Washington – In an interview with Tablet Magazine (http://bit.ly/NEHVi9), Joshua Bolten, 58, the second Jewish chief of staff in the history of the White House, offers a rare glimpse into the presidency of George W. Bush.
He says his Jewish faith was well-received by the White House, and recalled that President and Mrs. Bush “were always very interested in Jewish heritage and Jewish faith and were very receptive when we had ideas like lighting the menorah in the White House and serving the first truly kosher meal there.” According to Bolten, the White House kitchen had never been made kosher until the former First Lady did so for an event with the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington. Mrs. Bush also always made sure that other foods, besides the traditional pork ribs, were available for Bolten at campaign and staff gatherings.
Every year before Pesach, Bolten brought a piece of hand-made shmurah matzo that he had received from his rabbi, Yossie Dubrowski of Chabad of North Tampa, to the President. “And I can’t say President Bush liked it—he would always say, ‘Gosh, it’s dry!’—but every year he was proud to eat it,” Bolten said.
Bolten also infused the Oval Office with the miracle of Chanukah. “I don’t know if people know, but for Hanukkah every year at the senior staff meeting, I handed out dreidels and gelt and then instructions on how to play,” he said. “And so for the rest of the week, probably dozens of important White House decisions were made based on a spin of the dreidel.”
Of his time spent in the halls of government, Bolten reflected, “It’s a calling. I’ve always felt that way about government service. I think it’s the responsibility of citizens, especially Jews, to take up the calling when they have the opportunity.”
Bolten served in the Bush administration from 2006 to 2009. He now runs an international consulting firm and serves on the boards of a number of nonprofits, including service as the vice-chairman of the board of the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington.