Chanan Weissman has been appointed as the new White House liaison to the American Jewish community.
He is the first modern Orthodox Jew to hold the Jewish liaison position in a Democratic White House.
Weissman, 32, replaces Matt Nosanchuk, who stepped down last month, after almost three years on the job.
Weissman previously served as the spokesperson for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; the Bahrain desk officer in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs; the Yemen and Kuwait Action Officer on the Joint Staff/J5 in the Department of Defense; and as a junior speechwriter and strategic communications advisor in the front office of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
He earned his master’s degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and his bachelor’s degree in journalism in government and politics from the University of Maryland College Park.
In a prepared statement, Weissman said he looked forward to working with Jewish community and lay leaders across the country in the coming months.
“It’s a personal and professional honor of a lifetime to serve a President I so deeply admire and to work with a community I so intimately and proudly identify with,” he said.
The hallmark of being the White House’s Jewish liaison is uniting people of all political and religious backgrounds, said Steve Rabinowitz who heads a Washington, D.C., public relations firm and worked for the Clinton White House. This includes organizing celebrations, such as the two annual White House Chanukah parties and reaching out to Jewish communities about White House functions of interest.
“The trite answer is to not screw up, but really the challenge is to properly represent the administration in easy times and tougher times — not that any of us want to relive the Iran debacle — and to try to be as inclusive of the community as possible,” Rabinowitz said. “You can’t touch everybody, but you want to be able to touch all kinds of people…For some people it’s the spring garden tour or a state arrival of the Nordic leaders. Not so many of us are asking for Easter egg tickets. But the Chanukah parties… poor Chanan.”
Rabinowitz has known Weissman since the latter worked in the State Department and said he is a “lovely guy” who comes to the new position with a large amount of political knowledge.
“He knows the community,” Rabinowitz said. “He understands the issues already. It’s like he’s a rare guy that comes to the job already knowing 80 to 90 percent of it on the first day.”
Rabinowitz said that he expects a smooth transition from Nosanchuk to Weissman and that nothing about President Barack Obama’s relationship with the Jewish community will change.
“The president is already a very well-known commodity to the community,” he said. “While he still has many months left to go and things to do, we’re not meeting him for the first time. Chanan will pick up nicely where Matt left off and continue to represent the White House and the Jewish community.”
Weissman’s civic activism dates back to his childhood, said Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School Director of Education Zipora Schorr. Schorr said that Weissman was heavily involved in student government at the Baltimore school and always put others first.
“He did a lot of community service,” she said. “He volunteered constantly. He was involved because his family was involved.”
Weissman received a Merit Award for Study in Israel along with a faculty award for character and academics at his graduation ceremony in 2001. Schorr attributes Weissman’s success to his family, whom she has been very close with over the years.
“They are an exceptional family that is a real family,” she said. “They have dinner together and have a certain standard of ethics that is expected of all children.”