe the Sabbath, walk to synagogue regularly and attend services on the High Holidays. The eldest of their young children, who is 6, is expected to attend a Jewish day school, according to a source close to the incoming first daughter. 

The question now gripping the Washington Jewish community is where the Kushner-Trump family will build out the community necessary to live a traditional Jewish life, as the family decamps from its Trump-branded building in Manhattan to serve as West Wing advisers.

The community is buzzing over all the potentially awkward scenarios that Ivanka Trump and Kushner may confront in the Washington area, where everyone's livelihood seems to be politics.

Kesher members can't help but wonder: Will Kushner really sit in the wooden pews next to Norman Eisen, the former Obama ethics czar who has been railing against Donald Trump’s ethics conflicts and who has publicly questioned his fitness for office?

Will the most powerful first daughter in history occupy the small area on Kesher’s
second floor where VIP women, like Hadassah Lieberman, have prayed before her? Will the Trump-Kushner family spend the high holidays with Kesher member and writer Leon Wieseltier, who recently penned an op-ed in The Washington Post imploring Americans to "stay angry" about Trump’s election?

A source close to Ivanka Trump denied a report Sunday that the family had inquired about membership at Ohev Shalom, a synagogue in Shephard Park whose rabbi, Shmuel Herzfeld, protested Trump when he delivered a speech in March at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington. “This man is wicked,” Herzfeld stood up and proclaimed, before being escorted out of the arena by security. “He inspires racists and bigots. He encourages violence. Do not listen to him.”

The source close to the couple said the family “never heard of that rabbi and never inquired about that synagogue."

The couple declined to comment on the search.

For families connected to Kesher Israel, according to interviews with half a dozen members, many have mixed emotions about praying next to the first family of the most divisive incoming president in history. They are torn between deep discomfort and some excitement at getting a close-up look at two of the most powerful people in America.

But for the most part, even Trump’s fiercest critics said they would welcome Kushner and Ivanka Trump into their community and check their politics at the door.

“We have a concept in traditional Judaism of muktseh,” Eisen said in an interview. “Money is muktseh, something forbidden on the Sabbath. Before Shabbat, you take your money, your cellphone, you put it aside. Politics is muktseh. I would welcome them exactly the same as I would any other family that wanted to join our community.”

Eisen, who has publicly defended Kushner for walking to Trump Tower on a Saturday for emergency transition-related work, added: “For what it’s worth, I think the two of them are among the more moderate voices advising the president-elect.”

That they are considered modifying influences on Trump helps in the Jewish circles that are preparing themselves for close contact with the Trump-Kushner family.

But even for people willing to check politics at the door, some are concerned about their relatively quiet synagogue becoming the eye of a political storm.

“This is a disaster,” said one anxious, liberal Kesher Israel congregant who declined to speak on the record.

For now, the congregations are staying mum, protecting any conversations they are having with the Kushner family with the seriousness of doctor-patient confidentiality.

“I can’t say whether they have contacted us or not,” said Elanit Jakabovics, the
president of Kesher Israel. “Congregant interactions are private.”

But Jakabovics said she expects that even the more liberal members of the community would accept Trump’s adult children. Since it is the only full-service Modern Orthodox synagogue in downtown Washington, D.C., members also don’t have the luxury to leave as an act of political protest.

“Whether it's Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner or anyone else coming to D.C. to work or visit," said Jakabovics, "Kesher's community is open to all."
And some members are pitching Kesher as the place for VIP Jews, in part because they’ve handled all the related issues before.

“What’s great about Kesher Israel is we’ve had people in the past with Secret Service, vice presidential candidates, and everyone is treated the same,” said Robbie Diamond, a member of the synagogue and the founder and CEO of Securing America’s Future Energy. “We’re used to having people like that. We don’t fuss over those people, so they feel comfortable going.”

Kushner and Ivanka Trump are also old pros at socializing with liberals who dislike the president-elect’s style and substance. So far, they have preserved their personal brands and relationships.

One potential drawback is that Kesher is still operating with an interim rabbi, as it searches for a replacement for Rabbi Barry Freundel, who plunged the community into scandal in 2014. Back then, the scholar was found spying on women with hidden cameras as they undressed to enter the mikvah, a ritual bath.

Freundel is now in jail, but the scandal still hangs over the shaken community, which also seems almost happy for a new kind of spotlight. And some of Kesher’s most prominent members are hoping that the synagogue could be an outlet for Kushner and Ivanka Trump to take a step away from the work of the administration.

“People focus on individuals and not political leanings,” added Diamond. “At Kesher, you can also enjoy friends and people as people — not just what defines them during the week, or by what they believe.” 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

We Are the World’s Most Educated Religious Group

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images - via JTA
Another favorable study by Pew Research about the Jewish people:
(JTA) — Jews are the world’s most-educated religious group, with an average of more than 13 years of formal schooling, according to a new study.
The Pew Research Center study published Tuesday found that Jews worldwide have four years more of schooling on average than the next-most educated group, Christians, who average about nine years of schooling. Muslims and Hindus are the least-educated religious groups, each with about 5 1/2 years of formal schooling. The global average is less than eight years.
Jews led the groups in several other categories. Jewish men and women have the smallest average gap in years of formal schooling at zero (Hindu women, on the other extreme, trail men by 2.7 years). Jews were the most educated in the 55-to-74 category. Sixty-one percent of Jews have at least some post-high school education; the global average is 14 percent. Ninety-nine percent of Jews have had some formal schooling.
Among Jews worldwide aged 25 to 34, women are more educated than men. Jewish women in that age group have more than 14 years of formal schooling on average, and nearly 70 percent have attended some form of higher education. Jewish men in that cohort, by contrast, have an average of 13.4 years of formal schooling, and 57 percent have had higher education.
While 81 percent of American Jewish men aged 55 to 74 has had higher education, the number drops to 65 percent among those aged 25 to 34. Pew attributes the decline to the growth of America’s Orthodox Jewish population, which attains formal secular education at lower rates than non-Orthodox Jews.
American Jews have the highest rate of higher education, at 75 percent (compared to 40 percent of Americans generally), and have an average of 14.7 years of schooling. Jewish Israelis have an average of 12 years of schooling, and 46 percent have had higher education.
The least educated Jewish population is in South Africa, where Jews have an average of 12 years of schooling, and only 29 percent have higher education. In the country as a whole, only 3 percent of the population has higher education.
Jews in Israel have far more education, on average, than Muslim Israelis, though the gap is narrowing. Among the oldest Jews and Muslims, there is a nearly six-year gap in formal schooling. Among Jews and Muslims aged 25 to 34, however, the gap shrinks to 3.7 years.