Astronaut Mark Kelly hopes to shuttle to the Senate + the Israeli-American doctor providing free eye care in Ethiopia (

Good Friday morning!

Ed. note: Wishing you a peaceful Memorial Day weekend. The Daily Kickoff will be back on Tuesday. 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has formally been asked by the Biden campaign to undergo a vetting process for vice president. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Florida Rep. Val Demings have also revealed they are undergoing vetting. 

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is slated to appear in court for the start of his much-delayed corruption trial. 

Today marks 53 years on the Hebrew calendar since the reunification of the city of Jerusalem during the Six Day War.  

Check out Jewish Insider’s latest ‘Jewish Nielsen’ report to see which webcasts people tuned into this week.

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Mark Kelly prepares for a different kind of liftoff

Mark Kelly never planned to run for office. “It’s not the thing I wanted to do when I was a little kid,” he told Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel in a recent interview. “When I was about 7 years old, I wanted to be an astronaut.” He fulfilled that dream in the early aughts, after his Navy service, when he flew to space on the first of four missions. “But sometimes,” he said, “our country gets to a certain point.”

Shoot for the moon: Kelly’s favorability numbers have been steadily rising since he entered the race last year. The latest polling puts him at 51% — 13 points ahead of incumbent Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ), who was appointed to the seat held by the late Sen. John McCain. McSally failed to beat Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in the 2018 Arizona Senate race, which does not bode well for her prospects ahead of the November election. Kelly, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary on August 4, has outraised McSally, having raked in a staggering $31.3 million, compared to her nearly $19 million.

Spirit of bipartisanship: “You have to work across the aisle to do the job that was laid out for you in the Constitution,” Kelly said matter-of-factly. “I often see Congress does a poor job at this. They have to do better, and the only way you’re going to do better is to elect people that are willing to work in a bipartisan way and are not beholden to the political party.” He draws on the experiences of his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, in justifying this approach. “She would work with the Republicans,” he said, citing Giffords’s close relationship with former Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX).

Personal connection: Kelly, whose wife is Jewish, is deeply connected to the concerns of Arizona’s Jewish community, said Aaron Rottenstein, a trustee for the Jewish Community Foundation in Arizona. And Kelly’s connection to the Jewish state is personal. He was stationed in Houston with Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died in the Columbia space shuttle explosion in 2003. Kelly, who traveled to Israel for the first time just months before he announced his Senate bid, is still close with the Ramon family.

Gun safety: He hopes to focus on a number of issues if elected, including gun safety — a matter that is close to him given that his wife was nearly killed when she was shot in the head in an attempted assassination nine years ago. “I’m a supporter of the Second Amendment,” he made sure to qualify. “But the thing that worries me when that happens is when you have folks that are inexperienced with firearms, and they buy a gun and they have it in their house and they have kids and they don’t properly secure it.”

Middle East approach: When asked about Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Kelly was agnostic. “I haven’t given it a ton of thought,” he said. “It’s gone, it’s been moved, seems to be working. A lot of the folks that were critical of it and said all this negative stuff is going to happen, that doesn’t seem to me that those things took place. But I haven’t given it a ton of thought on moving an office from one building to another.” He said he had not read Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal, but his estimation of the plan was positive on the whole.

On Iran: “He was a bad actor in the region for a long period of time,” Kelly says regarding the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani. “It’s good that he’s not in the job anymore.”

Read the full feature here.

Bonus: Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports that Trump’s political advisors have warned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that McSally is falling dangerously behind in Arizona.


18 Democratic senators sign on to letter against Israeli annexation

A group of 18 Democratic senators released a revised letter yesterday — authored by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) — warning Israeli leaders against unilaterally annexing portions of the West Bank. The letter, which was updated several times, cautions the new Israeli government that “unilateral annexation puts both Israel’s security and democracy at risk” and “would have a clear impact on Israel’s future and our vital bilateral and bipartisan relationship.” 

First attempt: The published statement is a watered-down version of the letter the trio first drafted and distributed to fellow senators earlier this month, pushed by J Street. The initial draft garnered only seven signatures: Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Udall (D-NM) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). 

