When Donald Trump improbably became president in 2016, few knew what his foreign-policy agenda would look like. Having spent little time on such issues during his campaign and having no previous electoral experience, Trump’s inclinations were mysterious. But despite this, it’s clear now, looking back, that some of his administration’s greatest successes were in the Middle East.

This week’s podcast guest, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman, was at the center of it all, a story that he tells in a new memoir. In this conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, Friedman brings listeners inside his tenure, which included the Abraham Accords, the move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and America’s recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Friedman also reflects on his Jewish formation, and his assessment of American Jewry today.

In recent years, family policy—what the government can do to strengthen the formation of American families—has come to occupy the minds of many political and cultural figures. That’s a good thing, since the family is the first and most important human institution, and children who are born into healthy families generally turn out far better than those who aren’t. It makes sense, then, that government should try to help families flourish, or at least make sure it doesn’t make it harder for them to do so.

This week, the policy researcher Andy Smarick joins the podcast to explain what’s behind the many new proposals to help the American family, drawing on a recent essay he published in Mosaic. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, he explains that few of the ideas being discussed in Washington lately have actually bolstered families in other countries, and that the left and the right have different conceptions of what the family actually is and what it’s for, which makes coming up with policy ideas they can agree upon very difficult.

The United States of America is the most powerful nation in the world. But it is facing tests of its credibility in multiple theaters of conflict. What do America’s adversaries believe about the capacity and will of the United States to respond with force? Has America’s deterrent power diminished? If so, can it be built up again?

On this week’s podcast, the security expert and former Marine officer Aaron MacLean walks through the history of American power in the 21st century, showing how the decisions of political leaders have affected America’s ability to deter belligerent actors, from George W. Bush’s decision to invade Afghanistan and Iraq to Barack Obama’s decision to refrain from striking Syria. And, in conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, MacLean explains why effective deterrence is so important and what can be done to restore it.

Next week, when Jews celebrate the holiday of Purim, they’ll also study the book of Esther, named for the young queen whose Jewish identity was unknown to her husband—Persia’s king—and his court. The book of Esther tells the story of how she and her cousin Mordechai outwitted the king’s second-in-command, the vizier Haman, who sought to destroy the Persian Jews. Beloved among children, the story has also often been read as a manual for Jewish political survival in the diaspora.

Ronna Burger of Tulane University, a professor of philosophy, also sees in Esther a commentary on the sources of human success: do humans accomplish their aims through sheer luck, divine help, or careful decision-making? In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, she walks through Esther, demonstrating how each of these elements—chance, providence, and prudence—emerge from the biblical text.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, most of the news coverage has understandably focused on the war’s military, political, and economic dimensions. But there’s another dimension of the war: the everyday people who are affected by it, and in particular, the Jewish communities that are affected by it. How does being in the midst of a war change prayer, or the operations of a synagogue? What does a rabbi do when his congregation is under attack?

Dovid Margolin, a senior editor at Chabad.org., joins the podcast this week to discuss this in the context of Ukraine. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, Margolin talks about the history of the Jews in Ukraine and how Jewish leaders there have helped their fellow Ukrainians during the war, from sheltering those with nowhere to go to moving entire orphanages out of the country.

This week, Russia began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russian airstrikes are now hitting Ukrainian military installations and Russian tanks are now rolling into Ukrainian cities.

This invasion is an inflection point in Russian-Western relations, the largest since the end of the cold war. To help us understand the full historical and political context behind it, we invited the foreign-policy scholar Vance Serchuk to join our podcast. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, he explains the history behind Russia’s relations with its East European neighbors, what is motivating Russia’s aggression now, and what options the United States and its allies, including Israel, have for aiding Ukraine.

By reading literature, one can experience what it’s like to be, say, a king, or a soldier, or a mother, or a stranger, or a tyrant, or for that matter a slave, not to mention far more.

What of modern Jewish literature? How did its story-tellers speak not only to individual readers, but also to a nation—a nation which until recently was dispersed through many lands and spoke to itself in many languages? How did fiction become one of the primary ways that modern Jewish culture was created and conveyed? And how have the greatest Jewish writers confronted the Jewish people’s enduring dilemmas?

The reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel changed the Jewish people, giving them a place to live in their historic home, if they wanted it.

