A testimony to the beauty of Shabbat came from an unlikely source Ivanka Trump, the 35-year-old daughter of US president elect Donald Trump. She converted to Judaism seven years ago.
“We observe the Sabbath,” she said. “From Friday to Saturday we don’t do anything but hang out with one another.”
This Shabbat, November 11-12, is “The Shabbos Project,” where hundreds of thousands of Jews, from all Jewish denominations and including those not affiliated at all, will make an effort to keep as much of Shabbat observance as possible.
One look at the map of events on the project’s website (www.theShabbosproject.org) gives an idea of how widespread the events are: from a Vancouver, Canada mass challah bake to a Kiddush in Stavropol, Russia; from a public Shabbat meal in Eilat, to a Havdala ceremony in Quito, Equador.
One of the attractions of Shabbat observance is encapsulated in a few statements by Ivanka Trump. To appreciate what she said, we have to understand from where she is coming.
When she was 27, Ivanka, raised Presbyterian, converted to Judaism in an Orthodox rabbinical court in New York.
She took on observance of Shabbat, holidays and kashrut, and adopted the Hebrew name Yael. Last winter Donald Trump said, “I have a Jewish daughter. This wasn’t in the plan, but I’m very glad it happened.”
In 2009 she married real estate investor Jared Kushner, from a prominent New Jersey religious family.
The completely kosher wedding was grandiose, as befits the scions of two legendary real estate families. The 500 guests enjoyed the opulence of the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
To create a traditional sartorial atmosphere, women were provided with an optional shawl to wear. Ivanka requested that her custom-made gown have a modest lace jacket, made by the top designer Vera Wang (who also designed the wedding gown of Ivanka’s close friend, Chelsea Clinton). She sported tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry from the business she launched and still runs, Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry.
Each guest received as a wedding favor a pair of slippers on which was written “Ivanka and Jared, what a pair” along with a birchon, a booklet containing the grace after meals, in Hebrew and English. The wedding was as generous as it was glamorous.
The guests were encouraged to contribute to three charity organizations in lieu of gifts for the couple. Ivanka herself supports Jewish philanthropies such as Chabad, mikvaot (ritual baths) and United Hatzalah.
Ivanka and husband are Orthodox Sabbath and Jewish holiday observers.
Her father got used to the fact that from dusk Friday until nightfall Saturday every week they were inaccessible by phone, SMS, or email. She disengages from the business world and is incommunicado for 25 hours, despite her being pivotal as an executive vice president in the Trump organization and having been a key campaigner in the presidential campaign.
This in addition to her own jewelry and fashion business. On Saturdays she puts aside all these endeavors – Shabbat is more important.
Ivanka and Jared have three children: Arabella, who attends kindergarten at an Orthodox day school in Manhattan where they live, Joseph (3) and seven-month old Theodore who was born during his grandfather’s the presidential campaign.
In March 2015 Vogue journalist Jonathan van Meter interviewed Ivanka. She explained to the mostly non-Jewish readership what Shabbat observance means to her.
Ivanka [on becoming an Orthodox Jew]: “I always shied away from it being a public conversation because it’s such a personal thing… We’re pretty observant, more than some, less than others.
I just feel like it’s such an intimate thing for us… 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.”
Jared Kushner: “Also the ritual for us having Sabbath.”
Ivanka: “We observe the Sabbath. From Friday to Saturday we don’t do anything but hang out with one another. We don’t make phone calls.”
Jared: “Ivanka’s such a type A.
She just gets it done. But 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. So for Friday, she’ll make dinner for just the two of us, and we turn our phones off for 25 hours. Putting aside the religious aspect of it; we live in such a fast-paced world.”
Ivanka: “It’s an amazing thing when you’re so connected, to really sign off. And for Arabella to know that she has me, undivided, one day a week? We don’t do anything except play with each other, hang out with one another, go on walks together. Pure family!”