For decades, the premier forum for taking action on some of the toughest issues of the day – in a meaningful way and under the direction of Gedolim – has been the Agudah convention.
And this year’s gathering, observes Agudath Israel of America executive director Rabbi Labish Becker, is taking place against a background of truly formidable, even unprecedented, challenges.
“In light of the portrayal of Jews on the front pages of national newspapers and in the electronic media, this past year has not been a good one – particularly for Orthodox Jews. The chilul Hashem resulting from allegations, substantiated or otherwise, of Orthodox wrongdoing in the financial arena and beyond has been a source of anguish to every thinking member of our community.”
We face myriad other difficulties as well. The economic situation continues to take a devastating toll on countless households and Torah institutions. Domestic strife and substance abuse (as well as other kinds of addictions) have made significant inroads into our community, wreaking havoc on individuals and entire families. The dilemma of older singles shows no signs of seriously abating. And while many communal efforts have been directed in recent years at addressing “kids-at-risk,” far too many of our young boys and girls – our most precious assets – are still roaming the streets, putting themselves at grave spiritual and physical danger.
“Sadly, our community is not immune to many of the ills that plague the larger society,” says Aron Tessler, who is this year’s convention chairman. “The challenge before us is to develop real solutions for these painful problems.” And that begins, he avers, with recognizing that when it comes to our fellow Jews, there is no “them” and “us;” we are all interconnected, all responsible for each other’s well-being.
The theme of Agudath Israel of America’s upcoming national convention is, in fact, “Areivim Zeh Lozeh – Dealing Decisively-and Jewishly – With the Challenges We Face.”
“In truth, it’s more than just a theme. It’s a mandate that underlies every Agudah convention,” Rabbi Becker stresses. By way of illustration, he points to the many highly successful organizations that were birthed at an Agudah convention and that continue to provide invaluable assistance to countless members of Klal Yisroel.
Indeed, it was the heartfelt convention speech of Rabbi Avrohom Pam, zt”l close to twenty years ago about the challenge of sharing Torah with the Russian immigrant population in Eretz Yisroel that prompted the immediate reaction of a group of askanim to found the Shuvu organization that has literally changed the Torah map in Eretz Yisroel. Other highly effective organizations that came about as result of convention delegates putting heads and hearts together to deal with a particular problem in the community include Project Y.E.S., the celebrated mentoring and counseling program for “pre-risk” teens and their families; Reshet Shiurei Torah, Agudath Israel’s Torah Education Network; the Jewish Education Program (JEP) for public school children; the Ichud Mosdos Hachinuch of Brooklyn program for yeshiva children with special educational needs; Invei Hagefen, the Agudath Israel/Agudah Women co-sponsored “shidduch agency,” which arranges approximately 100 introductions each week and has many successful shidduchim to its credit; and the Emergency Parnassa Initiative (EPI), which was created last year to help unemployed heads of household regain their parnassa.
“Each of these organizations was created because Jews felt the achrayus to come together to help other Jews,” Rabbi Becker says. “That’s what the Agudah movement is about and what every convention is about.
“And coming to a convention – you might say that’s the first step in carrying out this year’s theme.”
The place to come for the Agudah’s 87th National Convention will be the Hilton in East Brunswick, New Jersey – a beautiful and centrally located new venue. And the dates to be there are Thursday through Sunday, November 26-29.
“Getting things moving,” says Rabbi Becker, “starts with getting moving ourselves.”