Since January, Jacob (Jack) Lew has officially been the Jew closest to the ear of the president. As White House chief of staff, Lew is not only the Oval Office gatekeeper, but also a key voice on policy issues, especially those relating to his field of expertise — budget and economy.
Lew is the first Orthodox Jew to hold the position. For Jewish activists, his appointment meant the community again had an address at the White House, as had been the case during the tenure of Obama’s first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. Increasingly, Lew became one of the key speakers for the Obama administration at Jewish gatherings and in closed-door meetings with community leaders.
But engaging with the community is the least of Lew’s responsibilities. A former Capitol Hill staffer, Lew was appointed by President Bill Clinton to head the Office of Management and Budget, a Cabinet-level position. Jewish Washington mythology has it that Clinton, while overseas, once phoned Lew by mistake during Shabbat. Lew was at synagogue but when he returned a White House staffer phoned with the president’s apologies for calling on a holy day for a nonurgent matter.
After leaving the Clinton administration Lew turned to private business, only to be called back when Obama took office, first to become deputy secretary of state and then to return to his old job as OMB director. In January he took over as chief of staff. Now it’s Obama who reminds him to leave early on Fridays.
Lew has since proven that even the most demanding job in government can be done 24/6, without compromising his faith.