Last week, a delegation of Agudath Israel of America’s top lay leadership group, the board of trustees, executive staff, regional directors and key activists converged on the U.S. Capitol for the group’s leadership mission to Washington.
Along with a well-publicized meeting at the U.S. Department of Education with Secretary Betsy DeVos, the group met in the White House with policy advisors to the President as well as with influential Senators on the Hill.
The delegation had the opportunity to share its concerns on a range of pressing issues including: religious freedom, school choice, rising anti-Semitism, end of life concerns, the security of Israel, and social services for the needy.
The Mission commenced with dinner Tuesday evening in the stately LBJ Room in the Capitol building. The dinner was headlined by three prominent guests: Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer; and was graced with the presence of Jason Dov Greenblatt, Assistant to the President, United States Special Representative for International, Negotiations (see here for report).
In welcoming remarks, Agudath Israel Board Chairman, Shlomo Werdiger,”It’s always important to interact with our elected officials and policy makers, which is why we make this type of Mission an annual event. This year, however, our presence is even more important, as we face new challenges and new opportunities with the new Administration.”
On Wednesday, the Agudath Israel delegation started the day with a meeting with U.S. Secretary of Education, Mrs. Betsy DeVos the first Jewish advocacy group to meet personally with the new Secretary of Education (see here for report).
The day continued with a session in the White House, at which the group engaged with Avi Berkowitz, Special Assistant to the President and assistant to Senior Advisor Jared Kushner; Boris Epshteyn, Special Assistant to the President; Dr. Sebastian Gorka, Deputy Assistant to the President; Jennifer S. Korn, Deputy Director, The White House Office of Public Liaison; Carlos Diaz-Rosillo, Director of Policy and Inter-agency Coordination in the Office of the Senior Advisor to the President for Policy; Katy Talento, Domestic Policy Adviser to President Trump and Jason Dov Greenblatt, Assistant to the President. The discussions were lively, with participation from various delegates, specifically in regard to rising anti- Semitism, homeland security, security of Israel, the social safety net, education policy and end of life concerns related to Obamacare. It was noted by Ms. Korn, that the Agudah delegation was the first Jewish advocacy group the new Trump Administration has welcomed to the White House.
From the White House, the delegation went to the Russell Senate Building for a luncheon with a bipartisan group of Senators: Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), President Pro Tempore of the United States; Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD); Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI); and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The Senators interacted with delegation members and discussed a range of issues including: BDS, the US- Israel relationship, rising anti-Semitism, homeland security funding, school choice and the incarceration of Sholom Rubashkin.
Perhaps the most important message, repeated by many of the dignitaries, was how crucial such visits are for decision makers. Nothing can replace face-to-face interactions with informed community representatives. One after another, each echoed that sentiment and reiterated that their door is open to continue the dialogue.
Agudath Israel was the first Orthodox Jewish organization to establish a full-time Washington office and is led by longtime director and Washington Counsel, Rabbi Abba Cohen who noted, “these Leadership Missions make a real difference – not only because of the impact of having our lay leaders from across the country interact with government leaders, but also because they enhance my credibility and that of other Agudah askonim as representatives of an active, engaged constituency.”
The Mission was chaired by Agudath Israel of America’s Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Shlomo Werdiger, and was coordinated by the Friedlander Group. The individual sessions were chaired by Rabbi Abba Cohen, Rabbi A.D. Motzen, Agudath Israel’s National Director of State Relations; and Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Agudath Israel’s Executive Vice President.
Photo credits: Dov and Shmuel Lenchevsky