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Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Obama administration speechwriter speaks at UW Hillel

Speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz speaks on her book ‘Here All Along,’ Jewish identity, time in White House
Sophia Scolman

Former White House speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz visited the University of Wisconsin Hillel Tuesday to share advice for students, thoughts on Jewish identity and stories from her time working on the Obama administration.

The event was hosted in collaboration with the UW Center for Interfaith Dialogue. UW Hillel Campus Partnership Intern Caroline Krell moderated the discussion, asking Hurwitz questions about her career, identity and book titled “Here All Along.”

UW Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin, Dean of Students Christina Olstad, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Lori Reesor, Director of Admissions André Phillips and Wisconsin State Secretary of Administration Kathy Blumenfield were all in attendance at the event.


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Hurwitz began by acknowledging that this event was occurring at a sensitive time for Jewish communities across the world, after attacks on the Jewish state of Israel by Hamas Saturday.

“It’s just been a tremendously hard week,” Hurwitz said. “I think [of] so many Jews in America, so many friends and family members in Israel, and it’s just … really devastating and wrenching.”

Hurwitz graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law and was a fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics in 2017.

Hurwtiz said she worked for several unsuccessful campaigns for political office as a speechwriter before being offered a position as senior speechwriter for then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama during his presidential campaign in 2008, including for Hilary Clinton’s presidential primary campaign the same year.

“ … And then I got hired on the Obama campaign and he won, which was a mind blowing new experience for me … And I got to go to the White House,” Hurwitz said.

Hurwitz said her first assignment on staff was to help write then-First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech, including Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign the same year.

Though she would continue to serve as President Obama’s speechwriter until 2010, she pivoted to work with First Lady Michelle Obama, Hurwitz said.

“You’re [the First Lady] there really to have a conversation with America, and to focus on issues being paramount,” Hurwtiz said. “I think Mrs. Obama’s [style] was also just much more operational, much more emotional. And that’s the kind of speaker and writer I am.”

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Hurwitz’ first book “Here All Along,” was originally published in 2019 following her rediscovery of Judaism as a result of a break up at age 36.

Hurwitz was inspired to write the book upon noticing a gap in existing materials for Jewish people seeking both basic information on the religion and deeper philosophical analysis.

“There were lots of intro ‘nuts and bolts books,’ which were fine,” Hurwitz said. “There were lots of very boring, esoteric academic books, which were less fine, and there was just nothing that spoke to someone like me who was like, ‘alright, I want the deepest, most transformational, most life changing wisdom, and I also need the basics’ and so I just thought maybe I can write a book like that.”

Hurwitz said the main differences between writing a book and writing a speech were the length of the pieces, the grammar and the writing process.

Hurwitz said she found the writing process to be lonely at times, as it didn’t require the same kind of collaboration that speech writing did.

“When I was writing speeches for [Michelle] Obama, we were writing partners, right? It wasn’t me alone,” Hurwitz said. “She was giving me pretty much all the ideas … and suddenly writing a book — I was like, ‘Wow, just me’… It was very lonely.”

The most relevant Jewish idea in her life today is that all humans are created in the image of God, which means everyone is unique and important in their own way, Hurwitz said.

She is also particularly interested in studying Jewish ethics, Hurwitz said. She said the characterization of Judaism as “legalistic and nitpicky” is a misconception and said instead that Jewish law helps followers develop sensitivity to those in need.

“So when you have a Jewish law that says, if you loaned money to someone who was financially struggling, and you happen to see them coming down the street toward you, you should actually try not to run into them,” Hurwitz said. “Because you know what, if you know they’re still struggling, if they can’t pay you back? You’re gonna embarrass them, right?”

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Hurwitz has also recently become a volunteer chaplain at a hospital.

During her early career, after graduating from Harvard and Harvard Law, Hurwitz said she spent much of her time looking for “the next Harvard” and encouraged students to trust themselves and do what they feel passionate about.

Hurwitz said she is currently working on her second book exploring the layers of Jewish identity.

“And so I think just getting used to beginning to understand how being a minority in a majority culture affects how they see themselves,” Hurwitz said about the purpose of her next book. “And how they see the traditions, and how we can begin to kind of peel away those layers and really engage authentically with our tradition in Jewish terms.”

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