Going out of his way to keep Lew from breaking the Sabbath was a sign of the respect the president had for his observance, Lew tells people.
Another favorite line during his 1990s stint, when he lived in Washington – his family is now based in New York – was an exchange with clergy at Beth Sholom, a synagogue in Potomac, Md. The OU’s Nathan Diament recalled that a rabbi would suggest jokingly that Lew might want to run for shul treasurer. Lew would rejoin that directing the OMB was complex enough, thank you very much.
It’s a shtick that suggests a corny, old-fashioned sense of humor, but friends say it’s also one that is emblematic of his humility and cordiality.
“Everyone would recognize that Jack’s management style and personality is noticeably different from that of the previous Jewish White House chief of staff,” Diament said, a reference to Emanuel’s abrasiveness.
An open question is how much harder it will be for Lew to balance family and Shabbat observance in his new role. He stays close to his daughter, Shoshana, who works at the Obama administration’s Interior Department, but his wife and married son remain in Riverdale, N.Y., where they are active in the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.
His previous stints – in addition to the OMB post, he was a deputy secretary of state under Obama – involved managing a 9-5, Monday-to-Friday bureaucracy. Aides say there were occasions that necessitated work on Shabbat – for instance, during negotiations with Congress last year aimed at averting a government shutdown.
Running the White House means dealing with crises that have a bad habit of happening on weekends.
“It’s a reflection of this administration’s comfort with him and his being Jewish,” Foxman said. “This is a job that is 24/7 – but if there’s respect, it works.”
– JTA, with supplemental
reporting by Jewish Press staff