Meet Biden’s kosher cabinet
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Meet Biden’s kosher cabinet

The new president’s top team is almost one-third Jewish.

John Roberts, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, administers the oath of office to U..S. President-elect Joe Biden during the 59th presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. . Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
John Roberts, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, administers the oath of office to U..S. President-elect Joe Biden during the 59th presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. . Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

When Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were sworn in as president and vice president of the United States last week,their inauguration marked a historic moment on several levels, including an unprecedented degree of Jewish representation within the new administration.

If confirmed, six out of 22 seats will be filled by Jewish officials in the new president’s cabinet, though a host of others have been selected for high ranking roles. Ronald Klain, a longtime Biden adviser, steps in as chief of staff, a position he held when the now-president served as VP. Klain was also chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore from 1995 to 1999, and was appointed Ebola response coordinator by Barack Obama in 2014, of particular significance as the US grapples with serious vaccine rollout challenges amidst the Covid pandemic.

“It’s a reflection of who Biden is and who he wants his administration to represent, and that is represent America, which is diverse,” Jason Isaacson, chief policy and political affairs officer for the American Jewish Committee, told Jewish News.

There are a significant amount of Jewish officials that Biden has nominated in a way that we have not seen in the past.”

Isaacson added that what he finds most striking about the high level of Jewish designates is that it hasn’t proved to be an issue. “You wouldn’t have been able to say that 30 or 40 or 50 years ago,” he said. “That this is not remarkable in modern America, it shows how far we’ve come.”

Antony Blinken will take on the mantle of secretary of state, after serving as deputy secretary of state during Obama’s last few years in office. Blinken, who has already revealed he intends to keep the Trump-era move of locating the Israeli US embassy in Jerusalem, opened his confirmation hearing for the post this week by sharing how his family’s Holocaust past has informed how he sees the role of the state department.

Antony Blinken

After revealing that his grandparents escaped Jewish pogroms by fleeing to America in the early 20th century, Blinken went on to detail how his late-stepfather was the only member of his family to survive the Shoah, following imprisonment in the concentration camps for four years.

“At the end of the war, he made a break from a death march into the Bavarian woods,” Blinken said at the hearing. “From his hiding place, he heard the rumbling sound of a tank. Instead of an Iron Cross, he saw a five-pointed white star. He ran to the tank. The hatch opened and an African-American G.I. looked down at him. He fell to his knees and said the only three words he knew in English that his mother had taught him: God Bless America. The G.I. lifted him into the tank, into America, into freedom.”

It’s that sense of cross-cultural mending that many believe is a sign of Biden’s intentions to lead through a more equal representation.

“He intends to put together a Cabinet that looks like America and reflects the fact that our diversity is our strength,” Halie Soifer, CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, told Jewish News. “It will have an effect on young Americans of all backgrounds because there are so many first. It gives future generations great hope and inspiration.”

David Cohen

Stories of overcoming oppression are prevalent among the new administration appointees, as are stories about breaking barriers and setting precedents. Janet Yellen, the daughter of Polish Jewish immigrants, will be the first female Secretary of the Treasury. Previously, she was also the first woman named as Chair of the US Federal Reserve. Avril Haines, who will be the first woman to head the Department of National Intelligence, was also the first Biden pick to be confirmed this week and is the daughter of a Jewish mother. Incoming Secretary of National Intelligence Alejandro Mayorkas, who was born in Cuba and moved to the US at a young age, is the son of a Holocaust survivor. And deputy health secretary nominee Dr. Rachel Levine would be the first transgender federal official if confirmed.

“We celebrate the fact that there’s a historic number of Jewish Americans nominated to serve, but just as important, they weren’t selected because they reflect diversity, but because they are the most qualified people for the job” Soifer said.

Another familiar name on Biden’s list is Merrick Garland, who will serve as attorney general. Garland, whose grandparents also fled pogroms in Russia in the early 20th century, was tapped by Obama to sit on the Supreme Court, though the Senate failed to give him a hearing and the appointment never went through.

Other notable Jewish picks in recent weeks include David Cohen for CIA deputy director, Eric Lander for presidential science adviser, Anne Neuberger for National Security Agency cybersecurity director, and Wendy Sherman as deputy secretary of state.

Eric Lander

With so much Jewish inspiration found in top brass this year, insiders say it might reflect something innate in Jewish tradition.

“There’s something inherent in Jewish values that compels us to look after each other, welcome the stranger, and heal the world, tikkun olam,” Soifer said, mentioning that she looks forward to seeing US policy progression on immigration and an overturning of the so-called “Muslim ban.”

“We are taught the value of helping others and recognise that the weakest among us need a helping hand and the enslaved need to be freed,” Isaacson added, noting that seeing the Muslim ban overturned and progression on the Abraham accords were of particular interest for him. “A great many of us take that seriously.”

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