Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Jacob Lew – Orthodox Jew

Question: Who is the only budget director in history to preside over a budget surplus for three consecutive years?

Answer: Jacob Lew.

Yesterday President Barack Obama chose Jacob ‘Jack’ Lew to be the new director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). What is significant about this for the Jewish world – aside from the fact that he seems to be highly qualified to help deal with our current economic crisis –is that Mr. Lew is an Orthodox Jew.

Once again we are treated to the sight of an Orthodox Jew being tapped for high government office. Only this time it is in a liberal Democratic administration. The last Orthodox Jew to be so honored was Michael Mukasey - chosen as Attorney General by the Conservative Republican Administration of George W. Bush.

I do not know Mr. Lew at all but I want to offer my sincere congratulations to him. Not just for being chosen for this high level government position. But also for his fealty to his religious principles. The following story was reported about him by a reporter for NBC News:

As an Orthodox Jew, Jack Lew… observes the religious restrictions on the Jewish Sabbath, which runs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. He leaves the office Friday afternoons in time to get home before sundown, and does not use electric or electronic devices, including the telephone.

Once, while working in President Clinton's director, Lew's home phone rang one Saturday. He didn’t answer and a familiar voice could be heard from the answering machine, urging him to pick up the phone. Mr. Clinton said he understood the sanctity of the Sabbath, but that it was important that he talk to Lew. He even said, it was later reported, that "God would understand."

He never did answer that call. It takes a man of great integrity and serious commitment his beliefs to not answer a telephone call by a pleading President.

A word to those Jews who may be feeling a bit of paranoia about a Jew taking an economy related high profile job where - if something goes drastically wrong – he will surely be blamed for it… along with all ‘the Jews’.

I understand your concern. But I completely disagree with it.

The mere fact that he has the confidence of the President to be chosen for a cabinet level job is a Kiddush HaShem all by itself. He was not chosen because he was a Jew but because of his expertise. Nonetheless his Orthodox Jewish identity is there for all to behold.

Of course if the economy tanks any further - the anti-Semites of the world will be the first ones to 'blame the Jew' for all our troubles. But most Americans won't. They understand that he is one man who inherited a big mess and tried to help fix it. And he won’t have been the only one working on it. Most Americans are fair minded and will realize it will not be his fault.

If on the other hand he succeeds - it will increase the Kiddush HaShem.