One of the many conservative figures making headlines this year is the Catholic politician Pat Toomey running for the Senate for the state of Pennsylvania. At this point, readers may be asking the perennial question: “Is it good for the Jews?”
Ask Nachama Soloveichik, the brilliant and engaging thirty-year-old who is the communications director for Toomey’s Senate campaign. She is also an observant Jew, and scion of one of the most distinguished Orthodox families in America. Undoubtedly, her answer to the question would be, “Certainly!”
Some years ago, Toomey and other conservative intellectuals founded a philosophically pro-free market think tank called the Club for Growth. Soloveichik, who already had some experience in conservative politics, became a writer and spokeswoman for the group.
In 2009, Arlen Spector, one of the most liberal Republicans in the Senate, wanted to avoid a primary challenge from Toomey in 2010. Attracting national attention, Spector changed parties and become a Democrat.
Spector lost the Democratic primary, bringing his Senate career to an end. Toomey, the Republican nominee, lured Soloveichik away from the Club for Growth and put her on his Senate campaign team.
When you read these words, you will most likely know the outcome, but as of this writing it was not yet known whether there will be a Senator Toomey from Pennsylvania when the Senate convenes in 2011.
Irrespective of the outcome, Soloveichik has a very bright future in conservative politics. In Toomey’s campaign, she is the person who deals with the media, who writes press releases and position papers, who crisscrosses the state of Pennsylvania with the Republican nominee and his entourage on his campaign swings. Toomey pilots his own small propeller plane and Soloveichik—in addition to her other duties—takes it upon herself to say Tefillat Haderech, the Traveler’s Prayer, on each trip.
“Ever since I can remember, Nachama has been involved in politics,” says Chana Wiznitzer, a friend of Soloveichik’s from Chicago. “She was always writing political columns [in college] . . . Nachama is very driven, very focused,” says Wiznitzer. “She doesn’t wait for things to happen; she makes them happen.”
Soloveichik is also known to excel at multi-tasking. “She could be watching TV and ghostwriting a book at the same time,” says Wiznitzer.
Although many conservatives view the mainstream media as the enemy, Soloveichik, who is a gifted writer herself, gets along well with the press corps. She respects them as professionals, and apparently the respect is mutual; she seems to be able to get her candidate’s message out without stirring up the rancor of the journalists who cover Pennsylvania politics.
Soloveichik, the second-eldest of seven siblings, bears a famous name in American Jewry. Her great-uncle, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik of Yeshiva University (whom she did not know), was one of the greatest Torah scholars of his generation. Her grandfather was Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik (he spelled his name without the “t”), another great Torah scholar, who took over the teaching duties of his older brother later in his life. She recalls that her grandfather used to commute regularly from his home in Chicago to Yeshiva University in New York in order to give his shiurim in Talmud.
Soloveichik grew up in Chicago and was very close to her grandparents. She remembers her grandfather well. He had had a stroke before she was born, and walking was painful for him, but he never let that slow him down. He maintained a schedule of teaching in two cities that would have been daunting to a younger man, and this is what Soloveichik talks about with love and pride—her grandfather’s devotion to his mission despite his constant pain.
“She is a genuine Kiddush Hashem . . . She represents Orthodox Judaism to many people who have never been exposed to it, and she manages to maintain her fidelity to Orthodoxy while also demystifying its practice.”
Soloveichik’s own education gave her a variety of perspectives that helped her become the multi-faceted person she is now. For reasons of geographic convenience, she attended a Lubavitch elementary school, which left her with knowledge of Yiddish and an appreciation for Chabad, although she did not become a “Lubavitcher.” She then attended Hanna Sacks Bais Yaakov High School in Chicago, followed by Stern College for Women in New York City.
In Stern she studied Gemara for the first time—a subject which she found “intellectually stimulating and challenging.”
“You find out that the world is so much bigger than you ever imagined,” says Soloveichik. “You learn Yevamot, and it’s mind-altering.” Soloveichik completed her education with a master’s in public policy from the University of Chicago.
Soloveichik is socially conservative, and says, matter-of-factly, “The fact that I’m pro-life has a lot to do with the home I grew up in.” But her area of special interest seems to be the economic issues in which the Club for Growth specializes. She has written extensively on trade and energy policy and tax policy. She advocates a voucher system whereby education funding would be equally available to all children, without discriminating against those who attend religious schools. Soloveichik’s favorite writers are Norman Podhoretz and Whittaker Chambers. The former is a distinguished Jewish author and editor, an intellectual giant—but little known among the younger generation. The latter was one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, a once controversial figure whose name now languishes in obscurity.
“Nachama is strength personified,” says her college friend Rebecca Feldman. “She is fierce, intense, extremely sharp and quick-witted. She relishes the opportunity to debate the issues that are important to her.”
“Politics is her calling,” says Wiznitzer. “I think she really feels this is her way of contributing to the world.”
Soloveichik is more interested in the nitty-gritty of a campaign than most private citizens might be—the tactics, the polling, the logistics—but her intelligence and idealism shine through in conversation.
When asked how she got into politics, Soloveichik replies that she originally wanted to be a journalist, but, she says, she is “antsy and needs a lot of action.” If she had not gone into politics, she says, with a hint of a smile, she would have become a professional basketball player. When asked “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” her immediate response is, “In the White House!”
Does Soloveichik’s observance conflict with the hectic pace of a 24/7 Senate campaign? She says that she has never had any problems and that Toomey and everyone on his staff respect her religious principles and willingly accommodate her special requirements. They know that she is simply unavailable on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, and that she cannot share the food they eat in a restaurant or at campaign stops.
The night that the primary results came in (leading to Toomey’s primary victory) was Shavuot, and Soloveichik admits that it was hard for her to be away from the scene of all the action, not knowing the outcome and being incommunicado with her co-workers on the campaign. However, it was not a question: Shavuot is sacrosanct. A friendly colleague did come over later that night to tell her the outcome of the primary election.
“She represents Orthodox Judaism to many people who have never been exposed to it,” says Feldman, “and she manages to maintain her fidelity to Orthodoxy while also demystifying its practice. She is a genuine Kiddush Hashem.”
Toby Bulman Katz is an educator, writer and political junkie. She lives with her husband and children in North Miami Beach.