One evening last fall, four months after he was fired from the White House, Donald Trump’s former communications director found himself in Jerusalem, practicing his Hebrew.
“How’s that?” Anthony Scaramucci asked after delivering a Long Island-accented attempt at the Shehecheyanu blessing, which marks special occasions and new beginnings. “Not so bad, right?”
The audience at the sumptuous and storied King David Hotel, convened by a group called the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce, responded with “amens” and encouraging applause, a video of the event shows.
It was another sign that as Scaramucci has attempted to chart a path back to the political arena after his very public firing last summer, perhaps the most dedicated fans of the brash Italian-American have come from a slice of the Orthodox Jewish community.
Certainly, they know about the string of colorful profanities Scaramucci unleashed on the phone with a New Yorker reporter last July—remarks so explicit that they got him fired from a White House helmed by a notoriously foul-mouthed president.
And they know that a Twitter account affiliated with Scaramucci churned out a series of extraordinary messages that critics said minimized the deaths of the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.
But that hasn’t stopped some in that relatively small, conservative-leaning community from tapping him for awards and keynote speaking slots, shepherding him around the Holy Land and speaking about his pro-Israel bona fides in glowing terms.
“Anthony Scaramucci is not just a friend of Israel and the Jewish People but a Great Friend of Israel and the Jewish People,” emailed Joseph Frager, vice president of public policy at the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce, an organization that focuses on both business and public affairs, especially in the Jewish world.
Frager is chairing the National Council of Young Israel gala dinner in Flushing, N.Y. next month, featuring an “elegant buffet dinner,” “lavish Viennese dessert”—and Anthony Scaramucci as the guest of honor and guest speaker, according to an invitation reviewed by McClatchy.
In June, Scaramucci will be the keynote speaker at the JBiz Expo, a gathering that will showcase Orthodox Jewish businesses in Holmdel, N.J. And he recently visited Las Vegas, where he was warmly received at a gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which drew both Orthodox and more secular Jewish attendees.
His sudden ubiquity on the conservative-leaning Jewish speaking circuit has puzzled even some people who are deeply entrenched in the community. Scaramucci did not respond to several requests for comment for this story.
“I have no idea,” said Rabbi Zev Reichman, an influential rabbi from an Orthodox synagogue in New Jersey, when asked about Scaramucci’s turn in the right-leaning Jewish spotlight. “I think he’s a colorful guy, but no idea why he’s become suddenly honored at events, going to Israel. I’m wondering the same thing you are.”
‘You see the impression he made over there’
In political circles—Jewish and not—Scaramucci is still best-remembered for his dramatic exit from the White House. Ten days after he was hired last July, Scaramucci was fired after the infamous New Yorker report landed, capturing his obscene tirades against then-White House colleagues including Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon.
But by October, he was back in front of the cameras—this time, here in New York, as he held a launch party for his new project, a media venture dubbed the “Scaramucci Post.” That initiative, which lives primarily on social media and is now largely focused on the opioid epidemic, would quickly get him in trouble again. That fall, the Scaramucci Post’s Twitter account posted a poll about how many Jews died in the Holocaust—and also asked for “thoughts” on Anne Frank Halloween costumes, moves that many in and outside of the Jewish community saw as insensitive and empowering to Holocaust deniers.
Scaramucci went into damage-control mode, apologizing and distancing himself (his business partner at the Scaramucci Post, Lance Laifer, has said he posted the poll and that he tweets for the account. Laifer is Jewish.) Scaramucci also donated $25,000 to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish-affiliated human rights organization that emphasizes Holocaust education.
The whole episode struck some activists in Jewish Republican circles as odd and misguided, though few question Scaramucci's oft-repeated affinity for the Jewish community.
But some people, such as Rabbi Duvi Honig, have gone much further in embracing “the Mooch,” as Scaramucci is sometimes known.
Honig, who founded the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce and serves as its CEO, invited Scaramucci on the trip to Israel with his organization last November, which marked the launch of the Israel chapter of the group.
He shared a highlights video reel of the trip with McClatchy, which included sober scenes of a yarmulke-clad Scaramucci at the Western Wall; images of a visit to Sderot, a town near the Gaza Strip that often sustains rocket attacks; and shots of Scaramucci engaged in conference room discussions.
Scaramucci was more free-wheeling in interviews with Jewish media on the trip, cracking jokes about circumcision and showing off his Yiddish by rattling off “three derogatory Yiddish terms for non-Jews,” according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, as well as highlighting his, and Trump’s, longstanding support for Israel and the Jewish community.
But in an interview with McClatchy, Honig focused on Scaramucci’s visit on that trip to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum.
“He was so supportive, so touched, he was literally in tears when he was there,” Honig said of the visit. “Instead of people thinking Anthony, his website, he said something by mistake, a tweet—you see the impression he made over there.”
Honig is also impressed by what he sees as Scaramucci’s continued access to Trump (“We went out for dinner, he just spoke to the president that morning,” Honig said. The White House didn’t respond to a request for confirmation).
And he praised the business acumen of Scaramucci, who built a career as a hedge fund investor and examined investment opportunities in Israel during his trip. That business background is why Scaramucci will keynote the JBiz conference, Honig said. A similar honor was previously given to Jason Greenblatt, a Trump lawyer-turned-Trump Middle East envoy.
‘A Jewish soul’
Privately, not everyone has been bowled over by Scaramucci, with several Jewish Republicans who have attended events with him quietly questioning his knowledge of the White House, given his brief tenure there, and doubting his ability to be serious.
The barrage of ultra-graphic insults that got him fired haven’t been entirely forgotten, either.
“No doubt the more people see and hear him, where he doesn’t use inappropriate and outrageous language, the more and more people will forget about those moments, sure,” said Morton Klein, the head of the Zionist Organization of America who has had a close relationship with Bannon, the ex-Trump White House chief strategist with whom Scaramucci—and ultimately Trump—have clashed. “As time goes on, memory fades, I’ve mostly forgotten about it.”
But not entirely. While he has “certainly” forgiven the Mooch, he says, he added that, “when I see him, I still think of those words, I do.”
Klein, who will also speak at the National Council of Young Israel dinner, has noticed that Scaramucci keeps cropping up on the Jewish speaking circuit.
“I’ve known him a long time, he’s a stalwart supporter of Israel, and because of his notoriety, because of the reasons he was fired, he’s become well-known,” Klein said. “When you have a dinner, one of the things you want is people who will attract a crowd.”
Scaramucci was again a featured speaker at a Shabbat luncheon gathering of the RJC earlier this month at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas—a role that bemused and irritated several attendees.
But the address—in which the former White House official described his admiration for Israel, talked up Trump’s support for that country and kept the room entertained—generally earned Scaramucci goodwill.
In a post-event survey, “the feedback we got on his remarks—even people who may have been skeptical at the outset in terms of not knowing him or seeing him on the program without having any of the context, really raved about his participation after his speech,” said Matt Brooks, the executive director of the RJC, when asked about Scaramucci’s critics.
“He’s an Italian guy through and through,” Brooks added, “but he’s got a Jewish soul.”
This story was originally published February 27, 2018 5:00 AM.