by Annette van de Kamp-Wright
Editor of the Jewish Press
Jack Lew, recently nominated by President Obama for Treasury Secretary, is no stranger to politics. He worked as an aide to rep. Joe Moakley from Massachusetts and was a senior policy adviser to Democratic speaker Tip O’Neill. He became a special adviser to president Bill Clinton, and was responsible for policy development and the drafting of Americorps as well as health care reform legislation. He was the director of the Office of management and Budget under both Clinton and Obama, and in January of 2012, he became Obama’s Chief of Staff. He also served as CEO of Citigroup Alternative Investments. He’s done a few other things, but we don’t have all day.
An impressive resume, and no real skeletons in the closet, or we would have heard about them by now. His signature is extremely odd, but even the most vicious blogger can’t do much with that. As past CEO of Citigroup, he belongs with the 1%; that means he is popular on Wall Street, and not so much on Main Street. However, that particular narrative hasn’t really taken hold either. All in all, Lew’s nomination has been a quiet affair. Neither he nor the journalists reporting on him have shown any evidence of foot-in-mouth disease; it’s almost a little boring.
Of course, that leaves only one thing: we have to discuss what Jack Lew does on Saturday. First a Chief of Staff, now a Treasury Secretary who is shomer Shabbos: that is exciting. It is exciting when a senior White House official doesn’t answer the President’s calls on Saturday. It is exciting when that President asks him late Friday afternoon: “Why are you still here?” It is exciting when others are exposed to what it means when one does not live in a 24/7 world.
It’s not my intention to sound like I have all the answers. With my iMac, my iPad, and my iPhone, I am one of the worst offenders. There’s always another email to read, another text to answer; the thought that I might miss something is forever on my mind. Work, work, work: so much to do. I love it. And yet, the act of shutting off that phone on Friday night is more relief than punishment. It is also a good reminder that I am not that important after all. None of us are.
I have no doubt that Jack Lew will work harder than ever in his new position (I also have no doubt he will be appointed without much further ado). He is a numbers-guy, and he has the necessary experience. He gets along with politicians on both sides of the aisle. Even Eric Cantor has said nice things about him.
However, to have someone in a high position who is aware, who is reminded every week, that the world doesn’t begin and end with him, is the true blessing. In 2013, we are always on. We live in possibly the most hectic and demanding time this planet has ever seen. The 24-hour news cycle is no longer something we can opt out of. The world does not take a break, and many of us feel we must follow suit.
I’m not advocating all of you become shomer Shabbos. I can’t say I follow the rules that perfectly myself; the level at which you keep the Shabbat is a personal decision. Or, between you, your family and your rabbi, and none of my business. But I heartily recommend the thought behind it, the sense that the world can turn without us for a while, and that we are not so important as to be absolutely necessary. Be like Jack and step outside of yourself for a bit. Trade your Venti Latte for a Kiddush cup, light some candles and bless your children. Remember what it is like to feel small and insignificant, in a good way. Ask yourself: what’s the worst that can happen? And: what’s the best?