Jack Lew's Life Shaped by Faith and Service

Treasury Pick Learned Value of Both Shul and Government

Faith and Service: Jack Lew’s faith drives his commitment to public service. So does his trust in government.
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Faith and Service: Jack Lew’s faith drives his commitment to public service. So does his trust in government.

By Nathan Guttman

Published January 17, 2013, issue of January 25, 2013.
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House Speaker John Boehner complained that Lew often dug in his heels whenever cuts to entitlement programs were raised during the talks. Those negotiations eventually collapsed, and Vice President Joe Biden cut a separate deal with Senate Republicans.

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Weiss met Lew in the mid-1970s, when Lew first arrived in Washington. Both responded to an ad posted on the George Washington University Hillel House bulletin board seeking a kosher roommate. With time, Lew and Weiss, two young congressional staffers, began to host weekly Saturday minyans in their shared house on Nebraska Avenue in Northwest Washington. Lew would help out with reading the Torah. It was a traditional minyan, although, Weiss admits it would probably not pass as Orthodox nowadays because men and women were not strictly separated.

At the time, Lew, now 57, worked on the staff of the firebrand New York Jewish Democrat Bella Abzug. Though still young in politics, Lew was already committed to liberal causes, which fit well with Abzug’s approach. His first taste of politics came earlier, when he was 12, volunteering in the presidential campaign of Senator Eugene McCarthy, who ran on an anti-Vietnam War platform. Lew’s writings in his high school newspaper reflected the young activist’s fervor for liberal causes and his opposition to the war.

Lew’s worldview was probably shaped even earlier. Growing up in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens to parents who emigrated from Poland gave Lew a strong sense of appreciation of the opportunities the government can offer its citizens in need. His mother, Ruth Lew, worked as an office manager from the age of 15 to help her family. Irving Lew, his father, was a lawyer and a dealer of rare books who had arrived in America in 1916 and learned to speak English while attending a Brooklyn public school.

“This is very much part of my understanding of what government is,” Lew said in a 1999 interview with The New York Times. “What would have become of my father if he hadn’t been able to learn English in the public schools?”


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