WASHINGTON -- On January 20, hours after her father took the oath of office, Ivanka Trump took in a private moment with her family in the White House residence for the first time. The inauguration this year fell on a Friday, and before making an exception to go out that night to celebrate, the Jewish first daughter and her husband, Jared Kushner, were intent to mark the Sabbath.
They did so in the Lincoln Bedroom, lighting Shabbat candles in Donald Trump's latest home– and in doing so marked the first time this religious act was performed on White House grounds. It was a clarifying personal moment for Ivanka, in which she realized the significance of her role ahead as a public figure and, months later, as a formal adviser to the president of the United States.
At the heart of America's sensational political drama, of shifting power dynamics in the Middle East, of battles over refugee resettlement and debate over moral leadership in a nation divided on race, these two figures hold positions of extraordinary power and influence– an unfireable pair of advisers entrusted by the president more than any other.
They are not natural public servants. Neither Ivanka nor Jared sought roles in government, and as a couple, they constantly evaluate whether to stick around Washington by the president's side. But so long as they remain, they will continue to advise Trump on every policy issue of consequence to this administration, both foreign and domestic.
For Ivanka, that means offering her father radically honest advice– the sort of counsel he is unlikely to receive from outside hires who fear his infamous wrath. She is vocal on a range of issues, aggravating several senior White House aides. But those who disagree with her tend not to last long in Trump's administration. Her portfolio squarely focuses on workforce development, specifically on reducing the skills gap, empowering women and combating human trafficking.
Jared, meanwhile, leads the administration's effort to restart negotiations toward a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians– a tall order, made taller perhaps by his strategy of orchestrating a broader regional peace between the Jewish state and the Arab world. All the while he is tasked with tackling criminal justice reform and an expanding national opioid crisis, running the administration's new Office of American Innovation, and advising the president on the daily political crises that pass before his desk.
Both native New Yorkers, their move to Washington was a difficult one. But the couple retained many of their personal family traditions. Those moments they wind down in their Kalorama home, with their three kids in pajamas, have become their respite– and for the devout couple, Judaism is often the force in their lives providing these moments of quiet removal from the city's constant chaos.
As a rule, the immediate tribe has Shabbat dinner together every Friday. Jared and Ivanka log off for the night wherever they may be– in New York, at the family home in New Jersey or in Washington.
While observing the High Holy Days this year, they plan to share some of their religious life with the country, understanding that some Jewish traditions remain unfamiliar to many. But Ivanka has struggled with the extent to which she should open up about her personal Jewish experience, and it has proven a balancing act for her. She seldom discusses details of her decision to convert upon marriage in 2009 on the belief it was a sacred, deeply personal choice.
Nevertheless, she has not shied away from sharing some of her Jewish traditions publicly
by posting of holiday preparations on social media and of her visits to Jewish sites in Israel and Europe. One of the most meaningful moments of her father's presidency thus far was her visit to the Western Wall in May– a trip that was orchestrated by her husband.
After touring the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin last spring, she spoke on record of politics, telling one journalist that accepting refugees into the US should be "part of the equation" in her father's quest to end a global humanitarian crisis emanating from Syria. She continues to privately express her views on refugee policy, although it is not a formal part of her portfolio.
But perhaps most important to the American Jewish community has been their response to a rising tide of antisemitism nationwide, measured both in rhetoric and in deed, and so often tied to the political rise of her father.
In their first six months as presidential advisers, Ivanka and Jared led a resistance within the West Wing against figures aligned with this movement– those they considered too far right of the American political consensus. They won that battle, pushing out two of their most controversial opponents, Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka of Breitbart News.
Their suspicions of these figures were only reaffirmed in their minds by the epithets thrown against them: New Yorkers, secret Democrats, liberal elites and globalists, all tropes long associated with antisemitic slander. Their power comes in part from their familial ties, but their success against alt-Right nationalist figures in the White House also demonstrates a political adeptness learned rather quickly on the job, for outsiders new to the bloodsport of politics.
Ivanka was the first White House figure to publicly and specifically condemn the hate groups behind a white power rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month, which turned violent, and which quickly became a seminal moment in her father's presidency when he seemed to equate the marching neo-Nazis with the groups in their crosshairs.
"There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazis," Ivanka wrote at the time on Twitter.
Jared has been less visible and vocal, offering precious few public appearances and interviews. But he too was reportedly displeased by Trump's response to Charlottesville, and with Trump's continued association with groups defined by racist causes.
No matter the crisis that surrounds this president, Ivanka and Jared have made a choice to express their indignation and disapproval quietly, ensuring they maintain Trump's trust whilst pushing him toward their preferred path of moderation. It is Jared's tactic, as well, in the Middle East peace process, as he works to build trust amongst the parties and with Israeli and Palestinian leadership himself.
"Anyone that knows the president understands that he takes great pride in having a Jewish daughter and Jewish grandchildren," Jared said at the start of a conference call last week with Jewish leaders marking the High Holy Days. "His love and respect for the Jewish people extends way beyond his family, and into the heart of Jewish American communities."
"Under the President’s leadership," he continued, "America's relationship with the State of Israel has never been stronger. And our country’s commitment to Israel’s security has never been greater."
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