Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s long and baffling march to power took another odd Jewish turn this week, with the news they have selected a synagogue in D.C., where they will move into a $5.5 million house in preparation for their roles in the incoming Trump Administration. The newly christened (can you say that about Jews? I’m doing it anyway) “power couple” will attend TheSHUL, a Chabad synagogue just a seven-minute walk from their new 6,700 square feet, six-bedroom mansion with five wood-burning fireplaces (which is what’s really important to God on Shabbat, the walking). Oh, and the Obamas will be right around the corner, too. The congregation is led by Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who has offered little on his potential new congregants, telling The Forward, “I haven’t commented and cannot comment on who might attend our synagogue. That is our policy.” Fair enough, Rabbi Shemtov.
I’m not really a synagogue person, so I can’t speak much to the internal board politics that might have ultimately discouraged Kushner and Trump from attending a Modern Orthodox congregation like Kesher Israel, which they reportedly also considered. That Georgetown shul is apparently a half-hour walk from their house, which to be fair, is hard to make in your Ivanka Trump-branded nude stilettos, even if you have, as I imagine is the case, surgically altered your metatarsals to look like Barbie feet. (We are women who work!) And I know plenty of non-Chabad people attend Chabad synagogues from time to time—former Senator Joseph Lieberman, and current Treasury Secretary and former Obama Chief of Staff Jack Lew have attended services at this one. And being a seeing person living in central Los Angles, I see many beardless men going into one of the approximately seventeen Chabad-like places a block from my house every Saturday while I’m walking the dog. Given who we’re talking about, it was probably too much to expect this particular couple would choose a denomination that was more egalitarian or further to the left on Israel, but given some of Trump père’s recent Twitter rhetoric on the nuclear issue, I might have hoped for a strain of Judaism that was less exclusive.
But maybe not all is lost. In fact, the Kushner-Trumps could likely learn quite a bit from the Chabadniks and Reb Shemtov. Maybe. I’ve always been of the opinion that Jared and Ivanka’s alleged piety is mostly for show, to make rich Jews feel a little better about the fact that her odious brothers still regularly retweet the neo-Nazis who see her father as their new moshiach, so they probably won’t be in shul that much. But if they are—Kushner, let me remind you, grew up Orthodox—this is the greatest chance perhaps of all time for Chabad to make good on its desire to better the world by getting more Jews—here, Kushner and Ivanka—to do mitzvot.
Might shaking a lulav in his new religious digs make Jared think, Wait a second, maybe building settlements continuously on the West Bank is not the best idea for Israel, which I purportedly love? Might Ivanka braid a loaf of challah with her children and say, Wait, maybe it’s immoral to allow my father and his cronies to rob the country blind while demonizing millions of minorities and immigrants, including women? To make these connections, and do something about it, would be to perform the ultimate commandment.
I’m not holding my breath. But if Rabbi Shemtov can pull it off, hell, even I’ll go to shul.