By Charles Summers

Staff Writer

For Mitzpeh


Chanan Weissman in the Maryland Hillel game room (Charles Summers/Mitzpeh).

Chanan Weissman, the current White House Jewish Liaison, spoke to students and faculty at this university’s Hillel on Monday evening, April 11, in an event co-organized by Hillel and the Jewish Studies department.

A UMD alum, Weissman graduated with a BA in Journalism and Government and Politics. He was also the editor in chief of the Mitzpeh and worked for the newspaper for four years.

“Chanan has not only been liaison to the Jewish community; he’s done it twice,” Professor Scott Lasensky, the event’s moderator and faculty member at UMD’s Jewish Studies department, said.

Although Weissman was selected by the Biden Administration last summer, his time in the White House began years earlier. During President Obama’s second term, Weissman was chosen to be Jewish liaison and served on the National Security Council during the Trump Administration. Now he has returned to the position of Jewish liaison under President Biden.

“Having a certain degree of Jewish fluency ultimately is important,” Weissman said. “I never anticipated that having a Jewish day school background would ultimately prepare me for a role serving in government, but it certainly did.” 

In explaining his background, he used the term lashon (Hebrew for language) to describe the shared vocabulary of the Jewish community in the United States.

Weissman was raised in a Modern Orthodox home and spent a gap year in Israel. He attended Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Pikesville, a suburb just outside Baltimore.

In describing the responsibilities of his current role, Weissman clarified that his job is to serve as the White House’s representative to American Jews, not the other way around. 

“That does not mean that my job is not also to take the information, ideas, opinions, conceptions of fact, of the Jewish American community and bring it to the White House,” he said.

Weissman recalled one of the highlights of his position in a brief anecdote. 

“Every single year before the High Holidays, the goal is to get the president to speak to rabbis around the country. Now if you think that preparing for your bar or bat mitzvah is scary, imagine trying to put together a d’var torah for the President of the United States before he speaks before a thousand rabbis!” Weissman said.

Jake Meisel, a graduate student studying public policy, attended the talk after seeing a brochure advertising it in Hillel. He asked Weissman whether his Jewish identity led him to different conclusions in politics than some of his fellow Democrats. 

“If you’re Jewish and American, you are the heir of two traditions that compel you to action, to engage in government towards some common good. I don’t know if I look at things differently, but that’s sort of my Pavlovian response,” Weissman responded.

When reflecting on the talk, Meisel said that he felt the role of Jewish liaison isn’t entirely a one-way street. 

“Something that’s probably both hard and rewarding in that kind of job is that when he [Weissman] goes out and talks to the public, he’s representing the administration. Then when he goes and talks to his boss, he can say, ‘Hey look, people in the community are really upset about this and I think it matters, and that you should take this action,” he said.


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