The Far Rockaway/Five Towns community gathered on Sunday March 15th at the Lawrence home of Mr. and Mrs. Yechezkel Hartman for a breakfast sponsored by Agudath Israel of America in honor of Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Senator Skelos has been an instrumental force in the passage of various pieces of legislation important to the Orthodox Jewish community including the state’s Tuition Assistance Program, nonpublic school transportation funding, and infertility treatment funding.
The gathering was addressed by Agudath Israel of America’s director of special projects, Rabbi Yonah Feinstein, breakfast chairman Yochanan Bodner (member of Agudath Israel’s Five Towns Steering Committee and the Lefkowitz Leadership Initiative), Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, Agudath Israel’s vice president for community affairs, and Agudath Israel of America’s executive vice president, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel.
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“I feel like I’m here with family,” Senator Skelos commented during his warm address, in which he thanked the community and pledged to continue working on their behalf.
When asked about a new proposal to impose a state-appointed monitor to oversee, and have the authority to override the East Ramapo School Board, Senator Skelos made it clear that he would not accept any proposal that would usurp decision-making authority from the democratically-elected school board. East Ramapo, like Lawrence, is a school district where the majority of the children attend nonpublic schools, and the majority of the school board are Orthodox Jews.
Over the past several years, a major focus of Agudath Israel’s efforts in New York has been the Education Investment Tax Credit (EITC), which would offer tax credits for donations to scholarship funds that benefit needy nonpublic school students. Yoily Edelstein, a member of Agudath Israel’s Five Towns Steering Committee, spoke about the struggles of parents who want to send their children to a Jewish school. “Parents often run up high credit card debt and risk their homes in order to pay tuition,” he said.
Under Majority Leader Senator Skelos’s leadership, the Senate has passed EITC legislation several times in recent years. Governor Andrew Cuomo also included EITC funding in his budget proposal for this year. However, the Assembly has yet to embrace the proposal. “This should be your highest priority every time you speak to your legislators,” Senator Skelos advised the audience.
The attendees discussed other education issues including the need for increased funding for nonpublic school security.
Agudath Israel has repeatedly expressed its opposition to legislation that would legalize physician-assisted suicide. At the breakfast, oncologist Dr. Azriel Hershfeld presented his perspective on the issue. “Legalizing assisted suicide,” he said, “would violate the physician’s oath to be a healer. Moreover, it would convey a message that could lead to numerous abuses in the care of vulnerable terminally-ill patients.” Senator Skelos vowed that he would not even let the legislation come to the Senate floor for a vote. He emphasized that certain core values, including preservation of human life, must never be compromised.
Rabbi Binyomin Kamenetzky Dean of Yeshiva of South Shore, concluded the event by elaborating upon the warm personal relationship he has had with Senator Skelos for decades, as well as the senator’s dedication to serving the needs of the community.