On Wednesday, Agudath Israel of Illinois embarked on its annual mission to the State Capitol in Springfield. With more than forty men and women participating, this year’s mission was the largest ever. The delegation included Agudath Israel of Illinois executive committee members, lay leaders, young professionals, and school administrators from across the community spectrum.

Illinois Mission 2016 delegates with Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner

Illinois Mission 2016 delegates with Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner

Illinois remains the only state in the country without a budget for the current fiscal year. The budget impasse has brought the legislative process in Springfield to a grinding halt. A palpable feeling of stagnation and frustration permeates the halls of the capitol. Thus, in addition to the legislative agenda, a primary focus was to thank legislators for their past accomplishments on behalf of the Orthodox Jewish community.

The first stop in the capitol was a full-delegation meeting with Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. Governor Rauner expressed his admiration for the Orthodox Jewish community, his support of Israel, and his shared vision of helping families afford private schools through school choice legislation. He also listened attentively as various delegates spoke about some of the programs and services sponsored by Agudath Israel and other Jewish community organizations. Richard Goldberg, Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs and Strategic Initiatives, was also in attendance.

During lunch, which was served in a reserved section of the capitol’s cafeteria, the delegation was addressed by the legislative liaison for the Illinois State Board of Education who shared important information and discussed resources for Agudath Israel of Illinois’ Kiwi Kids lunch program and for private schools providing childcare. Some school administrators mentioned that for this opportunity alone, the trip was worthwhile.

The delegation then split into groups to meet with dozens of individual legislators from both political parties. The participants discussed a range of issues including school choice, security, and two bills related to religious freedom. They also took the opportunity to thank legislators, especially the bill sponsors, Representative Lou Lang (D-16) and Senator Ira Silverstein (D-8) for their help in passing legislation last year that allowed Hatzalah to use lights and sirens for emergency responses in their personal vehicles.

L- R Rabbi Shlomo Soroka, Agudath Israel Of Illinois' director of government affairs; Speaker Michael Madigan; Senate President John Cullerton; Rabbi Yehiel M. Kalish, CEO S4 Group

L- R Rabbi Shlomo Soroka, Agudath Israel Of Illinois’ director of government affairs; Speaker Michael Madigan; Senate President John Cullerton; Rabbi Yehiel M. Kalish, CEO S4 Group

The largest and longest legislative meeting was with Democratic leaders. Speaker of the House Michael J. Madigan (D-22) hosted the meeting in his office and was joined by Senate President John Cullerton (D-6). As very few groups are ever granted such intimate meetings, the very fact that they took the time to meet with the Agudath Israel mission is a testament to the high regard they have for the community and the close relationship that has been cultivated over many years. The hour-long discussion covered the current budget crises and issues specific to the Orthodox Jewish community. The mission was led by Agudath Israel of Illinois’ director of government affairs, Rabbi Shlomo Soroka and Rabbi Yehiel M. Kalish, CEO of the S4 Group. Rabbi Yitzchok Ehrman, C.O.O. of Agudath Israel of Illinois, provided valuable assistance. Agudath Israel of Illinois also thanks the S4 Group for coordinating the mission.

The gratitude expressed to all elected officials certainly helped build and buttress the relationships necessary to continue effectively advocating on behalf of the community. One legislator went to retrieve a pen and pad in anticipation of hearing requests, but was pleasantly surprised when the group began by thanking her for her assistance over the years and conveyed how the community understands how difficult it must be for people like her. Visibly moved, she confirmed these sentiments and expressed how much these words meant to her. She then proceeded to provide innovative suggestions to assist with recent security grant applications and other issues Agudath Israel is working on. This anecdote is one of many that exemplifies the success of this year’s mission to Springfield.

Click Here to view the Springfield mission agenda.