Who joined for round 2: second draft of the letter, which softened the original language, gained additional signatories. In the final version, language was changed from suggesting that annexation would “undermine” the U.S.-Israel relationship to warning about its potential impact on the alliance. Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Tom Carper (D-DE), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) signed on to the final wording.

Read more here.

Peter Beinart weighs in: “It’s noteworthy that the Democratic senators most frequently mentioned as auditioning for a place in the Biden administration — Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar, who are often cited as possible Biden running mates, and Chris Coons, who has been mentioned as a potential secretary of state — have all declined to sign.” Beinart’s piece links to JI six separate times (thanks Peter!)

DMFI’s Mark Mellman tells JI: “While we agree with the underlying concern about annexation and the letter clearly improved as it was modified, we still found it problematic in several respects. It was distinctly one sided, placing the onus on Israel alone, when, in fact, Palestinian leaders are major contributors to the plight of their people… I’m also familiar enough with Israeli politics to know that public letters like this do more to help the Israeli right than to restrain them.”

View from Jerusalem: Israeli Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said in a Zoom interview with Tablet’s Yair Rosenberg yesterday: “Anything that is unilateral endangers our peace treaty with Jordan, our security coordination with the Palestinian Authority, our relations with the Democratic Party in the U.S. — who look at this as something that puts in peril the principle of one person, one vote — and our relations with the European Union. So to take all these risks for a move that will physically change nothing but in terms of our international position might endanger the country in so many ways, is just not smart.” 

Official business: Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced the bipartisan United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2020 (S. 3176). The bill authorizes the appropriations of increased funding for Israel’s missile defense programs and encourages expanding U.S. weapons stockpiles in Israel. “I was proud to reintroduce this bipartisan bill that strengthens our nation’s strategic security alliance with Israel, a vibrant democracy that faces growing and unprecedented threats to its security and stability,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said in a statement to JI. 

More bipartisanship: Also yesterday, Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced the U.S.-Israel Military Capability Act, which would require Defense Department officials to collaborate with their counterparts in Israel on the research and development of technology used for national defense.


The Israeli-American doctor restoring eyesight to thousands of Ethiopians

In 2014, Dr. Morris Hartstein and his family were considering heading to Europe for their summer vacation. But one of his sons suggested something different: a volunteer trip to Ethiopia. That visit almost six years ago lit a spark in Hartstein, an eye surgeon who made aliya to Ra’anana from St. Louis in 2004. Hartstein spoke to Jewish Insider’s Amy Spiro about his many subsequent trips to the country to provide critical eye care to thousands of patients.

Seeking vision: The Hartstein family’s first visit was centered around Gondar, where thousands of Jews who have been waiting to make aliya — some for many years — live in a makeshift encampment. Hartstein didn’t intend to provide medical care, and arrived with nothing but a penlight. But when word got out he was an eye doctor, hundreds of people showed up to see him, and he stayed late into the night checking patients and instructing them on seeking further medical care.

Heading back: The next summer, the Hartstein family headed back, this time loaded with glasses, equipment and medications. “It really touched us — the people and the poverty there and the desperation,” he said. “We set up a clinic in the Jewish compound and examined a couple hundred people,” enlisting all four of his children and his wife as assistants and providing the kind of basic care he hadn’t practiced much since medical school. 

Giving back: Since then, Hartstein has visited the country a total of 10 times, partnering with the nonprofit Struggle to Save Ethiopian Jewry and securing his Ethiopian medical license. He has trained many community members in basic first aid, sponsored and coordinated hundreds of cataract surgeries in and outside the Jewish community and brought more than a dozen Ethiopian ophthalmology residents to train in Israel. He also performed some of the local hospital’s more complicated oculoplastic cases during his visits, and personally trained an Ethiopian doctor in his speciality in Israel.  

Communal longing: The approximately 10,000 Jews remaining in Gondar have become a political football of sorts, with pledges to bring them to Israel repeatedly delayed. “It kills me that these people are just languishing there,” Hartstein said. “If you go there — they daven [pray] three times a day, they observe the holidays, they study, they sing ‘Hatikvah’ — they’re just dying to be here.”

