It might seem odd for a Modern Orthodox Jewish family to join a Chabad synagogue. But Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner are already quite invested in the ultra-Orthodox outreach movement – or to be more precise, their parents are.
A Haaretz examination has revealed that Charles and Seryl Kushner have been major benefactors of Chabad over the years. Between 2003 and 2013, their family foundation donated a total of $342,500 to various institutions and projects associated with the movement, their tax records show.
Chabad has benefited not only from Kushner’s side of the family. It turns out that President-elect Donald Trump has also contributed to the movement – even before his daughter, who converted to Judaism, was married. Altogether, the Donald J. Trump Foundation has donated $11,550 to three Chabad institutions.
According to a recent report in The Forward and on Channel 10 news, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are considering joining a Chabad synagogue when they move from New York to Washington D.C. Their newly purchased $5.5 million home in the Kalorama neighborhood is said to be less than a 10-minute walk from the local Chabad congregation, known as TheSHUL. Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who founded the synagogue and serves as its spiritual leader, would not confirm or deny the reports.
Kushner and Trump both identify as Orthodox, and the other two Orthodox synagogues in town are farther way. This can pose a problem for Jews who don’t drive on Shabbat. The family is moving in order to be closer to the White House, where the couple is expected to fill important, if not official, advisory roles in the next administration.
Three days before the presidential election, the two made a pilgrimage to the grave of the Chabad rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, where they reportedly made a special prayer for Ivanka’s father. The gravesite, which is known as the Ohel, is considered holy by followers of Chabad (also known as the Lubavitcher movement) and is visited by thousands annually.
Another key beneficiary was the Chabad center at Harvard University, which received $150,000 in 2007 (the foundation’s single biggest donation to a Lubavitch-affiliated enterprise) and then another $3,600 in 2013. Jared Kushner, who serves on the board of his parents’ charitable foundation, is a graduate of Harvard.
The Kushners have also contributed to a Chabad-run institution in Israel: the vocational school at Kfar Chabad, a town near Ben-Gurion International Airport. The school, which works with troubled youths, has received $7,500 from the family over the years.
Various Chabad centers in Florida, Manhattan and New Jersey have also been supported by the Kushners.
Chabad makes a practice of soliciting unaffiliated Jews and trying to turn them onto Orthodox Judaism. Its emissaries often approach men in the street and, after confirming that they are Jewish, offer to teach them how to don tefillin and recite prayers. In Israel, the movement is affiliated with the political right wing, and its followers tend to be staunch supporters of the settler movement.
In 2008, a year before Ivanka Trump married Kushner, the Donald J. Trump Foundation made two donations to Chabad – $6,750 to the Lubavitch Youth Organization in Brooklyn and $1,800 to Chabad of Southampton Jewish Charity. In 2011, the foundation donated $3,000 to Chabad of East Boca Raton – an institution also supported by the Kushners.
The Trump charitable foundation has made numerous donations to Jewish causes over the years. In 2003, for instance, it handed over a check for $10,000 to Friends of Beit El Institutions, the American fundraising arm of one of the oldest and more radical West Bank settlements. David Friedman, the bankruptcy lawyer who is Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Israel, serves as the organization’s president; Trump made the donation in Friedman’s honor. Beit El has its own Chabad envoy who heads a small congregation in the settlement.
In 1996, when Benjamin Netanyahu was running for his first term as prime minister, the Chabad movement rallied behind him with an aggressive and well-funded campaign. “Netanyahu. It’s good for the Jews” was its controversial slogan. The campaign was financed by Josef Gutnick, a wealthy Australian businessman with close ties to the late Lubavitcher rebbe and a major supporter of the settlement movement.
The original story has been updated to reflect a correction made by Haaretz: Although Chabad runs an organization called Ohel, the Ohel referred to in the original story is a different organization, and it is not affiliated with Chabad.