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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Jack Lew and his wife Ruth hosted Sharansky in their Washington apartment, and Jack took turns, with the Washington Institute for Newar East Policy’s senior fellow David Makovsky, who at that time was a Harvard student on vacation, escorting Sharansky across the nation. Makovsky described Lew succinctly, “He is a super-mensch,” Makovsky said, using the term repeated frequently by other members of the Jewish community asked to describe Lew.

“It is, I believe, rare for a person in such a powerful position to be the quintessential mensch,” weighed in Rabbi Avi Weiss, from the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.

As Obama’s chief of staff since 2011 and in his former capacity as Office of Management and Budget director, Lew chose to split his time between Washington and New York, where his family now resides. On weekends he tries to get back to New York to be with his wife and with his baby grandson. As sundown approaches on Fridays, Lew told the Forward in an October 2012 interview, the president gently reminds Lew that it is time to leave, before the Sabbath. The reason, Lew said, is “to remind me that it’s important to him, not just to me, that I be able to make that balance.”

Moving up the government ladder, as Clinton and Obama’s chief budget director and as White House chief of staff, Lew became somewhat of a Jewish celebrity, an awkward status for a government official whose camera shyness became his trademark.

At his local synagogue in Potomac, Md., as the story goes, Lew had to turn down requests to take over as treasurer, jokingly claiming that synagogue finances would be harder to manage than the nation’s budget.

For Jewish groups, especially the Orthodox Union, Lew became a frequent speaker. His tzimmes recipe was featured on the White House website. And Chabad-Lubavitch honored him twice with the lighting of the National Menorah on the Ellipse behind the White House.


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