School security, tuition relief, mandated services and other issues of importance to the Jewish community were the topics of the morning as Agudath Israel of America continued its long standing tradition of community engagement with a legislative breakfast co-hosted by Senator Elaine Phillips and featuring State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Sunday, March 11th in Great Neck, New York.
The breakfast took place at the home of Mr. and Mrs. David and Jila Hazghiyan, with well over four dozen members of the local Persian-Jewish community taking advantage of the opportunity to hear about the Agudah’s ongoing activities that include advocating for the private school community as the finishing touches are put on the state’s annual budget.
After being introduced by the Hazghiyan’s son, Mr. Jonathan Hazghiyan, Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, vice president of community services for the Agudah, opened the program by discussing the Agudah’s close ties to the Perisan-Jewish community, particularly the accomplishments of its Iranian Rescue Committee, which evacuated a number of those in attendance from the Khomeini regime more than 30 years ago. Rabbi Lefkowitz also invoked the legacy of the late Agudah president Rabbi Moshe Sherer, whose advocacy efforts to reimburse non-public schools for mandated services continue to bear fruit today.
Great Neck mayor Dr. Pedram Bral spoke about modifying guidelines for the state’s 529 savings accounts to match the newly broadened federal program in order to provide parents of children in grades K through 12 with desperately needed tuition relief. Dr. Bral also emphasized the importance of beefing up security at all state schools, an always high priority item that has taken on greater urgency after last month’s massacre at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas school. Anti-BDS legislation and a bill that would make Holocaust education mandatory in all New York State high schools were two ongoing projects that were mentioned by State Senator Elaine Phillips, whose northwest Nassau County district includes Great Neck. Senator Phillips praised the Agudah for its tireless efforts on behalf of its constituents, noting that Agudah advocates are in her office so frequently that at times it feels as if they are part of her staff.
Special guest speaker Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan also emphasized the importance of ensuring the safety of every student in New York State and reiterated his support of anti-BDS legislation. Noting that he is one of three people in the room during budget negotiations, Senator Flanagan said that he was well acquainted with the pressing issues that affect the Jewish community and that he intended to be a strong advocate on those matters, telling participants, “I have your back.”
The breakfast was well attended, noted Rabbi Lefkowitz, with many prominent local activists taking advantage of the opportunity to share their concerns with elected officials.
“It was clear that 529s and school security are both very high on the list of priorities and those who joined us were grateful for a vehicle to convey to the senate majority leader what they would like to see included in the upcoming New York State budget,” said Rabbi Lefkowitz.
Leon Goldenberg, a member of the Agudah’s board of trustees, said that the breakfast was yet another shining example of the Agudah’s continued commitment to its goal of advocating for every member of Klal Yisroel. That mission, observed Goldenberg, can only be realized when community members do their part to interface with elected officials and other local leaders.
“We thank our friends in the Great Neck community for coming out and welcoming Senate Majority Leader Flanagan and Senator Philips,” added Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, director of New York government relations for the Agudah. “Our community is fortunate to have such good friends in Albany and we look forward to continue working with them in the future.”