Donald Trump's presidency provides few moments of tranquility. But last week, amid roaring controversies that threaten her father's administration, Ivanka Trump took in a quiet moment of prayer and reflection at the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism.
Her visit was striking for two reasons. It was a rare moment in which the First Daughter's carefully guarded faith was on public display. And it underscored the unique role she plays in an administration that has faced criticism for not confronting anti-Semitism.
Ivanka is arguably the most powerful Jewish woman in America today, someone who has long had a special influence on her father (though doesn't always win him over) and is now settling in as an unpaid adviser to the President. Her commitment to faith contrasts with Trump, whose outward religious practice has been much more limited. But one question looming over Ivanka is how -- or whether -- she will use her status at the top of the new Washington to guide a national conversation about the rising number of threats to Jewish community centers and places of worship.
So far, she's taking a characteristically cautious approach.
Since her move to Washington at the beginning of the Trump administration, Ivanka has spoken little about her faith or her conversion to Judaism before she married Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew, in 2009. She declined to speak to CNN about how her faith guides her life and her thinking about policy. Both she and her aides describe it as an intensely personal matter.
In January and February, there were 100 threats to Jewish community centers, which often house pre-school programs, according to CNN reporting. When JCCs received a wave of bomb threats on February 20, Ivanka spoke up, tweeting that "America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance. We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers. #JCC."
The Anti-Defamation League Audit of Anti-Semitic incidents, published in late April, showed the occurrences had increased by 34% nationally from 2015 to 2016.
Trump was roundly criticized for dismissing a question about the increase in anti-Semitic violence during a February press conference. He called the reporter's question "insulting," and added that he was "the least anti-Semitic person that you've ever seen in your life." Soon after that misstep, he more forcefully condemned the anti-Semitic threats by saying they were "horrible," "painful," and "a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil."
Ivanka's conversion to Judaism, a rigorous process, was clearly an important touchstone in her life. In a 2015 Vogue profile, she said she "always shied away from it being a public conversation because it's such a personal thing." She described her family's faith as an "intimate thing" but noted that they are "pretty observant, more than some, less than others."
Her father has been publicly supportive of Ivanka's conversion. During a speech last year, he noted that Ivanka was "about to have a beautiful Jewish baby."
Ivanka converted to Judaism under the instruction of Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of the Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, which is a Modern Orthodox synagogue on New York's Upper East Side. The couple now reportedly attends Washington's Chabad Lubavitch synagogue, better known as "The Shul," which is about a 10-minute walk from their Washington home. While Rabbi Levi Shemtov noted in an interview that The Shul has had many high profile attendees over the years, he would not talk specifically about Ivanka and her husband.
It's true, some people might be excited that they're joining us for prayers, but the dignitaries are coming here to escape celebrity, not seek it.
Of his high profile members, Shemtov said, "I prefer to have them feel comfortable here, and not be made a big deal about, quite frankly. So yes, it's true, some people might be excited that they're joining us for prayers, but the dignitaries are coming here to escape celebrity, not seek it, and I hope that The Shul creates an effective and healthy environment for that to happen."
Explaining the Modern Orthodox faith, he said it came into being "as a way of allowing people who found Orthodoxy in its full complement somewhat challenging to reconcile with the modern world and vice versa, without abandoning either."
Ivanka has offered a window into that world through her Instagram account, where she has posted pictures of her activities with her children on Jewish holidays -- such as the "after school fun" of making hamantaschen cookies for the Jewish holiday of Purim with Arabella and Joseph -- as well as pictures from her trip to Israel last week with her father.
"But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer." - Viktor E. Frankl Few places in the world inspire me more to that calling. As we remember this dark moment in history of Jewish and human suffering, let us recommit to never forget the lessons of the Holocaust. Let us have the courage to unite and stand up for decency and humanity in every corner of the world. And let us be brave in opposing injustices - in all forms - that ignore the lessons so vividly on display here at Yad Vashem. 📷 Mandel Ngan / AFP
In her new book, "Women Who Work," she wrote about how she and her family observe the Shabbat from sundown Friday to Saturday night. "During this time, we disconnect completely -- no emails, no TV, no phone calls, no Internet. We enjoy uninterrupted time together and it's wonderful. In addition to being a sacred part of our religion, we live in such a fast-paced world that it's enormously important to unplug and devote that time to each other," she wrote.
On those days, she said the family reads, enjoys "long meals together," takes walks in the city or just hangs out, which allows her to go back to work, she said, "full steam, the following Monday -- or more realistically, Saturday night, when I log back on!"
In Jerusalem last week, her public gestures of faith and her conservative attire -- which was interpreted as in keeping with Orthodox tradition -- drew wide attention across the world. At the Western Wall, she wore a long-sleeved jacket, a loose-fitting midi-length skirt that fell just above her ankles, and a small navy fascinator, which was interpreted as a nod to the tradition that observant women cover their hair at holy sites.
Ivanka has visited Israel numerous times, and in that quiet moment last week, she stood off to the side as officials at the Western Wall explained the history to Melania Trump. Taking her turn after the First Lady in front of the portion of the wall that is reserved for women, she placed her left hand on the stones of Kotel, closed her eyes and leaned in as she prayed. She wiped away a tear as she turned back to the group of women who guided their visit, briefly placing her hand on her heart in a gesture of how moving the moment had been.
"I am grateful to have experienced a deeply meaningful visit to the holiest site of my faith and to leave a private note of prayer," she wrote in an Instagram post.
And for now -- under the intense scrutiny of the press and curious Ivanka-watchers -- that's where she wants her faith to remain: in private.
Illustration by Lucie Birant.