3 Jewish things about Jeffrey Zients, the new White House chief of staff
President Joe Biden formally announced Friday the appointment of Jeffrey Zients, a management consultant and former administration official, as his new White House chief of staff. Zients, 56, will replace Ronald Klain, who served as a senior advisor on the presidential campaign and as Biden’s chief of staff since he took office.
Zients will be the second consecutive and sixth Jewish person in this position.
In a lengthy statement, Biden said there will be an “official transition” event at the White House next week to thank Klain “for his tireless work and officially welcome Jeff back to the White House in this role.”
Here are three Jewish things about Zients:
Zients is a member of the Washington Hebrew Congregation, a Reform synagogue in Washington, D.C. He is married to Mary Menell, who grew up in South Africa and came to the U.S. to attend high school. The couple met when they worked together at Bain Consulting. Nelson Mandela, a family friend, attended the couple’s wedding in Cape Town in 1992. They are parents to four children — Sasha, Matthew, Josh and Jonny — and live in the Wesley Heights section of Washington, D.C.
He is the son of Alan and Debbie Zients, who are divorced. His mother, who volunteers with the nonprofit Women for Women, found out that her son Jeff was tapped to help fix the glitchy rollout of the Healthcare.gov website in 2013 after serving as director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama administration, while munching on a corned beef sandwich at Eli’s kosher deli in Washington, D.C.
In an interview she gave to USA Today in 2013, Debbie Zients said she learned about the appointment as she was watching Wolf Blitzer, the longtime CNN host who is Jewish, report about President Barack Obama bringing in her son Jeffrey as the “troubleshooter.”
“The mother is the last to know,” Debbie Zients quipped.
At his confirmation hearing in 2009 at the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, Sen. Tom Carper from Delaware said, “Nice work, mom” after Zients mentioned her in his opening statement.
In 2012, Zients, who was at the time OBM acting director, lit the National Menorah on the Ellipse outside the White House. Rabbi Levi Shemtov of American Friends of Lubavitch in D.C. typically assigns the role to a prominent Jewish politician or senior administration official.