When before has America had an envoy who, en route to one of the world’s most troubled regions, tweeted a picture of his tallit and tefillin for the morning prayers in Frankfurt?
In the presidential debates Hillary Clinton was asked to name a positive quality about her opponent, Donald Trump. She said he had special kids. Most of America agreed. The president’s children are impressive in their maturity, eloquence, industry and commitment to family.
Indeed, Trump’s children did much to soften his image and win him accolades even from his most ardent detractors.
But the same could be said of the president’s choice in long-time employees, and I speak especially of his attorney of 20 years, Jason Greenblatt.
Jason was recently appointed as the president’s chief negotiator for international affairs and is currently in the Middle East beginning a new effort for peace between Israel and its neighbors. It’s the world’s toughest job. Jason has a skill set that might just fit the requirements.
In my professional years I have met few who walk with greater humility. Jason is as far from being a grandstander as anyone I have met. He wears the vast responsibilities placed upon him by the president without showiness or arrogance. He is patient to a fault, an excellent listener, and utterly unflappable.
And in a region that respects people of faith, Jason is an observant Jew widely admired for the strength of his spiritual commitments. When before has America had an envoy who, en route to one of the world’s most troubled regions, tweeted a picture of his tallit and tefillin for the morning prayers in Frankfurt? And just think of the symbolism. The son of parents who fled and hid from Hitler arrives in Germany as the personal representative of the most powerful man on earth, and the first thing he does is pay homage to God as part of his daily religious obligations.
Some said that the tweet would appeal to the Jewish community. I actually believe it will appeal even more to Israel’s Arab counterparts, who take their Islamic faith seriously and will find in Jason a man of deep spiritual integrity and religious conviction.
In the mid 1990s, while I was serving as rabbi at Oxford, the student president of our Oxford L’Chaim Society was a young man from Miami Beach, where I myself had grown up, who was doing a graduate degree in international relations. Brilliant and eloquent, he became a force for our organization in fighting Israel’s battles in public debates. But he also befriended leading Arab and Muslim students at the university, who respected him greatly because of his Jewish observance and commitment. He would bring them every Friday night – sons of ambassadors of Arab states and scions of important Muslim families – to our Shabbat table. Today, that young man, Ron Dermer, is the first Israeli ambassador to the United States to ever publicly wear a kippa and has won over the Washington elite with his integrity and uncompromising convictions.
Jason is cast from the same mold. He lives by the Jewish tradition of family and community and by the American values of liberty, democracy and personal responsibility.
The New York Times reported that Jason was chosen almost arbitrarily by candidate Trump to discuss Israel and the Middle East when he was in the middle of an interview with a Jewish newspaper. Such nonsense belies the relationship that the president had with Jason for two decades, during which period he watched his attorney leave early on Friday to honor God’s day and saw in him a brilliant negotiator and honest broker who might just bring two opposing sides together.
For good measure, Jason has always related how absurd are the accusations that Trump is insensitive to Jewish concerns, given how utterly accommodating the real-estate mogul always was to his observant, Orthodox employees and their spiritual obligations. Obligations such as not working on Shabbat and Jewish festivals and observing prayer times during the day.
Now, Trump is president of the United States, and he has said that peace in the Middle East is among his highest priorities. He has chosen well with Jason Greenblatt as his chief negotiator and David Friedman as his ambassador to Israel. Both men have the confidence of the president, are skilled negotiators and have the absolute trust of the pro-Israel community in the US, a group whose support is vital to American initiatives that pertain to the Jewish state. Both have shown, as proud Americans, a vital commitment to America’s most important ally, Israel. And both live by the Jewish biblical values of seeing all of God’s children – Jew, Arab, Christian, Hindu, atheist and agnostic – as equals, endowed with a spark of the divine that lends them infinite dignity and value.
There is one more thing about Jason that has always impressed me: he has not a vindictive bone in his body.
When he came to our annual Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala last year at the Marriott Marquis in New York City (this year’s gala, on May 21 at Cipriani in New York City, honors the memory of Elie Wiesel and features President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Martin Luther King III), not all ran to greet him, seeing as he had not yet attained the high office in which he is now installed. The picture of Jason at the gala has now gone viral. It’s the one being used by The New York Times.
I have seen some of those same people now eager to make his acquaintance. He has treated all with respect, cordiality and warmth, reminding me that for all his brilliance what truly makes Jason special is that he has earned what we Jews regard as the highest accolade: he is a mensch.