Jacob "Jack" Lew is a prominent and religiously observant American Jewish civil servant.
Lew served as President Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff and, in January 2013, became his nominee for the U.S. Treasury Secretary. Lew formerly directed the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Lew was born on August 29, 1955, and grew up in New York City, where he went to school through high school graduation. Lew attended Carleton College in Minnesota for a year before transferring to Harvard. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1978. He worked as an aide to Rep. Joe Moakley (D-Mass.) from 1974 to 1975. In 1979, he was a senior policy adviser to House Speaker Tip O’Neill. Under O’Neill, he served at the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee as Assistant Director and then Executive Director.
He received his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in 1983. Lew practiced law for a number of years following graduation and then re-entered civil service life in February 1993 when he was tasked as a Special Assistant to President Bill Clinton. Lew’s primary responsibilities in that role included policy development and the drafting of the national service initiative (AmeriCorps), as well as health care reform legislation.
After leaving Clinton’s White House for a number of years, Lew was nominated and confirmed as Director of the OMB in 1998. From 1998 to 2001, he led the Clinton Administration’s budget team and served as a member of the National Security Council. During his tenure at OMB, the U.S. budget operated at a surplus for three consecutive years.
From 2001 to 2006, Lew was Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of New York University (NYU), where he was responsible for budget, finance, and operations. He also taught public administration at NYU. From 2004 through 2008, Lew served on the Corporation for National and Community Service Board and chaired its Management, Administration, and Governance Committee. He was managing director and chief operating officer of Citi Alternative Investments (CAI) until January 2009. At CAI, he was responsible for operations, technology, finance, human resources, legal, and regional coordination; chaired the CAI Operating Committee; and served as a member of the CAI Management Committee. Prior to joining CAI in January 2008, he was managing director and chief operating officer of Citi Global Wealth Management.
Before joining the Obama Administration, Lew co-chaired the Advisory Board for City Year New York and was a member of the boards of the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Brookings Institution Hamilton Project, and the Tobin Project. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the National Academy of Social Insurance, and the bar in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
After President Obama was elected in November 2008, Lew decided to return to government work in Washington. In January 2009, President Obama appointed Lew as Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, where he would serve as Chief Operating Officer of the Department and as alter ego to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In November 2010, the Senate unanimously confirmed Lew for his new appointment from President Obama - Director of the OMB, following Peter Orszag’s resignation. On January 9, 2012, President Obama announced that Lew would replace Bill Daley as White House Chief of Staff. Lew was among at least nine Jews serving in the upper echelons of the Obama Administration.
In early January 2013, President Obama nominated Jack Lew to serve as the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury to follow Timothy Geithner, who was Treasury Secretary during President Obama’s first term. On February 27, 2013, the Senate confirmed Lew in a vote of 71 to 26. During his time working for Obama, Lew was a point person in promoting the Iran nuclear deal and enforcing sanctions against Iran. As Treasury Secretary, Lew was also involved in taking action to prevent funding for terrorists and aiding Holocaust survivors. He was also one of the people who tried to convince Obama not to abstain on the UN Security Council resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements.
He told the JTA in 2012 that Obama respected his commitment to Judaism. “As a father who is at home and has dinner with his girls, he values that Shabbat is my time being with my family,” Lew said. “I could not ask for someone to be more respectful and supportive, and that’s the reason it works.”
Former Israeli minister Yuval Steinitz called Lew a “true friend of Israel” and said that without his help, Israel would never have been accepted into the OECD.
After the end of Obama’s term, he served as managing partner of Lindsay Goldberg LLC and a visiting professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University. He chaired the board of the National Committee on United States-China Relations, and was co-president of the board of the National Library of Israel USA. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Reflecting on his time in the Obama administration, he said ties between Israel and the United States were “extremely close,” but the relationship between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “was not as good as one might have hoped.” He also said he agreed with Obama’s opposition to Israeli settlement policy. “I think that if one cares deeply about a stable, lasting, peaceful future for Israel,” he said, “preserving space for there to be a negotiated two-state solution is critical. And I think unilateral actions that make that less likely to happen also diminish the probability of a long-term stable, secure future.”
President Joe Biden nominated Lew to be the U.S. Ambassador to Israel in September 2023. The following month, he was confirmed by a vote of 53-43 following several months when the post was vacant after the resignation of Thomas Nides. Some Republicans opposed his nomination due to his role in defending the Iran nuclear deal.
Lew is married to Ruth Schwartz. The couple has two children.
Sources: U.S. Department of State.
The Washington Post, (January 10, 2013; February 28, 2013).
Ben Samuels, “Meet Jack Lew, Biden’s Front-runner to Be the Next U.S. Ambassador to Israel,” Haaretz, (August 13, 2023).
“Daily Kickoff,” Jewish Insider, (August 14, 2023).\
Ron Kampeas, “Jack Lew, Orthodox Jew who led US Treasury, is Biden’s pick for Israel ambassador,” JTA, (September 5, 2023).
Ben Samuels, “Jack Lew Confirmed as Next U.S. Ambassador to Israel,” Haaretz, (October 31, 2023).