National lay and rabbinical leaders of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America , the OU, traveled to the nation’s capital on June 8th and 9th for the Union’s annual Leadership Mission to Washington. The two-day mission was organized by the OU’s Institute for Public Affairs.
The Mission’s events kicked off with sessions with senior officials of the Embassy of Israel including, most timely for recent events, Israel’s Naval Attache, Captain Yoram Laks, who spoke extensively about last week’s interdiction of the Gaza flotilla. Tuesday’s program continued with a gala dinner at which the featured speaker was Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, who offered a comprehensive analysis of current American political debates and handicapped the upcoming midterm elections.
On Wednesday, the delegation began its meetings with America’s policymakers at the White House for briefings with senior Obama Administration officials. The Orthodox leaders were greeted by Susan Sher, chief of staff to the First Lady and senior liaison to the Jewish community, and Danielle Borrin of the Office of the Vice President.
The OU delegation had extensive and candid discussion about Obama Administration policies toward Israel and the Middle East with Denis McDonough, the chief of staff of the National Security Council, and Dan Shapiro, Senior Director for Mideast Affairs.
Jess Maher, the Associate Director for Legislative Affairs for the Council on Environmental Quality, spoke to the OU group about the Administration’s work with Congress on energy and climate change legislation. Critical domestic policy issues – including the security of Jewish community institutions, energy efficiency proposals, healthcare reform and K-12 education initiatives – were discussed with Ms. Melody Barnes, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.
From the White House, the OU leaders proceeded to Capitol Hill for the Leadership Mission’s annual Senate Luncheon. In a formidable demonstration of their high regard for the OU and its influence, many senators attended and addressed the luncheon. The group of lawmakers that spoke to the Mission participants included Senators Joe Lieberman (CT), Sam Brownback (KS), Ben Cardin (MD), John Barrasso (WY), Bob Casey (PA), Chuck Schumer (NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Mark Pryor (AR), and Arlen Specter (PA). As at the White House briefings, the key issues of the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons, the U.S.-Israel relationship, and key domestic policy issues were discussed.
After the Senate luncheon, a smaller group of Orthodox Union leaders held their final sessions with senior leaders of the House of Representatives: Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), the Republican Conference chairman, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
At the Mission’s conclusion, OU President Steve Savitsky stated:
The Union’s work on behalf of the Orthodox Jewish community’s values and interests in the arena of public policy is one of many critical roles the organization plays in its work to serve American Orthodox Jewry.
Moshe Bane, chairman of the Union’s Institute for Public Affairs, added:
As representatives of the Orthodox Jewish community, we are very appreciative of the time the White House officials, Senators and Representatives spent with us discussing critical issues. We cherish the fact that this country affords us the opportunity to engage with them, as Orthodox Jews, on policy matters.