QCH honors Jacob Lew, Forest Hills Native and 76th Secretary of the Treasury
September 11, 2018
FOREST HILLS, QUEENS (September 11, 2018) - On October 23, Queens Community House (QCH) will pay tribute to Honorable Jacob J. Lew, 76th Secretary of the Treasury and former White House Chief of Staff under President Obama, whose humble beginnings in Forest Hills paved the way for a lifelong career in public service.
Jacob “Jack” Lew grew up in a brick apartment building on Yellowstone Boulevard in the Queens neighborhood of Forest Hills. His father arrived to New York in 1916 from Poland, learned English in the public school system and went on to practice law. His mother, who worked from age 15 to support her family, kept the books in her husband’s law office.
According to his sister Rebecca, “At an early age, Jack already had his own ideas of equality, fairness and decency.” In 1971, as a 16-year old, he helped organize The New York March Against Hunger and was interviewed by a CBS reporter, his first of many television appearances.
The Lews attended The Forest Hills Jewish Center, one of the primary Conservative synagogues in Queens at the time. The center was led by Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser, whose impassioned sermons on Judaism, social responsibility, and inclusion inspired Lew to get involved in his community. In a commencement speech at The Jewish Theological Seminary Commencement Ceremony in 2016, Lew fondly remembered his mentor: “Through his gentle but strong voice and through his actions he […] demonstrated that the issues of the day demanded our attention and participation. It was not enough to talk about civil rights, you had to stand together with leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, and take a stand on local issues, even when unpopular.”1
Bokser was vocal in his support for the development of public housing in Forest Hills, a stance opposed by many residents, including members of his own congregation. The Forest Hills Housing Controversy of 1966-1972, as it came to be known, was a heated community issue that drew national attention. The ultimate compromise, mediated by a then-unknown Mario Cuomo, led to the construction of three 12-story resident buildings and a two-story community center to host the newly-formed Forest Hills Community House (now Queens Community House).
“The housing project that became the original home of the Queens Community House was a major topic of controversy,” said Lew. “While many opposed it, I grew up in a home where responsibly opening the doors to the community was seen as a good thing. That early lesson, both in taking a position on important and controversial issues, and the power of an individual to make a difference, made a big impression on me.”
According to Lew, these early experiences helped shape his worldview and pave the way for a career in the public sector. Over the years, he served in many capacities at the federal level: as a legislative assistant to Representative Joe Moakley, as a Senior Policy Advisor to House Speaker Tip O’Neill, and as Assistant Director and then Director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton administration. In 2012, Lew was asked by President Barack Obama to serve as his Chief of Staff and in 2013, was selected by Obama to serve as Secretary of the Treasury, a position he held until 2017.
On October 23, Secretary Lew will be recognized at Queens Community House’s Strengthening Neighborhoods Inspiring Change Gala. “We are honored to celebrate Secretary Lew, whose ideas about social equality are connected to our organization’s history and have gone on to inspire change on a much larger stage,” said QCH Executive Director Ben Thomases. “His commitment to social justice represents our vision of Queens as an empowered community that values diversity, respect, and mutual responsibility.”
Lew will be honored alongside Former New York Mets All-Star, Edgardo Alfonzo -- an apt pairing as the Secretary is, like many Queens natives, an ardent Mets fan.
The gala will take place at the Museum of The Moving Image in Astoria. More information is available at www.qchnyc.org/gala.
1: The Jewish Theological Seminar Commencement Ceremony. “Remarks by Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew at The Jewish Theological Seminar Commencement Ceremony.” www.jtsa.edu/commencement-speech-2016
About Queens Community House: Founded in 1975, Queens Community House, is a multi-site nonprofit organization that offers a wide network of comprehensive services to individuals, families, and communities throughout Queens. From 32 sites in 14 neighborhoods, QCH helps thousands of Queens residents to thrive in school, make healthy life choices, succeed in educating themselves, become engaged citizens, stabilize their housing situations, and make the most of their senior years. Learn more at www.qchnyc.org.
Queens Community House
108-25 62nd Drive Queens, NY 11375
Office: (718) 592-5757 x 249