But what about the Jews who remained and remain in the Diaspora: did Israel change their condition, and, if so, how? Yossi Shain, a professor of political science at Tel Aviv University and a member of Knesset, is the author of the new book The Israeli Century: How the Zionist Revolution Changed History and Reinvented Judaism. In conversation here with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, he argues that Israel is now the most important point of reference in the consciousness of the Jewish people, no matter where they live

The Republic of Azerbaijan scrambles the assumptions of even the most veteran foreign-policy hands. Sitting at the nexus of Europe and Asia, Azerbaijan is the only nation that borders both Iran and Russia; it is at the center of global energy; and, despite being a Muslim-majority nation, it has had a formal relationship with Israel for almost 30 years. By looking at Azerbaijan, this week’s podcast guest suggests that one can reimagine America’s approach to Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Michael Doran, the foreign-policy analyst and long-time Mosaic writer, argues in a recent essay that Azerbaijan is uniquely positioned to work with America in pursuit of geopolitical goals that serve both nations. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, Doran explains what makes Azerbaijan such a unique country, how it relates to Russia, Israel, Iran, and Turkey, and how it can help the United States recover the geostrategic discipline it needs to strengthen its friends and counter its adversaries.

Last week, a British jihadist entered a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas and held four of its members hostage. In mid-October of last year, a woman emptied a container of gasoline and set it on fire in front of the Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn while shouting anti-Semitic obscenities. That followed an attack on Shlomo Noginsky, a rabbi in Boston who this past July was stabbed eight times outside of a Jewish day school. Roughly five weeks before that, someone emptied a bag of feces in front of the Chabad of South Broward in Florida while shouting “Jews should die.” Whether individuals or institutions are being targeted, whether they’re in New York or Texas, anti-Semitism is on the rise in America, and Jews are called to be more vigilant than in years past.

This week’s podcast guest knows a thing or two about vigilance. Mitch Silber is the former director of intelligence analysis at the New York Police Department, where he oversaw research, collection, and analysis for the department’s Intelligence Division. Now, he’s the executive director of the Community Security Initiative, a small team dedicated to securing the Jewish institutions of New York from anti-Semitic violence. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, he explains why this initiative came about and what it takes to protect Jews, in New York and around the country, from the anti-Semitic threats that have become all too common in America.

What can religious families do to foster a deep religious life in children, and help them mature into adults who live meaningfully religious lives? Some families join congregations and institutions that appreciate the power of modernity and the hold that modern ideas have on the young, and so make themselves into modern religious communities, adapting to the beliefs and practices of contemporary life. At the other extreme, other families will join communities that seek to isolate themselves from the impulses and ideas of modernity.

But when it comes to generational transmission, a young social scientist has recently published empirical findings that point in a different direction altogether. Jesse Smith of Pennsylvania State University contends that more important than these general communal environments are the particular family environments in which children are raised. Moreover, the specific kind of religious family environment correlates with the kind of religious person children grow into.

This past fall, Israel’s international shipping port in Haifa completed renovations, and it recently went operational. Almost all of Israel’s international trade comes and goes by sea, and Haifa’s is the busiest of the country’s ports.

The Haifa port is also where the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet—based in Naples, Italy—comes to call when it needs fuel, and when it seeks to project power in the Eastern Mediterranean. Thus, it sits at the very center of Israeli trade and industry and is a vital part of its military and diplomatic relationship with the United States.

According to Hillel International, there were 244 anti-Semitic incidents at American campuses reported during the 2020-2021 school year. That’s up from 181 incidents the year before, perhaps an especially significant increase given that many students did not convene in person, but instead attended classes online in 2020. In light of such a trend, one might hope that the ballooning number of academic administrators hired by colleges and universities to foster a welcoming atmosphere for students of diverse backgrounds would be sensitive to anti-Semitic attitudes. But, according to a new report, a great many university officers seemingly hired to combat anti-Semitic discrimination sympathize with anti-Semitism themselves.

The author of that report, Jay Greene, joins this week’s podcast. He analyzed the public Twitter feeds of hundreds of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) professionals at 65 different universities and found that, of their over 600 tweets about Israel, 96% of them were critical. That in itself might not constitute anti-Semitism. But, as Greene explains in conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, neither does it inspire confidence in how those who are charged with handling anti-Semitic concerns on campus might approach them.

In 2021, 49 different guests appeared on the podcast over the course of 44 new episodes. Our conversations touched on some of the most important and interesting subjects in Jewish life, including discussions with leaders of Israel’s ḥaredi community, a course developer who is deploying technology to teach people Yiddish, diplomats and strategists shaping foreign-policy debates in Israel, Europe, and America, elected officials and diplomats, historians and social scientists, theologians and rabbis, academics and authors, reporters and entrepreneurs. Each guest, in conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, trained his or her unique perspective on some timely or enduring question that stands before the Jewish people and the Jewish state.

In this episode, we present some of our favorite conversations this year. Guests featured in this year-end episode include the Israeli rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer, the foreign-policy analysts Benjamin Haddad and Michael Doran, Wall Street Journal editor Elliot Kaufman, social scientist Nicholas Eberstadt, Jewish educational leader David Rozenson, Yiddish expert Meena Viswanath, tech CEO Sean Clifford, novelist Dara Horn, and the eminent writer Cynthia Ozick.

In a previous podcast, the professors Benjamin and Jenna Storey explored a habit of mind that frustrated their very best students, a sentiment they called restlessness. As the Storeys saw it, their exceptional students had countless life and career options open to them, and yet they had so little cultural and vocational formation that they couldn’t discern what path to take, or the purposes to which they should dedicate their talents.

This week’s podcast features three young people who are beginning to rise in their professions with confidence. Smart, personable, they could have launched themselves into any number of fields. Instead they chose to dedicate themselves to serving America, the Jews, and Israel. Just a couple of years ago, Tamara Berens, Talia Katz, and Dovid Schwartz were all fellows at the Beren Summer Fellowship, an experience that helped guide each of them. On this week’s podcast, in conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, they give us an inside look at the fellowship, and at how it helped them clarify―to themselves and to one another―the Jewish purposes they’re meant to serve.

According to a new report, in 2020 2,400 U.S.-based healthcare facilities, local governments, schools, and other institutions were victims of ransomware—a form of cyber-attack in which a hacker holds a person’s data hostage and demands a ransom to permit them to access it again. Ransomware has become such a problem that in October the U.S. State Department formed a new office to confront it, and in November the Treasury Department announced that it will partner with its Israeli counterpart on a joint task force to address this and other cybersecurity issues.

Israel, like America, is also confronted with problems in cyberspace. On this week’s podcast, Annie Fixler, the deputy director of the Center on Cyber Technology and Innovation at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, joins Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver to explain the threats that cyber warfare poses to American life, and the role that Israel could play in helping secure both countries from malicious attacks, whether they come from lone-wolf hackers or enemy nation-states.

On Saturday, December 4, 2021, an explosion occurred near Iran’s nuclear facility outside the city of Natanz. Afterwards, two nearby villages were evacuated. Was the explosion the result of a weapons test? An accident? Sabotage? No one yet knows what took place in the mountains of northern Iran that day. And whereas civilians and observers can afford to wait for more information, national-security professionals are forced to act and react to events like this in real time without a lot of information. If there’s an explosion near the nuclear compound of an adversarial nation, what do you do?

Natanz and its uncertainty is the point of departure for this week’s podcast. Victoria Coates, the former deputy national security adviser for Middle Eastern and North African affairs, shares her experience making decisions under pressure and with imperfect information.

Last week, the Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz visited Morocco, where for the first time he was accompanied by uniformed Israeli military personnel. Gantz’s visit comes on the heels of visits in the last year by Israeli national-security advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat and Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid, both of whom prepared the way for full diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Building on Israel and Morocco’s burgeoning diplomatic relations, the purpose of Gantz’s recent visit was to negotiate a memorandum of understanding focused on their security cooperation. Judah Ari Gross, the military correspondent for the Times of Israel and this week’s podcast guest, accompanied Gantz on his trip. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, he explains here how this historic agreement happened, what it means, and how it serves each nation’s interests.

There aren’t enough public schools in Maine. By some estimates, about half of Maine’s school districts don’t have the facilities or faculty to educate students who live in them. The state’s solution is to give families who live in such districts money to send their children to another school—either a different public school further away, or a private school. But Maine doesn’t make that funding available to families who choose to send their children to religious schools. In just a few weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Carson v. Makin, a case that could affect the way that Maine, and the greater United States, deals with the funding of religious schools.

On this week’s podcast, the legal academic Avi Helfand joins Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver to discuss the amicus brief that he filed for this case, and to explore whether Maine is acting in a way that is consistent with the First Amendment’s religious freedom protections. This particular case also allows for Helfand to questions more fundamental legal heuristics, such as the supposed distinction in American case-law between a legal entity’s religious “status,” and its “use” of religion.

Until recently, America was an outlier: despite rising affluence, its birthrate remained high, unlike in other countries where more riches have brought fewer children. That’s no longer the case today. America is now in demographic decline. Writing in National Review, the political economist and demographer Nicholas Eberstadt observes that

U.S. fertility levels have never before fallen as low as they are today. In 2019—before the coronavirus pandemic—America’s total fertility rate (TFR—a measure of births per woman per lifetime) was 1.71, roughly 18 percent lower than the roughly 2.1 births per woman required for long-term population stability. By then, U.S. fertility levels were so low that even Mormon Utah had gone sub-replacement. And U.S. fertility levels were even lower in 2020. With a TFR of 1.64, America was well over 20 percent below replacement.