During the divisive presidential campaign, a Jewish reporter for the New York Observer, a paper owned by Jared Kushner, penned an open letter to her publisher decrying the rise in anti-Semitic sentiment coming from some of candidate Donald Trump’s supporters. She implored him to speak out, saying his silence was giving Trump’s “most hateful supporters tacit approval.”
Shortly after, alumni from The Ramaz School, leaning on their Jewish values, circulated a petition urging the school’s longtime head, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein — who aided Ivanka Trump in her conversion to Orthodox Judaism — to cancel a planned appearance at the Republican National Convention. The pressure campaign worked, and Rabbi Lookstein backed out on the eve of Donald Trump becoming the Republican nominee for president.
Now, alumni and former staff from Kushner’s Modern Orthodox high school, The Frisch School in Paramus, N.J., are imploring him to pressure his father-in-law to rescind his executive order on immigration banning citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries. And they are also asking him to put his Jewish values into play in the effort.
In an interview with The Jewish Week Tuesday, Nava Friedman, 26, the author of the letter, said: “Given the values that we learned at Frisch and the concerns that a lot of us have with our current political climate, it felt like these values were being potentially jeopardized by the order. It seemed like a critical moment to speak out and to let the Trump administration and Mr. Kushner know: Hey you are a member of our community. We have concerns about this. That was the impetus to the letter.”
Ironically, news of the open letter, which garnered 180 signatories from the “Frisch School Community,” appeared as the Trump administration — in an effort to tighten the borders and fulfill a campaign promise — outlined new steps to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, even ones who have committed minor offenses.
Another alumni, Aliza Enker, who graduated in 2007 and also signed the letter, told The Jewish Week, “There have been lots of online appeals and petitions lately, but I felt that on the off chance that this could make its way to Mr. Kushner, I would offer to sign my name in the hopes that others will sign it as well.”
In the open letter from “Members of the Frisch School Community,” the signatories expressed “alarm” at Trump’s executive order barring immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority nations. Kushner, who serves as a senior adviser to the president, is a 1999 graduate of Frisch.
The letter called it a “rare opportunity” to have a Frisch alumnus play “such a critical role in guiding the future of our country.”
“As fellow graduates, students, parents and educators of the Frisch School and proud members of the American Jewish community, we are alarmed by the President’s Executive Order barring immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim majority nations. Your family and all of ours know too well what can happen when America shuts its doors to those most in need,” read the letter, which was made public over the weekend.
Not all Frisch alumni were onboard with the letter. Frisch graduate Binyamin Lemkin, for example, commented on Facebook that he thinks “the ban is great” and that “the letter undoubtedly does not reflect what most graduates think.”
Earlier this month, as the letter circulated, the Frisch School’s Facebook page featured a notice saying that the open letter “is in no way representative of the school’s administration, faculty, or board of trustees.”
“Healthy political discourse and debate is a key component of our democratic society,” the notice continued, adding that the school “will continue to remain as a politically neutral space.”
Since the letter began circulating, federal courts, responding to challenges, placed a temporary stay on the executive order based on constitutional grounds.
A revised version of the order could be released this week, The Associated Press reported. According to AP, the new version would focus on the same seven countries, but would only bar entry to those without a visa and who have never entered the United States.
Trump says the refugee ban, meant to be temporary, is necessary to put into place “extreme vetting” procedures to prevent terrorists from entering the country.
In opposing the travel and immigration ban, the Frisch alumni and former staff invoke their families’ experiences, and Kushner’s, as immigrants and refugees. Kushner’s grandparents were Holocaust survivors who came to the United States after spending over three years in a displaced persons camp in Italy.
“Like you, many of us are the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who escaped to this country when the lands of their birth promised almost certain death; like those of your grandparents, many of their parents, siblings and extended families did not make it to our shores and perished in the Holocaust. The memory of the St. Louis rings fresh in our minds as we see refugees from some of the most war-torn countries on this planet barred from entering our country,” the letter continued.
The letter references the Torah calling on Jews “to love and welcome the stranger, for we too were once strangers in Egypt.”
“We implore you, as a Jew and as a graduate of an institution that instilled you with Jewish values, to exercise the influence and access you have to annals of power to ensure others don’t suffer the same fate as millions of our co-religionists. We ask you to ensure they gain the second chance our grandparents received to succeed and thrive in America,” it concluded.
JTA contributed to this report.