TEL AVIV, Israel -- Twenty-one of New York’s most prestigious real estate professionals and supporters of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) joined the FIDF Real Estate Mission to Israel, Oct. 26-Nov. 1, getting an inside look into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and showing their solidarity with and appreciation for Israel’s brave soldiers.

The mission brought local real estate leaders together with the men and women of the IDF, and participants received in-depth briefings by senior military and intelligence officers, as well as top U.S. and Israeli officials. The participants of the mission were the first official delegation to visit the newly opened U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, meeting with the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. They also met with Member of Knesset (MK) Ayelet Shaked, visited soldiers serving on the frontline, and got behind-the-scenes tours of key military and defense sites, including the Haifa Naval Base, Nevatim Air Force Base, and Elbit Defense Systems.

The group enjoyed fine dining at the acclaimed Kitchen Market Restaurant in Tel Aviv with members of the cast of the hit Netflix series “Fauda,” about an undercover Israeli anti-terror unit, including star Tsahi Halevi, and met with celebrity Israeli chef Eyal Shani.

FIDF’s Real Estate Division is now a part of the recently launched FIDF NY Affinity Group, which serves as an umbrella group of Financial Services, Real Estate, and Women’s Division supporters of FIDF. It is headed by FIDF National Board Member and NY Affinity Groups Chair Ofer Yardeni, who is Chair and CEO of Stonehenge NYC, and FIDF NY Affinity Groups Director Jessica Toledano.

Leading the mission were 2019 FIDF Real Estate Mission Chair Marty Burger, who also served as chair of last year’s mission and is CEO of Silverstein Properties; FIDF Real Estate Division Chair Chuck Rosenzweig, who is the Founder and Managing Partner of Criterion Real Estate Capital; Yardeni; FIDF National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir; FIDF Tri-State Executive Director Galit Brichta; and Toledano.

“The FIDF Real Estate Mission to Israel was an incredible and inspiring experience for all. Meeting the men and women of the IDF, and seeing first-hand their deep love and commitment to Israel and its people, was priceless,” said Toledano. “In the same way, FIDF’s supporters in the real estate community make it their priority to do everything they can to help these courageous soldiers.”

FIDF’s NY Real Estate Division was created in 2006 by a group of successful business and philanthropic leaders who were passionate about uniting members of the real estate community to support the men and women who protect and defend the Jewish State. Since then, this division has helped support several projects, including the construction of a well-being center at the IDF Revaya Base for the 188th Armored Brigade’s 71st battalion, and supporting other well-being programs for IDF soldiers.


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Another said they would "try to be diplomatic" - before making clear that they much preferred the previous ambassador. "This one's not, well not everyone's cup of tea, as you say. Maybe a Lapsang Souchong.... it can leave a bitter taste."

'Very professional'

On the subject of tea, it's anecdotally reported that Ambassador Sondland uses a silent buzzer device during diplomatic meetings in Brussels to signal to his staff that he wants a cup of tea.

One ambassadorial adviser who has spent decades in Brussels had kinder words. "He's aggressive, he's combative, some people might say highfalutin. But he seems very open and you get where he's coming from. I know where he stands and respect that."

The official on-the-record view offers a different take. Mina Andreeva is chief spokeswoman for the EU Commission, and said: "We have always experienced him as a very professional counterpart, who has been helpful in continuing our transatlantic relations."

Diplomacy at its most diplomatic.

Ambassador Sondland and his team in Brussels were contacted for comment this week, but were unavailable. Reluctance to engage with reporters appears to be out of step with the ambassador's previous efforts to reach out to journalists.

The chief Europe correspondent for Politico, Matthew Karnitschnig, tells a story which suggests that up until recently, Ambassador Sondland went out of his way to make a name for himself.

"Not too long ago, we did a profile of the US ambassador to Germany. As soon as that story ran, all of a sudden our phone at Politico was ringing and it was none other than Ambassador Sondland, wondering why we weren't paying more attention to him. So I think it's quite interesting. This drive to get Trump's attention may have gone a little too far here in engaging with Ukraine and trying to do Trump's bidding."

