On Tuesday, more than 30 community activists from Chicago headed to Springfield, Illinois for Agudath Israel’s largest ever annual mission. The agenda, as outlined by a beautifully printed booklet, focused on five main issues related to education, religious freedom, and safety.

Springfield MissionThe group met first with Governor Bruce Rauner’s legislative director, Richard Goldberg, followed by meetings with House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Cullerton. The participants then fanned out across the Statehouse to meet with more than a dozen state representatives and senators.

Several meetings were unplanned, but very productive. Immediately after meeting with Speaker Madigan, the group saw Representative Dan Brady, the sponsor of HB 305, sitting at his desk in the House chambers working on his bill. Agudath Israel had recently expressed concern with HB 305 which required a funeral director to refrigerate or embalm a body in its possession for more than 48 hours if no instructions were given by the family. Since embalming is forbidden under Jewish law, Agudath Israel asked that embalming only be allowed with the express permission of the next-of-kin. Furthermore, the 48-hour waiting period seemed too short, considering that many Jewish holidays, where use of a telephone is prohibited, are 48-hours long. Rep. Brady was eager to accommodate Agudath Israel’s requests, and following a spirited, but respectful discussion, he agreed to make several more changes to his bill and send it to Agudath Israel for approval.

Meeting with State Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston)

Meeting with State Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston)

In another perfectly-timed encounter, as the same group left the meeting with Rep. Brady they bumped into the representative of the Chicago Firefighters Union, Dan Fabrizio. One of the day’s agenda items was to gather support for a bill to allow Hatzalah volunteer responders to use lights and sirens on their vehicles. A similar bill failed last session, and the new bill attempts to address some of the concerns brought up by firefighters. The union representative later brought over a representative of the State Fire Marshall to speak with the Hatzalah leaders to discuss the issue.

Based on feedback from both experienced and new participants, everyone felt the mission was successful in bringing community issues to the attention of powerful elected officials. In addition, the mission was an opportunity to impress upon the legislative leaders in Springfield that Chicago Orthodox community leaders are willing to give up their own time and resources to help the interests of the greater community.

Agudath Israel of Illinois expresses appreciation to the S4 Group for coordinating all of the many aspects of the Springfield mission.