“We simply cannot afford to be passive.” With those stirring words of Mission Chairman, Leon Melohn, members of Agudath Israel of America’s National Board of Trustees convened in the nation’s capital on Tuesday and Wednesday and met with 30 Senators and Congressional representatives. Jewish community leaders from California, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio engaged the elected officials on issues that are vitally important to the Orthodox Jewish community at home and abroad, including the security of Israel, Iran sanctions, the alarming rise of global anti-Semitism, funding for homeland security, social services and the advancement of school choice.
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With the Iranian nuclear threat front and center in Washington, Wednesday morning saw spirited dialogue between the trustees and the elected officials. The Agudah representatives directly engaged with 17 members of Congress, first with Republicans, then with Democrats. While one of the primary goals of the Mission was to meet with members of the new freshman class, Agudath Israel attracted several veteran Congressional leaders, notably Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), second ranking Democrat in Congress; Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ranking Member, House Foreign Affairs Committee; former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-WI); and many others (shown below).
The high point of the day was luncheon in the Russell Senate Building where Agudah Trustees were addressed separately by 10 United States Senators with a keynote speech by Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr (R-NC). The session provided the opportunity for Agudath Israel to introduce itself to an impressive group of freshman Senators including Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Tom Cotton (R-AK), Steven Daines (R-MT), Gary Peters (D-MI), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Ben Sasse (R-NE). The longstanding relationships between veteran Senators and Agudath Israel was evident in the warm words of praise for the important work of the organization by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Tim Scott (R-SC).
One of the recurring themes heard from elected officials on both sides of the aisle was that the “relationship between the US and the State of Israel was stronger than the relationship between an individual US President and an Israeli Prime Minister.” Perhaps the most important message, reiterated by many of the members of Congress, was how crucial such visits are for decision makers. They appreciated hearing directly from Orthodox Jewish representatives from around the country about the issues that matter most to their communities. They appealed to community leaders to stay engaged on these issues.
Agudath Israel Board Chairman, Shlomo Werdiger, said that the reaction from the elected officials was precisely why Agudath Israel trustees came to Washington from across the country. “Crucial decisions will be made at the highest levels of government that may impact the Jewish people for generations to come. It is imperative that we continue to relay our deep concern to government leaders.”