The impeachment hearings into Donald Trump go public this week. --BBCi


Sir Richard Brason recently lands in Israel

Famed British billionaire business magnate Sir Richard Branson landed in Israel this week as his travel company Virgin Holidays announced the launch of package vacations to Israel in 2020.

The announcement comes after last month’s launch of daily Tel Aviv – London Heathrow flights by Branson’s own airline Virgin Atlantic. Upon arrival, Branson smiled and waved for cameras as he descended the steps. In his trademark cheerful mood, Branson was jokingly told by a reporter of the custom to kiss the ground upon arrival in the Holy Land. Branson promptly bent down and kissed the ground much to the delight of those around him.

During his short stay in Israel, Branson met with locals and businessmen and even took part in some “bartering” as customers voiced their own offers on what they wanted to pay for a ticket on Virgin.


Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D., will be inaugurated as the 10th President in the 144-year history of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the academic and professional leadership center of Reform Judaism at Cincinnati’s landmark Isaac M. Wise / K.K. B’nai Yeshurun / Plum Street Temple.

The Inauguration will be attended by the international leaders of the Reform Movement, dignitaries from international academic institutions and organizations, communal and civic leaders of Cincinnati, alumni, faculty, and students.

A distinguished academic, President Rehfeld brings distinctive intellectual, spiritual, and professional qualities to lead the College-Institute’s mission to transform the Jewish community and the broader world. His passion for teaching and scholarship, as well as exemplary leadership skills, have set him apart as a dynamic visionary and community builder. His deep personal commitment to Reform Judaism and Jewish values, profound understanding of the impact of nonprofit Jewish institutions, and entrepreneurial spirit of innovation will lead HUC-JIR to greater excellence.

Dr. Rehfeld has bridged both the academic and Jewish worlds as Assistant Professor of Political Science (2001 to 2007) and Associate Professor of Political Science (2007 to 2019) at Washington University in St. Louis and as President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis (2012 to 2019). A tenured Professor of Political Thought at HUC-JIR, he contributes an unusual combination of teaching and scholarship, experience in Jewish nonprofit administration, and volunteer community leadership to the College-Institute.

President Rehfeld earned a Ph.D. in Political Science (2000) and a Master of Public Policy (1994) from the University of Chicago, and a B.A., Phi Beta Kappa, in the Philosophy Honors Program at the University of Rochester (1989). The author of The Concept of Constituency (Cambridge University Press, 2005) and numerous articles, Dr. Rehfeld’s research focuses on contemporary democratic theory with related interests in the history of political thought and the philosophy of the social sciences. He has published on the political uses of the Hebrew Bible and has taught yearly courses on Zionism and Jewish Political Thought at Washington University in St. Louis.

Dr. Rehfeld stated, “I am thrilled by the opportunity to work collaboratively with a dynamic professional team of deans, program directors, academic administrators, and faculty across all four campuses to shape the future of professional Jewish leadership by inspiring, educating, and learning from a new generation of students.  These are challenging times that HUC-JIR, as a multi-faceted institution of higher education, is well suited to address.  I can only hope to live up to the historic legacy of transformational leadership that characterized those who held this position before me, from Isaac Mayer Wise and Stephen S. Wise to David Ellenson and Aaron Panken.  I am honored to serve as the President of HUC-JIR.”

As HUC-JIR President, Dr. Rehfeld leads the four-campus international institution of Jewish higher education and seminary for Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR’s campuses in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York provide the academic and professional training programs for the Reform Movement’s rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offer graduate programs for scholars of all faiths.

HUC-JIR’s 4,000 active alumni serve over one million members of the Reform Movement, nearly 900 North American congregations, and more than 1,200 congregations worldwide, representing the largest Jewish denomination in North America, and the growing Progressive Movement in Israel and around the world. HUC-JIR alumni also hold leadership positions in Jewish educational, communal, cultural, and social service institutions, in hospital and military chaplaincies, in Jewish summer camping and Israel youth and engagement programs, and as faculty and Hillel directors at colleges and universities.