Read the full story and watch a video of Hartstein in Ethiopia here.

Worthy Reads

📜 Uncovered Text: Several fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls — stored at the University of Manchester — were long believed to be blank. But after new multispectral imaging, text — including the word Shabbat — was revealed on the ancient parchment. [CNN

🏠 Staying Home: Maharat Rori Picker Neiss writes in NBC News how her faith led to a campaign among Missouri’s Jews against the governor’s move to prevent mail-in voting despite the pandemic. “The thought that any person would have to risk their health to exercise their right to vote felt simultaneously antithetical to our identities, both as Jews and as Americans.” [NBC]

Around the Web

👋 Cutting Loose: The Palestinian Authority has suspended its contacts with the CIA, following up on its pledge to end security coordination with Israel and the United States.

⚔️ Fighting Words: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Israel “a cancerous tumor in the region” during a speech marking Quds Day. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Iran is its top financial and military supporter. 

💍 Big Bid: A Super Bowl ring auctioned off by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft raked in $1.025 million for charity. 

📰 Media Watch: The Atlantic has laid off 17% of its staff amid its coronavirus-related financial struggles. 

🚚 Moving Out: Dr. Vladimir Zelenko, a physician from near Kiryas Joel who became a star among Trump supporters after directly appealing to Trump about an experimental coronavirus treatment, announced he is leaving the community because “it’s time for me to move on.” 

📉 Down Turn: Self-made fracking billionaire Harold Hamm has lost more than $3 billion as oil prices crashed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

💻 Startup Nation: Israeli remote working startup has been valued at $2.7 billion, Bloomberg reports.

✈️ Athens Bound: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is looking into renewing flights to Greece as a first step toward reopening tourism. 

🥩 Holy Cow: Despite its closed borders, Argentina is set to arrange a charter flight to bring rabbis from Israel to certify kosher meat destined for export.

🚫 Shut Down: The Gaza Strip is closing its borders with Egypt and Israel after a spike in coronavirus cases. 

👀 Eying Balfour: New Israeli Finance Minister Israel Katz is eyeing the job of prime minister in a post-Netanyahu era, posits Ivan Levingston in Bloomberg.

🎒 School Study: A U.K. government inquiry into Orthodox Jewish schools revealed that many still promote the use of corporal punishment in the classroom. 

⛳ Across the Sea: A golf course in Australia that was founded by Jews in the 1950s was vandalized with swastikas and graffiti. 

🧯Building Blaze: A fire at the Maine Jewish Museum in Portland was quickly extinguished but the building suffered significant water damage. 

👨‍💼 Transition: Dr. Jeffrey Stern has been hired as the new superintendent of FEMA’s training center, the Emergency Management Institute, after six years as the state coordinator of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

Gif of the Day

Rabbi Moshe Teldon got creative while trying to sell his Wilmette, Illinois, home amid a pandemic, when in-person showings have been replaced by virtual walk-throughs and showings. Instead of a tradition listing, Teldon — with the help of his family — made a rap video to give prospective buyers a look inside his home.

“It was a great activity for my kids and a fun way for me and my siblings to get our minds off the craziness that’s out there,” Teldon told the Chicago Tribune. “That’s the silver lining of the whole situation.”

Wine of the Week

JI’s wine columnist Yitz Applbaum reviews the Gito Shani Red 2016: 

“I do not enjoy sheltering in place, but I believe we have a duty to make the best of every situation. This past Sunday a large group of Jewish Insider readers joined me and the preeminent kosher-conscious Napa winemaker Dan Levin for a fun interactive wine tasting at OneHope winery. Along with the attendees, we all tasted three wines ‘on air,’ and suggested that the fourth wine everyone had be enjoyed later. I finally got to taste the fourth wine yesterday morning. It is delicious.”

