Matt the mensch

As the White House proudly boasts, Matt is an associate director of public engagement serving as liaison to the American Jewish community and on international issues.

By URI PILICHOWSKI
March 14, 2016 20:33
3 minute read.
MATT NOSANCHUK, the Associate Director of Public Engagement

MATT NOSANCHUK, the Associate Director of Public Engagement serving as the liaison to the American Jewish community speaks at the White House. (photo credit: Courtesy)

With shells over the Italian and French marble panels, seahorses and dolphins in the cast iron railings on the second floor balcony, stars for navigation in the ceiling and the compass in the center of the floor, the Indian Treaty Room is one of the most dignified rooms to hold a reception in the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building. It was one of the last places I thought I’d be sitting with my students listening to the president’s liaison to the American Jewish community, Matt Nosanchuk, explain the president’s positions on Israel and the US-Israel relationship.

As the White House proudly boasts, Matt is an associate director of public engagement serving as liaison to the American Jewish community and on international issues.

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To my students and me, along with countless other Jewish leaders, Matt is the contact person for the White House and President Barack Obama.

In what can arguably be called the most contentious relationship of any administration with the pro-Israel community, the Obama administration has been viewed first with suspicion and mostly closed minds by those in the Jewish community.

Nosunchuk has the largely thankless task of defending the president’s policies to a community with mostly closed ears.

This summer Matt was put in the position of having to take phone calls from every Jewish leader in America with his phone number, myself included, who were confident they could convince the president not to go forward with the Iran deal. In phone call after phone call, Matt calmly explained that the president cared about Israel and would never willingly take steps to endanger Israel. Like most, Matt didn’t convince me, but he kept communication open. I didn’t question his or the president’s motives and he didn’t question mine. Matt was the consummate mensch, listening patiently and repeating the president’s stance.

That meeting in the Indian Treaty room wasn’t the only one that Matt held with my students. Each time we came to Washington, Matt opened the doors of the White House for us. He arranged top level speakers and treated my high school students with the same respect as visiting dignitaries. While my students are grateful for the president’s increasing of security assistance to Israel, his funding of Iron Dome and countless other acts that strengthened the US-Israel relationship, they have been highly critical of many of the president’s policies and actions when it came to Israel. Matt created an atmosphere that allowed my students to feel comfortable expressing their criticism and concerns.

Matt didn’t convince all of my students of the president’s positions, but in calmly explaining the president’s point of view, Matt was able to show my students that the president shared their concern at the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran but had his own viewpoint on how to best stop Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon.

In opening the door to my students and talking to them as adults, Matt taught my students the most important lesson in political advocacy: our common ground is more important than what divides us. All too often my students are exposed to those who espouse the view that if you don’t agree with me on every one of my issues then you are my enemy.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Effective political advocacy, along with decent human interaction, requires people to treat each other with respect. Matt embodies this lesson and above everything else he’s taught them, I hope this what they learned from him.

As the Obama administration hits its final year, and our final meeting with Matt takes place, my students and I owe Matt a great deal of gratitude.

We will always remember his kindness and respect, and follow his example of being, above all, a mensch.

The writer, a rabbi, teaches Israel Political Advocacy to students throughout Israel and America.


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