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It has been a torrid introduction to diplomacy for the wealthy hotelier appointed US ambassador to the EU by Donald Trump.

Gordon Sondland is now at the centre of the impeachment inquiry, which seeks to establish whether President Donald Trump tried to pressure Ukraine into discrediting his potential 2020 election rival, Joe Biden.

Mr Sondland made headlines after suddenly changing his testimony to Congress and suggesting that a potentially impeachable offence had been committed by President Trump.

He had been a little-known figure until that 5 November testimony. So how is he viewed in Brussels?

Speaking anonymously, one EU Council diplomat said he had "a way about him that can rub people the wrong way" and another said he was "not everyone's cup of tea".

Questions are being asked about Mr Sondland's admission that he was given a "special assignment" in Ukraine by President Trump, despite the fact that Ukraine is not in the EU.
Media captionTrump impeachment: What you might have missed

Mr Sondland offered a glimpse into his personal life in a "getting to know you" video, posted on YouTube by the US embassy in Brussels a year ago.

He sits on the sofa with his wife of 25 years and chats about his family, his European immigrant roots, his love for flying as a trained pilot, and his extensive art collection. The video is a cosy, open portrait of a wealthy family looking forward to a life in Europe.

He is the 20th US ambassador to the EU, in his first foreign posting, which is also his political debut.

His background has echoes of the president who chose him: a multi-millionaire hotelier and businessman who set his sights on politics.

He had originally backed a Trump rival in the 2016 presidential race - Jeb Bush. Back then, Mr Sondland said Donald Trump was out of touch with his personal beliefs "on so many levels".

But, when Donald Trump was elected, Mr Sondland donated $1m (£781,000) to his inaugural committee. Soon after that he was made ambassador to Brussels.

Ukraine 'special assignment'

His political patch extended to Ukraine, and he split much of his time between Brussels and Kyiv.

Earlier this year he told a Ukrainian reporter: "We are what are called the three amigos and the three amigos are [Energy] Secretary [Rick] Perry, Ambassador [Kurt] Volker and myself, and we've been tasked with sort of overseeing the US-Ukraine relationship, between our contacts at the highest levels of the US government and the highest levels of the Ukrainian government."

This role has since been called into question by the previous US Ambassador to the EU, Anthony Gardner, who described it as "extremely unusual", since it had little to do directly with the European Union.

Mr Sondland called it a "special assignment". And that Ukraine role has put him in the spotlight as a key witness in the impeachment investigation.

On 5 November Mr Sondland abruptly changed his testimony to Congress, saying he now recalled telling a top adviser to Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky that nearly $400m in military aid to Kyiv would not be released unless the Ukraine government announced an investigation - that President Trump wanted - into the business dealings of Joe Biden's son, Hunter.

Hunter Biden sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy firm. It was essentially a quid pro quo arrangement with Ukraine that Mr Sondland had previously denied.

The testimony adds credibility to the central accusation that President Trump abused his power in office by pressuring the Ukrainian government to take action that would help his 2020 presidential campaign. President Trump denies this.

Abrasive or just plain-speaking?

Mr Sondland's sudden declaration has caused incredulity, and generated endless comic material on US prime-time TV networks.

On the CBS Late Show, comedian Stephen Colbert commented: "Why did Sondland decide to revise his statement to Congress? According to him, incriminating testimony from other witnesses 'refreshed my recollection about certain conversations' .. huh, you know that testimony I just heard? It really refreshed the old noodle."

Mr Sondland's reputation in Brussels is mixed, according to ambassadors and senior EU officials I spoke to. Impressions range from outward dislike of his style to open admiration. They agreed to speak frankly, on condition of anonymity. One senior EU Council diplomat said "he talks in high tones - he's got a manner and a way about him that can rub people the wrong way.

"He's certainly an expert in alienation. Most other ambassadors in this job know the way it ticks, have other ambassadors' mobile numbers, and are plugged into the way things work. He hasn't come from this world of diplomacy, doesn't know it and seems not to want to know it either. And we haven't seen that much of him here in Brussels."

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