Jewish Staffers in Trump’s White House
WASHINGTON – Growing up in Teaneck, New Jersey and attending the Marsha Stern Talmudic Academy, 25-year old Ari Schaffer likely did not imagine that he would go this quickly from studying rabbinic texts to serving at the White House. During the 2016 election campaign, Schaffer worked at the GOP opposition research firm America Rising PAC. Speaking alongside two other Jewish White House staffers at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, he told Jewish Insider, “When someone asks if you want to work at the White House, you really take up the opportunity. I saw the campaign and agreed with a lot of the sentiments and the movement that was behind it.”
From the very beginning, the Trump administration has faced questions about its approach and outreach to the Jewish community. On the one hand, some of the most prominent officials in the administration — including Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and Jason Greenblatt — have long been active within the community. The President himself has also established an especially cordial relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. At the same, some have been disturbed by the White House’s decision on Holocaust Remembrance Day to issue a statement without mentioning Jews and its refusal to admit the error. Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) went so far as telling CSPAN at the time, “There is a strain of anti-Semitism among some of President Trump’s advisors.”
Natalie Strom, Assistant Press Secretary and a former staffer at the Republican National Committee (RNC), completely rejected the charges of alleged anti-Semitism at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. “It’s pretty silly to me every time that I hear it and I’ve never felt like anything but supported as a person,” she noted. A Los Angeles native, Strom attended a school with a substantial Jewish population, estimating that the number reached 60-70%. Strom added that the fact her religion “never comes into play when I’m interacting with someone at my job, that to me is what truly being respectful of everyone’s faith means.”
The White House staffers also cited the press’ role in the perception of the White House’s attitude towards the Jewish community. Adam Kennedy, White House Deputy Director of Research, noted, “There is a natural slant in the media that tries to portray the things that we do in a negative light. That could be this administration is too close to Israel to this administration has a problem with the American-Jewish community. All on the same day.”
A member of Georgetown’s Kesher Israel Modern Orthodox Synagogue, Schaffer appreciates the respect given to him at the White House. “For me, someone on the more observant side, Sabbath observant, I have never had any problems taking time off. There has never been a question about observing my faith in any way, shape or form.”
During the action-packed first 100 days, Strom cited US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley’s boycotting of the Human Rights Council for its harsh criticism of Israel as a moment of personal pride. Kennedy emphasized, “It’s great working in this administration that captures Jewish values and American values so well and has been doing such great things for both of them. They go hand-in-hand,”
The White House staffers acknowledged that they received varied responses from friends when they shared their decision to join the Trump administration. “I have friends on the liberal side who are a little confused but everyone generally is very supportive of the fact that you are supporting the country,” Schaffer explained. “They have their political differences, obviously. (But), they want good people” to serve in the White House.
In her 20s, Strom appreciated the unique opportunity to serve in such a meaningful White House role. “Being so young, I never thought I would be here at this point in my life. Getting to work on real issues that affect real people everyday is pretty exciting,” she added.