If you’re an Orthodox Jewish Trump supporter in Washington, DC, the hot new place to be isn’t in any synagogue.
It’s a floating group that moves around town from week to week – sometimes at the Kushner mansion, sometimes in a spare office at the White House, occasionally in Steve Bannon’s basement.
At first glance, it might seem like an ordinary Jewish service, with prayers and chatter about Israel and family. But as you look closer at the copies of Mein Kampf, the red Make America Great Again yarmulkes, and the white power hand signals, you realize that this is a different kind of Jewish community.
Welcome to the “alt-Orthodox”, a hip new style of Jewish engagement that is rebelling against fusty tradition in favor of online engagement and closer bonds with far-right European nationalist parties.
“The is the first time in my life that Judaism really feels cool,” said David Friedman, Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Israel, as he munched on a piece of babka. “We’re making Orthodoxy great again.”
Because of its deliberately loose grouping, it can be hard to define the cool, devil-may-care vibe of the gatherings. Perhaps it’s the skinny ties and casual racism. Perhaps it’s the thrill of knowing that a big wheel like National Economic Council head Gary Cohn or Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin could drop in at any time for a whiskey kiddush and a couple of jokes about Arabs.
Another part is the active online presence – members frequently participate in multi-player online shooting games, and post and share lists, memes, and jokes, such as “10 Worst Things About Muslims”, “20 Worst Things About Palestinians”, and “You Know You’re A Jew When…”
“We aren’t politically correct,” said Trump advisor Jason Greenblatt. “We tell it like it is, and that freaks out most Jews. We don’t care.”
But the “alt-Orthodox” don’t consider themselves cloistered. In fact, they’ve been reaching out to other groups to start an inter-nationalist dialogue.
They’re having a speaker from Hungary’s Jobbik party next week, one of the Le Pens is scheduled to swing by in a month, and of course Steve Bannon regularly stops in to play mah jong or for a roundtable of bagels and grain alcohol.
The swinging, rebellious vibe has even lured outsiders to come explore their Jewish roots. Recently disgraced provocateur Milo Yiannapoulos, who claims Jewish ancestry, is rumored to have volunteered to help with teaching duties if a much-discussed bar mitzvah program ever gets off the ground.
Joanie Weiss is the national correspondent for the Backward. She is beyond contact. Follow her on Twitter.