Chances are excellent that you have heard of the Agudah’s many missions to Washington D.C. and to statehouses around the country, and if you are anything like me, you may be wondering what exactly these missions are all about. Why do people take time out of their busy lives and travel hundreds of miles to visit legislators? Do missions have specific goals? Does anything really get accomplished or are these visits nothing more than a glorified photo op?
Government advocacy is one of many divisions at Agudath Israel of America, representing the interests of the Jewish community throughout the United States at all levels of government, explained Rabbi A.D. Motzen, the Agudah’s national director of state relations. Missions are typically dedicated to a particular cause impacting the Jewish community and have covered such diverse topics as private school tax credits, anti-Semitism, religious freedom, Israeli security and infertility funding.
Over $100 million in funding has been allocated in New York State for couples who struggle with infertility in recent years through Agudah missions, helping hundreds and possibly thousands realize their dream of parenthood.
“Obviously the funding is open to all residents of New York State, but because family is such a high priority in the Jewish community, many from within our ranks have taken advantage of the state funding,” said Rabbi Motzen.
In one instance, having a woman facing infertility issues on a mission to explain how it affected her life struck a powerful chord with legislators, noted Rabbi Motzen. Equally touching was a woman who showed legislators a picture of her child who had born through state-financed infertility treatments.
Having elected officials meet not just with Agudah representatives but also with every day citizens who feel passionately about a particular issue demonstrates that the Orthodox Jewish community is a strong constituency, one that brings with it important votes come election day.
“We tell legislators who will be coming with us on a mission and that really does make a difference to them,” said Rabbi Motzen “When they see that the board member of a school, or a CEO of a company, or an attorney is taking the day off from work to go on a mission, that shows that the issue on the table is more important than anything else that person was supposed to do that day. Legislators don’t just want to see us, they want to see the community behind us, the Agudah family.”
Another important and extremely effective part of any mission? Having an opportunity to express hakaras hatov to legislators for their efforts.
“Every year we come and we ask for things,” said Rabbi Motzen. “It could be related to religious issues or suicide prevention. We may not see those same elected officials for months afterwards but when we come back and we say thank you to them it always makes an impression.”
The importance of community involvement was clear to see during the campaign to have Betsy DeVos confirmed as President Trump’s secretary of education.
“There was such a huge volume of phone calls coming in that there were United States senators who took the opportunity to be photographed answering the phones themselves, to show their constituents that their phone calls really mattered to them,” said Rabbi Motzen.
Even something as simple as writing a letter to a legislator can have far reaching results.
“I have gone on missions where we have asked parents to write letters and we may bring just one emissary with us from the community and a whole stack of letters from others,” said Rabbi Motzen. “When that happens, either at the mission or even afterwards, that elected official realizes that there is a community that cares and is watching what is going on at the legislative level and that is something that everyone can do. Time and time again we have seen that advocacy matters and can produce extremely effective results.”
(Author: Sandy Eller)