[Video here.] This past week, a delegation of some 25 members of Agudath Israel of America’s top lay leadership group, the national board of trustees, converged on the U.S. Capitol to share concerns on a range of pressing issues: the security of Israel, the alarming rise in global anti-Semitism, Iran sanctions, homeland security, school choice and social services for the needy.
Beginning Tuesday evening, and through Wednesday, the group met with dozens of influential lawmakers from both parties. The elected officials listened intently and exhibited genuine concern, while offering their own views on how to tackle the challenges.
The Mission commenced with dinner Tuesday evening in the stately Mansfield Room in the Capitol building. The dinner was headlined by three prominent Senators: Senator Rand Paul (R- KY), Member, Foreign Relations Committee; Senator Ron Johnson (R- WI), Chairman, Homeland Security Committee; and Senator Robert Menendez (D- NJ), Ranking Member, Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In welcoming remarks, Agudath Israel Board Chairman, Shlomo Werdiger, explained 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,” said Mr. Werdiger. “It is imperative that we add our voice and relay our deep concern to government leaders.”
On Wednesday, the Agudath Israel delegation broadened the conversations, meeting with nearly 30 Representatives and Senators of both parties.
With a new Congress having recently been sworn in, the delegation put a particular emphasis on meeting freshman members, like Ted Lieu (D-CA), Brendan Boyle (D-PA), and Lee Zeldin (R-NY), planting the seeds for relationships that can benefit our community for many years down the line.
In addition to the freshmen, the delegation met with 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; Luke Messer (R-IN), Chairman, Republican Policy Committee; and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) Chairman, House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Other members of the House who met with the Agudath Israel trustees included, on the Democratic side, Ted Deutch (FL), Alan Grayson (FL), Jerry Nadler (NY), Jan Schakowsky (IL), and Brad Sherman (CA), and on the Republican side, Trent Franks (AZ), Louie Gohmert (TX), and Ted Poe (TX).
Later on in the day, the delegation went to the Russell Senate Building for a luncheon with a bipartisan group of 10 senators. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) delivered the keynote address.
The luncheon served as Agudath Israel of America’s introduction to a 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). Veteran Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Tim Scott (R-SC) all interacted warmly with delegation members and effusively praised Agudath Israel.
Perhaps the most important message, repeated by many of the members of Congress, was how crucial such visits are for decision makers. Nothing can replace face-to-face interactions with informed community representatives. One after another, Representatives and Senators echoed that sentiment. In the words of Representative Congressman Eliot Engel, “Thank you for making sure that Israel’s protection and other issues of importance to Agudath Israel are represented…thank you for everything you do for Jewish people and thank you for everything you do for all people.”
The Mission was chaired by the noted philanthropist Leon Melohn, and was coordinated by the Friedlander Group. The individual sessions were chaired by Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’ s Washington Director and Vice President for Federal Affairs; Rabbi A.D. Motzen, Agudath Israel’s National Director of State Relations; and Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Agudath Israel’s Executive Vice President.