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Over the last two weeks, a half dozen staff and several board members of Agudath Israel attended the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. While there, some of us were interviewed by various media outlets, and each time we were asked, “Why did Agudath Israel attend the national conventions?” Well, it wasn’t only to listen to the speeches.

Rabbi Avi Schnall with New Jersey Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-3rd District)

Rabbi Avi Schnall with New Jersey Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-3rd District)

While the messages delivered to the attendees and the millions of viewers around the country are important, Agudath Israel’s staff attended the conventions as representatives of Orthodox Jewish communities and institutions around the country. Just by standing in the hallways of the convention arenas, or attending the panel discussions and events on the sides of the conventions, we were able to meet with elected officials, party activists, and influential policy makers from every state. It is these relationships, interactions, and substantive discussions that allow us to explain our community’s positions and give each of the major political parties an opportunity to make the case for how their party fits best with our values and interests.

One very noticeable difference at this year’s conventions was the high number of yarmulkas and identifiable Orthodox Jews, ranging from members of the media, delegates, and guests of the RNC/DNC. While Agudath Israel of America does not endorse candidates, the increase in political engagement by members of our community with both major parties is a welcome development, and hopefully will lead to higher voter turnout in November.

Agudath Israel staff with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at an American Federation for Children school choice discussion in Cleveland during the RNC. (L-R: Rabbi Labish Becker, Governor Scott Walker, Rabbi A. D. Motzen, Rabbi Yitz Frank)

Agudath Israel staff with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at an American Federation for Children school choice discussion in Cleveland during the RNC. (L-R: Rabbi Labish Becker, Governor Scott Walker, Rabbi A. D. Motzen, Rabbi Yitz Frank)

(L to R) Aryeh Malitzky, Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD 3rd District), Rabbi Ariel Sadwin at the DNC

(L to R) Aryeh Malitzky, Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD 3rd District), Rabbi Ariel Sadwin at the DNC