Matt Nosanchuk
Matt Nosanchuk

Metro Detroit native appointed White House liaison to the U.S. Jewish community.

Giving some of the credit for his success to the place he still calls home, Matt Nosanchuk, 48, is taking his experiences in Metropolitan Detroit’s Jewish community all the way to the White House.

Born in Windsor and raised in Detroit and later Birmingham, the new associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs says there was always something to learn from the impressive breadth of charitable, political and social engagement in Detroit.

“Because Detroit has always had a vibrant, engaged and large Jewish community, I had the opportunity in the course of my life to interface with and learn from various aspects of it,” explained Nosanchuk, who refers to his title informally as simply liaison to the Jewish community.

“My aunt worked at Jewish Vocational Service. I went to Cranbrook with the children of the community’s most active and prominent leaders. In high school, I interned for Sen. Carl Levin in Washington, one of the state and country’s leading Jewish politicians … I was always impressed with our community’s involvement in a wide array of issues both through its individuals and its organizations.”

Nosanchuk is no stranger to the region’s Jewish political circles; he was married to Rep. Sandy Levin’s daughter Madeleine and has worked closely with the Levin brothers on their campaigns.

“I’ve had a number of chances to work with the politically active folks in Detroit over the course of my career. I have come back to Michigan many times to help campaign for Sandy, and worked with Andy Levin when he ran for state senate,” Nosanchuk added.

“The Levin family’s commitment to public service is just one great example of what this community has to offer, and they’ve also shown others how to give back in the broader community as well. These are political institutions with strong moral compasses, and we’re lucky to have them in our corner,” Nosanchuk said.

“What I take away from my history with this community is a model for engagement. The Jewish community here is so impressive because of how it engages, from having one of the nation’s best regional Holocaust museums to individuals playing leadership roles on a national level in organizations like AIPAC and Federation or the Joint Distribution Committee,” he said.

“There’s a willingness to engage across a wide range of issues, for the right reasons, and with the aim to make a contribution to the state, nation and global Jewish community.”

Nosanchuk also has a long history with President Barack Obama, having first met him in the 1990s while living in Chicago.

President Barack Obama meets with Matt Nosanchuk, associate director of public engagement, left, in the Oval Office on Aug. 30.
President Barack Obama meets with Matt Nosanchuk, associate director of public engagement, left, in the Oval Office on Aug. 30.

“I was inspired by his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. I came on board early and was involved in the campaign including several months working full time in Florida leading up to November. I wanted to serve in this administration, including, at some point, in the White House,” Nosanchuk said.

His first position under the president was in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, working under Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, who now serves as labor secretary.

Nosanchuk’s work involved developing the department’s legal and policy positions on significant civil rights issues as well as serving as the division’s point person on LGBT issues. In that role, he spoke to audiences across the country before and after the administration stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act, leading to the Supreme Court’s historic ruling last June of the law’s unconstitutionality.

After three years, Nosanchuk moved on to the Department of Homeland Security, doing what he described as a more “strictly legal and management job,” running a division of the General Counsel’s office involved in significant litigation, legislation and oversight.

Eventually he got the call from the White House, which was looking for somebody with seniority and experience to take on the Jewish outreach position.

“Because I grew up in a vibrant Jewish community like Detroit’s, spent time in Israel, connected at various points over the course of my life with the organized Jewish community, and have developed a knowledge and understanding of many issues of interest to the community, they were interested in having me come on board. It was because of those experiences I brought to the table,” Nosanchuk said.

In his new position, Nosanchuk will not only take the priorities and positions of the Jewish community to the president and his advisers, but also will discuss issues of importance to the president with the community and engage its leaders on those issues.

“There are myriad concerns in the Middle East right now, from Israel to Syria and Iran, and they are all a priority to the administration,” Nosanchuk said. “The president had an incredibly successful trip to Israel in March that lays the groundwork for the resumption of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians that Secretary of State John Kerry worked to jumpstart with the president’s strong support.”

Because of the Jewish community’s breadth of priorities, other issues Nosanchuk expects to discuss over the course of his time with the White House include immigration reform, civil rights, LGBT rights and implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

When he’s not working to gather support for the administration’s agenda or to learn about the needs of the Jewish community, you might find Nosanchuk looking for a decent corned beef sandwich.

“You just can’t get good deli in Washington like you can in Detroit, whether it’s Steve’s or Stage,” said Nosanchuk, who also misses the babka from Star Bakery when he’s away from home.

“I love visiting the area with my family, seeing all of the places I used to go to in the suburbs, taking my son to Lions, Tigers or Michigan games when I’m in town, and I love to go back to Cranbrook; its beautiful campus is the perfect place for a run.”

Even though he manages to get back to Detroit two to three times a year, Nosanchuk says many other expatriates are leaving their own mark on Washington.

“There’s plenty of them running around, including Fred Dobb, my rabbi at Adat Shalom in Bethesda, Md., but whenever I get to interact with a former Detroiter it reminds me how impressive our community is, particularly its level of engagement and commitment to public service and giving back to the community,” he said.

“It’s instilled in you, and there’s no surprise when you meet someone who grew up in Detroit, here or elsewhere, doing good work.” 

 By Ryan Fishman|Special to the Jewish News


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