Washington – White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, an Orthodox Jew, recently spoke with The Forward (http://bit.ly/RiAgLT) about how he balances his demanding work schedule and his religious lifestyle. He said the president is particularly mindful of the time on Friday afternoons and respects him for adhering to his beliefs. “I saw the president on many occasions on Friday afternoons look at his watch, and ask: ‘Isn’t it time for you to get going?’” Mr. Lew said, “or, ‘Why are you still here?’”
In fact, it was the president who referenced Mr. Lew’s observance when he offered Mr. Lew the chief of staff position. “He raised it with me saying: ‘I know that things are going to come up where there’s an emergency on Saturday or that you need to be here. I know you well enough to know that this is not an issue. I want you to know that I’m never going to ask you to work on Saturday if it’s not really necessary. It’s important for me that you know that.’”
For his part, Mr. Lew sought to reassure the president about his commitment, saying, “I’ve made it clear that you don’t have to wonder if there’s a crisis whether I’m available. If you need me, I don’t even consider it a violation of my faith to be doing the things I need to do to make sure people are not in harm’s way.”
On Friday afternoons, Mr. Lew leaves the White House before Shabbos begins and does not work on Saturdays. Mr. Lew says he has received rabbinical permission to work on Shabbos when there is a true need to do so, but admits such a necessity has been “limited.” In those instances, the chief of staff usually walks to and from the White House.
This is not the first time Mr. Lew has had to balance observing Shabbos and serving in high-level positions. As budget director for former President Bill Clinton, he did not work from sundown on Friday until Saturday night, but made himself available for true emergencies.
“I have found that if you are true to your own beliefs, people respect it,” Mr. Lew said. “I’ve found that President Obama considers it a sign of strength and value that there is something in my life that reflects principles that I adhere to.”