“The Gito Shani Red 2016 is a blend of Cabernet and Syrah. The dominant taste is plum, in each of its stages, from fresh to prune. The forward is plum. The mid-palate is plum, and the finish is plum. At the very tail-end of the finish, the plum gives way to hints of sweet apricot. This wine is drinkable now and should be best enjoyed with tacos and salsa… or waffles.”

Astronaut Mark Kelly hopes to shuttle to the Senate + the Israeli-American doctor providing free eye care in Ethiopia 13 |

Harvard Law School professor, Noah Feldman turns 50 today…

FRIDAY: Director of the Hudson Institute’s Economic Policy Studies Group, Irwin M. Stelzer turns 88… Award-winning staff writer at The New Yorker since 1989, Connie Bruck turns 74… Former Skadden partner and then vice-chair at Citibank, J. Michael Schell turns 73… Cognitive scientist, former CEO of Haskins Laboratories in New Haven and director of the White House neuroscience initiative, Philip E. Rubin turns 71… Director emeritus of policy and government affairs at AIPAC, Ambassador Bradley Gordon turns 71… Charles Scott turns 67… Former member of Knesset from the Zionist Union party (2015-2019), Eyal Ben-Reuven turns 66… Chair-elect of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Dianne F. Lob turns 66…

Former Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Arizona’s 1st district (1993-1995), now an attorney in Phoenix, Sam Coppersmith turns 65… CEO of Our Common Destiny and a senior consultant on philanthropy at private equity firm Cresset Capital, Sandy Cardin turns 63… Former CEO of Agios Pharmaceuticals, now at Google Ventures, David Schenkein turns 63… Former head coach of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers (2014-2016), winning coach of the EuroLeague Championship in 2014 with Maccabi Tel Aviv, David Blatt turns 61… British writer, a member of the Rothschild family, Hannah Mary Rothschild turns 58… Partner at Sidley & Austin, David H. Hoffman turns 53… Former Major League Baseball relief pitcher, Alan Brian “Al” Levine turns 52…

Israeli cookbook author and food journalist, Shaily Lipa turns 46… Actress, producer and singer, Noa Tishby turns 45… Member of the Knesset on behalf of the Derekh Eretz faction of the Blue and White alliance, now completing his first week as Minister of Communications, Yoaz Hendel turns 45… Executive director of American Compass, Oren Cass turns 37… Co-founder of Facebook in 2004 and Asana in 2008, Dustin Aaron Moskovitz turns 36… Charismatic slot receiver and kick returner for the NFL’s New England Patriots since 2009, Julian Edelman turns 34… White House correspondent for McClatchyMichael Wilner turns 31… JD candidate in the class of 2022 at the University of Virginia School of Law, Peter Walker Kaplan… Major macher and Baltimore political operative, Sir Alex Friedman turns 20… Emma Kaplan… Gloria Woodlock… Rebecca Weiss… Benjamin Weiss… Aryeh Jacobson

SATURDAY: Miami businessman, owner of The Forge, Alvin Malnik turns 87… Founding member and chairman of law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a leading DC super-lobbyist based in Denver and longtime AIPAC board member, Norman Brownstein turns 77… British fashion retailer and promoter of tennis in Israel, Stephen Marks turns 74… Special counsel in the NYC office of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan focused on election law, he was in the inaugural class of Yeshiva University’s Benjamin Cardozo School of Law, Jerry H. Goldfeder turns 73… Award-winning television writer and playwright, Stephanie Liss turns 70… Israeli diplomat, he served as Israel’s ambassador to Nigeria (2013-2016) and as Consul General of Israel to Philadelphia (2004-08), Uriel Palti turns 66… Editor-in-chief of a book on end of life stories, Catherine Zacks Gildenhorn turns 64… Israeli businessman Ofer Nimrodi turns 63… President of Newton, MA-based Liberty Companies, Andrew M. Cable turns 63… 

