Until about a month ago, Jason Dov Greenblatt was the chief legal officer and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, a bright, mild-mannered Orthodox Jewish lawyer from Teaneck. Part of his boss’s inner circle, he’d long represented the author of the Art of the Deal when it came to making deals.
“Jason understands Donald‘s thought process, how he approaches an issue, and he’s accomplished great things for the Trump Organization that way,” an industry insider tells me.
Still, the knock on his office door came as a surprise for Greenblatt. “Donald wants you,” said the messenger, and Greenblatt hurried to the conference room, where his boss was meeting a delegation of Orthodox Jewish media representatives.
Less than ten seconds after coming in, the boss had deflected a question on Israeli settlements to his lawyer, and suddenly, Greenblatt was thrust onto the stage.
Jason Greenblatt has no background in diplomacy or politics. He’s never been part of a think tank or study center on Israel, but the man tabbed by Trump as his special advisor on Israel — even as he continues in his legal role for the company — brings something else to the table: real passion for the country.
The Queens native spent a year in yeshivah in Israel before returning home to graduate from Yeshiva University. After a stint with a prestigious law firm, he was hired by the Trump Organization, where he’s remained for close to 20 years.
Both he and his wife Naomi, a psychiatrist, work long hours, but they’ve found a shared hobby. The Greenblatts try to travel abroad with their six children each year, more often than not, to Israel.
Their experiences formed the basis of a book. Israel for Families is a comprehensive and thorough guide, filled with necessary information (insurance, car rentals, routes, schedules, and the like) as well as the inner core — the “why’s” of the trip, the significance and meaning of the various sites. Written in collaboration with the six Greenblatt children, the tone is easy, light, and throbbing with love of the Land.
It seems like quite the project for a couple with full-time jobs — but Jason has experience.
In the early ’90’s, the Manhattan kosher restaurant scene seemed to be in constant transition, with restaurants opening and closing, and hechsherim removed from glass windows days after they’d been affixed. At the same time, the borough was fast becoming the hub of Jewish single life, and a comprehensive list of kosher restaurants was necessary.
In those pre-Internet days, there was a single resource. Jason Dov’s List, as it was known, was photocopied again and again, the authoritative directory of eateries — hechsherim, addresses, menus — passed around shuls and offices. It was the perfect contribution from someone with a sharp eye for detail and a devotion to the wider community.
At the bottom of the list was a suggestion that those who’d benefitted might consider donating money to Chabad in Salt Lake City, since Jason, an avid skier, had come to appreciate the Shliach there, Rabbi Benny Zippel.
Greenblatt has none of the hard-nosed lawyer airs. He’s soft spoken and courteous, passionate about his family, committed to Yiddishkeit. And very loyal to his boss.
He’s never yet had to choose between them. “Several times over the years, I’ve had to walk away from deals because of Shabbos or Yom Tov and Mr. Trump has always been understanding. I remember sheepishly telling him that I had to go home in the midst of intense negotiations over a billion dollar deal.
We’d been working for weeks and I’d actually slept in the office for a few nights, but here I was, leaving — for a three-day Yom Tov! I was scared to tell Mr. Trump, but I finally summoned up the courage. He looked at me and said, ‘Jason, go home, be with your family, pray, enjoy. We’ll pick it up after the holiday.’ ”
Jason is gracious about sharing his experiences as a Shabbos observer at the highest level of corporate life, speaking for Chabad, NCSY, shuls, and on college campuses about what Shabbos does for him and his family.
He might be a supreme mensch, but can someone with virtually no foreign policy experience be an advisor on foreign policy?
“Sometimes, too much experience is as bad as too little experience.” Greenblatt reflects.
“You can’t conduct negotiations with preconceived notions, locked into a vision of the way things have to be, with no willingness to rethink positions. Sometimes, fresh faces are a good thing.”
He is also confident that his boss will surround himself by qualified people when the time comes to make decisions. “The image people have of Mr. Trump is that he operates alone, listening to no one. It’s not true. He’s great at identifying talent and ability and he hires well. I won’t tell you he doesn’t have his own mind, but he certainly doesn’t micromanage. He finds the right balance.
“Look, when it comes to Israel, Mr. Trump will take the approach he knows best. He’ll try to make a deal.”
And when it comes to deals, there are few people that the candidate trusts more than Jason Dov Greenblatt.
This week’s issue of Mishpacha features a full-on interview with the presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. The magazine is sold in Jewish stores and at Mishpacha.com