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January 9, 2012 8:10 pm

On the Merits: Jacob ‘Jack’ Lew Appointed Chief of Staff

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Jacob Lew. Photo: Joint Staff Public Affairs.

On the first night of Hanukkah, 5772 /2011, Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew was invited to light the candle of the National Hanukkah Menorah at the start of the eight-day holiday. Lew will now be spending far more time at the White House: January 9, President Obama appointed him to be his Chief of Staff. Lew will replace current Chief of Staff William Daley, and will, according to the Office of Management and Budget communications director, Kenneth Baer, accede to the office following in early February, following the completion of the 2013 budget proposal.

Expressing his gratitude to Daley, the President said he had done “extraordinary work … in an extraordinary year.” As he announced his nomination to the immensely visible position, Obama called Lew a person whose economic advice has been “invaluable” saying that Lew had his “complete trust.”

Thoroughly experienced in the working of both the White House and Capitol Hill, as well as in the private sector, Lew began his political career in the office of Representative Joe Moakley of Massachusetts. He came to Washington as senior policy adviser to Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill Jr.  “Jack Lew is somebody who has proven himself already equal to this extraordinary task,” said President Obama at the announcement of his appointment. At the conclusion of his first turn as Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Lew left behind a $236 billion surplus: upon his return, he found a $1.3 trillion deficit. “If there was a Hall of Fame for budget directors, then Jack Lew surely would have earned a place” said President Obama.

Lew’s style has been termed “low-key.” Almost twenty years ago, during President Clinton’s administration, (1993 to 1994), he helped design AmeriCorps, the national service program, and has earned the respect of both centrists and liberals. While working for Secretary Clinton at the State department he was in charge of overhauling the Foreign Service and foreign aid bureaucracies.

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Born in New York, Jack Lew is the son of a Polish Jewish immigrant father. The new Chief of Staff is a Harvard graduate and holds a law degree from Georgetown University. A practicing Orthodox Jew who observes the Sabbath, he has been an active member of modern orthodox congregations both in Washington, DC and Riverdale, New York. According to Steve Waldman writing in beliefnet, “Lew considered community cohesion to be a central part of religious faith.” Waldman notes that “Lew would regularly take his two children to nursing homes to visit seniors who had been congregants in his synagogue.”

According to an NBC News report, the new Chief of Staff refused to break the Sabbath – even to respond to a presidential call – despite Clinton’s plea and assurance that “God would understand.” Politico reports that “Lew later consulted with his rabbi, who said that taking an important phone call from the President of the United States would be permissible on the Sabbath under the Talmudic teaching that work on the Sabbath is allowed in order to save a life.” Both his daughter and his son attended the the Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital, a community institution. Adina Kanefield, its Director of Institution Advancement, told the Algemeiner that Lew and his wife, Ruth, were among the school’s founding families.

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