Best-selling author and journalist, whose works include “Tuesdays with Morrie,” he has sold over 40 million books, Mitch Albom turns 62… Senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Reuel Marc Gerecht turns 61… Chairman of the board of the Irvine, California-based Ayn Rand Institute, Yaron Brook turns 59… Rabbi of the Community Synagogue of Rye (NY), Daniel B. Gropper turns 52… Film and television director, Nanette Burstein turns 50… Prominent NYC matrimonial law attorney, Casey Greenfield turns 47… Member of the Knesset for the Kulanu party since 2015 (now a part of Likud), Yifat Shasha-Biton turns 47… News editor at HaaretzOmer Benjakob turns 33… Professional golfer on the LPGA Tour, Morgan Pressel turns 32… Professional boxer, known as “Kid Yamaka” (a phonetic spelling of “yarmulke”), Zachary Wohlman turns 32… Senior specialist of brand communications at United Airlines, Andrea M. Hiller turns 26…

SUNDAY: Professor emeritus at Brooklyn College and painter whose realist art works appear in over 70 public art museums, Philip Pearlstein turns 96… Co-founder of the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, Herbert Wachtell turns 88… Film director and daughter-in-law of Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, Joan Micklin Silver turns 85… Biographer of religious, business and political figures, Deborah Hart Strober turns 80… Born Robert Allen Zimmerman, his Hebrew name is Shabsi Zissel, he is one of the most influential singer-songwriters of his generation, Bob Dylan turns 79… Member of Congress since 2007 representing Tennessee’s 9th district, Stephen Ira “Steve” Cohen turns 71… Director of planned giving at American Society for Yad Vashem, Robert Christopher Morton turns 69… Former Mexican secretary of foreign affairs, Jorge Castañeda Gutman turns 67… First-ever Jewish member of the parliament in Finland, Ben Zyskowicz turns 66… Constitutional historian, lecturer and writer, Richard B. Bernstein turns 64…

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and short story writer, Michael Chabon turns 57… U.S. Ambassador to Singapore (2010-2013), member of the Georgia State Senate (2003-2010), now a partner in the global law firm Reed Smith, David Adelman turns 56… Director of development and alumni relations at Schwarzman Scholars, Debby Goldberg turns 55… Senior development director in AIPAC’s northeast region, Nora Berger turns 53… Founding partner at Rosemont Seneca Partners, Eric D. Schwerin turns 51… Ukrainian businessman Hennadiy Korban turns 50… In 2019, he became the first Israeli winner of an Academy Award in four decades for the Best Live Action Short, Guy Nattiv turns 47… Actor, who starred in the HBO original series “How to Make It in America,” Bryan Greenberg turns 42… Chief of staff at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, Benjamin E. Milakofsky turns 36…

MONDAY: Winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physics, Jack Steinberger turns 99… South Florida resident Marjorie Moidel turns 92… Academy Award-winning film producer and director, Irwin Winkler turns 89… Co-founder and CEO of Calvin Klein Inc., which he formed with his childhood friend Calvin Klein, Barry K. Schwartz turns 78… Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 1986, now on senior status, Douglas H. Ginsburg turns 74… City editor of the Daily Mail in London and a past VP of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Alex Brummer turns 71… Of counsel in the Chicago office of Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, Joel M. Hurwitz turns 69… Los Angeles resident, Robin Myrne Kramer turns 67… CEO of Velocity Healthcare Consultants, Kenneth Feiler turns 67… Actor and comedian sometimes referred to as “Yid Vicious,” Bobby Slayton turns 65…

EVP at Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Laurie Rubiner turns 58… The original COO of PayPal and founder/CEO of Yammer, David Oliver Sacks turns 48… Member of the Australian Parliament, Julian Leeser turns 44… Member of the Knesset for the Israel Resilience Party as part of the Blue and White alliance, she just completed her first week as Minister of Diaspora Affairs, becoming the first-ever Haredi woman cabinet minister, Omer Yankelevich turns 42… Political reporter for the Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionGreg Bluestein turns 38… Communications manager at Kaplan, Inc. and director of communications and marketing for the Royal Star Theatre, Alison Kurtzman turns 30… Pitcher in the Tampa Bay Rays organization who had two effective appearances for Team Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic qualifiers, Ryan Sherriff turns 30… Olympic Gold medalist at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics, gymnast Aly Raisman turns 26… Laura Goldman

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