Updated Nov. 17, 2016, with additional reporting by Gabe Friedman
NEW YORK (JTA) – Jared Kushner — Donald Trump’s Orthodox son-in-law — has many claims to fame.
He’s married to Ivanka Trump, daughter of the president-elect. He’s the scion of a philanthropy-minded Jewish family from New Jersey that is one of the biggest names in New York real estate. He’s the owner and publisher of a storied publication, the New York Observer.
But Kushner’s celebrity is taking a quantum leap now that he could be involved in his father-in-law’s White House team. As of late Wednesday night, after reportedly being approached by Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Preibus, and chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, he is deciding on whether or not to accept a position as presidential adviser or special counsel.
The federal anti-nepotism law could complicate that scenario, but as NBC News explains, there a few ways around it — including putting Kushner on the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board, which is made up of nongovernment civilians.
As an observant Jew, Kushner, 35, has been put in a difficult position for most of Trump’s campaign, which has been plagued by accusations of anti-Semitism. Trump was criticized for being slow to denounce some of his anti-Semitic supporters, such as former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke. One of his last major campaign speeches echoed the well-known anti-Semitic tropes found in the “Protocols of the Elder of Zion,” such as the idea that “international banks” control the world.
In July, after Trump took heat for tweeting an image of Hillary Clinton juxtaposed with a six-pointed star, Kushner was blasted in an article by one of his Observer employees for staying silent. In response, Kushner said in a statement that Trump is an “incredibly loving and tolerant person” who has embraced Kushner’s Jewish identity.
Earlier in the campaign, Kushner played a key role writing the pro-Israel speech that Trump delivered in March to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference. Kushner also helped plan a trip to Israel for Trump last December, which the candidate abruptly canceled after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed Trump’s proposal to block Muslims from immigrating to the United States.
Despite that snafu, Trump is generally enamored with Kushner. He often refers to his “fantastic” son-in-law when touting his pro-Israel bona fides.
“I am a great friend of Israel,” Trump said at a February town hall meeting in Las Vegas. “I was the grand marshal of the Israeli Day Parade. … My son-in-law is Jewish, and he’s fantastic — a very successful guy in the New York real estate.”
Kushner’s name may carry as much renown in Jewish circles as it does in the world of real estate, where he has helped grow his family’s extensive fortune. The family foundation named for his parents, the Seryl and Charles Kushner Family Foundation, gives away more than $2 million a year, with a significant chunk going to Jewish causes. An Orthodox Jewish elementary school and high school in New Jersey carry the Kushner family name, the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy and the Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School. Both schools in Livingston are named for Kushner’s Holocaust survivor grandparents.
The family foundation distributed about $2.4 million in 2011, $3.9 million in 2012 and $2.4 million in 2013, the latest year for which data is publicly available. Kushner, who is involved in the foundation, also briefly served as a board member for this news organization (JTA, now under the umbrella of 70 Faces Media, is a not-for-profit).
Kushner himself attended high school at the Frisch School, a modern Orthodox yeshiva in Paramus, New Jersey. He later went to Harvard and earned his law degree at New York University.
One of four siblings, Kushner now lives in a stylish apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, belongs to the Orthodox Kehilath Jeshurun synagogue and is Sabbath observant. His wife underwent an Orthodox conversion to Judaism before the couple wed in October 2009, studying Judaism with Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Kehilath Jeshurun and the Ramaz School. Ivanka Trump told Vogue magazine last year that the family keeps kosher and Shabbat —“We’re pretty observant,” she said — and Kushner noted that his wife often whips up Shabbat dinner.
“She said, ‘If we’re going to do Shabbos, I’m going to cook.’ She never cooked before in her life and became a great cook,” Kushner told Vogue. “So for Friday, she’ll make dinner for just the two of us, and we turn our phones off for 25 hours.”
Ivanka Trump said of her conversion to Judaism, “It’s been such a great life decision for me. I am very modern, but I’m also a very traditional person, and I think that’s an interesting juxtaposition in how I was raised as well. I really find that with Judaism, it creates an amazing blueprint for family connectivity.”
The couple has three children: daughter Arabella Rose, 5, and sons Joseph Frederick, 3, and Theodore James, who was born in March. A video of Arabella reciting poetry in Mandarin — initially uploaded by her mom around the Lunar New Year — went viral in China earlier this week.
Kushner’s family weathered a public scandal in 2004 when his father, Charles, was arrested on charges of tax evasion, illegal campaign donations and witness tampering. Among other things, Charles Kushner had hired a prostitute to lure his brother-in-law into a tryst that he had taped secretly and mailed to his sister. The setup, part of a long-running family feud, sent Charles Kushner to jail for 16 months.
Jared Kushner, who is said to be fiercely devoted to his father, did not shy away from the spotlight. A student at the time in the MBA-law program at NYU, Kushner accelerated his involvement in his father’s real estate empire, Kushner Companies.
In 2006, when he was just 25, Kushner bought the New York Observer for about $10 million. The paper made news earlier this week when it announced that it was shutting down its print edition after nearly 30 years and dropping the “New York” from its name. The Observer claimed its website received 5.6 million unique visitors in September, or nearly twice the number from the same time last year.
By all accounts, Kushner is a savvy real estate man. In 2007, the year after his father got out of prison, Kushner bought a 41-story office building on Fifth Avenue for $1.8 billion – the most expensive office building sale in U.S. history up to that point. In 2008, Kushner became CEO of his father’s company.
In 2014, Kushner Companies completed more than $2 billion in transactions — including buying 2,000 multifamily apartments on the East Coast — according to Fortune magazine. In 2015, Kushner scored spot No. 25 on Fortune’s 40 under 40 list ranking the most influential young people in business.
“Real estate’s today where I spend most of my time, but I also am very active outside our real estate business in other holdings,” Kushner said in a Fortune video. “The most important thing is working with the right people, people who you trust, people who are talented.”
Now that Kushner’s father-in-law is the president-elect, Kushner has had to switch his political allegiances.
Until very recently, he mostly supported Democrats. Kushner’s Observer endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008. He has made more than $100,000 in donations to Democratic committees and candidates, according to widely cited Federal Election Commission records, including a total of $6,000 in donations to Hillary Clinton, his father-in-law’s rival for the presidency, in 2000 and 2003.
Kushner sent $10,000 to the New Jersey Democratic State Committee and $10,000 to the New York State Democratic Committee in 2014, and $20,800 to Cory Booker’s 2013 U.S. Senate campaign in New Jersey. He also made contributions to two other Democratic senators, Charles Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.