Mounting speculation regarding Melania Trump’s conspicuous absence from official White House events has sparked renewed debate regarding her failure to address tasks traditionally left to first ladies. The New York Times’s Julie Hirschfield Davis cited the fear of anonymous DC sources that planning for the annual Easter Egg Roll and similar East-Wing chores are disturbingly behind schedule.
I find it odd that this has not prompted similar questions as to whether Ivanka Trump would or should fill in at Easter. The Trump administration did imply that the first daughter’s move to the capital would permit her to pinch hit for her absent step-mother; and Ivanka did step in, accompanying her father on his trip to Dover Airforce Base last week to pay respects to a fallen Navy SEAL.
Is Ivanka, as some have suggested, too busy rescuing her fashion brand from the anti-Trump #grabyourwallet boycott to manage the Easter Egg Roll? Or is it her frum (Orthodox) Judaism that forbids her from juggling this inherently Christian event?
I know that Ivanka does not — as The Big Lebowski put it — roll on Shabbos. Will she or should she participate in planning an Easter Egg Roll? Will she or should she let her kids roll Easter eggs?
My fellow TOI blogger, Jessica Levine Kupferberg rightfully took to task those who “frum-shamed” Ivanka and Jared Kushner for relying on their rabbi’s rabbinic dispensation to ride in a car on Shabbat to the inaugural ball.
Ivanka could seek similar rabbinical dispensation to oversee the Egg Roll. But I doubt she even needs such dispensation to participate in planning “exciting activities for the whole family, including storytime with celebrities, games, live entertainment, and the traditional Easter Egg Roll.”
I suspect that the silence regarding Ivanka’s role in the Roll has more to do with what I would call Jew-washing in general and frum-washing in particular.
The Trump campaign conveniently used Ivanka Trump’s and Jared Kushners’ Judaism to garner Jewish votes during the campaign: Trump boasted to the Republican Jewish Coalition in 2015 that his daughter doesn’t answer the phone on Saturday; and defended his stand on the Middle East conflict in a CNN debate in March, 2016 by declaring, “I have tremendous love for Israel. I happen to have a son-in-law and a daughter that are Jewish, OK? And two grandchildren that are Jewish.”
The President actually confirmed in an interview with the Times of London that Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew, would play a key role in brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, and publicly told Jared Kushner at a dinner for major campaign and politicians, “If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can.”
An overwhelming majority of Jews, 71%, voted for Hillary Clinton. But a video of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner visiting the grave of the Lubavitcher Rebbe was released on the eve of the elections; and the endorsement of Trump by Orthodox affiliated newspapers, like The Jewish Press and the Long Island Jewish World, reflected the campaign’s targeting of Orthodox, right-wing voters.
The Trump campaign also failed to seriously address a tsunami of anti-Semitic, alt-right propaganda that gave rise to burgeoning anti-Semitism in the US, bomb threats against Jewish centers across the country, swastikas on subway cars, etc. The Trump campaign tapped as its chief strategist and senior advisor Steve Bannon, who boasted that his archconservative Breitbart News was “the platform for the alt-right.”. And the Trump administration appointed Bannon Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist.
The appeal to right-wing, Orthodox Jewish sentiment continues despite Trump’s back-pedaling his promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. And to some extent, the frum-washing has worked. (I wish I had a shekel for every religious Israeli who has told me that Trump is good for Israel and and therefore good for the Jews.)
I would argue that neither Melania nor Ivanka should be required to plan or host an event merely because they are married to or the daughter of a president.
But just as feminism would not have precluded Bill Clinton from conducting Christmas tours of the White House or redecorating the East Wing, Judaism would not — as far as I know — preclude anyone from rolling eggs on the White House Lawn.
The Kushner children may not be permitted to roll Easter eggs. But there is no danger of Ivanka unwittingly sending the wrong message to her or anyone’s else’s children by participating in planning the White House Easter festivities. Whether Ivanka, Melania, or anyone else plans the Easter Egg Roll, the subliminal message of the iconic, televised event to non-Christian children in America remains that the US is first and foremost a Christian nation.
Ivanka and her family should be welcome to practice their Judaism – to plan or not to plan, to roll or not to roll — as they see fit. Law-abiding Muslims should be welcome in America to do the same.
I hope however that Orthodox and other Jews do not fall for this Jew-washing and frum-washing again. That despite Jared’s kippah; Ivanka’s refraining from answering her phone on Shabbat; and the Kushner kids keeping their hands off the Easter eggs – Orthodox Jews will not be duped again into believing that Donald Trump is good for the Jews.
I hope — and even pray — that President Donald Trump’s Jew-washing and frum-washing won’t wash again.