Agudas Yisroel Delegation at the White House

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agudah-delegationA group of 25 of Agudas Yisroel of America’s leaders spent two hours in the White House on Friday, March 23.

They met around a conference table in an imposing room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building featuring a giant portrait of President George Washington adorning one wall and a massive American flag draped against the other.

After welcoming remarks by Jarrod Bernstein, Director of Jewish Outreach at the Office of Public Engagement, who – together with Rabbi Abba Cohen Esq., Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Federal Affairs and Washington Director, organized the meeting – the Agudath Israel delegation met with Mark Zuckerman, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council. The discussion centered on the Administration’s education policy, with a particular focus on its impact on yeshivos and other nonpublic schools. Chaskel Bennett, a member of the Board of Trustees of Agudath Israel, emphasized the critical importance of this issue to the entire Orthodox Jewish community.

The group also talked to Mr. Zuckerman about health care, a particularly timely discussion, as the meeting happened to take place on the first anniversary of the signing of the controversial federal health care law that has come to be known as Obamacare. Responding to the comments of Rabbi Gedaliah Weinberger, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Agudath Israel, regarding the dismaying trend toward withholding life-sustaining treatment in “end-of-life” medical situations – a trend that the federal law has escalated – Mr. Zuckerman said, “I learn a lot every day in this job and I am glad you brought this to my attention…We need to get your team together with our health care team. I am committing myself to that conversation right here and right now.” And, barely half an hour later, while still in the conference room, Rabbi Abba Cohen read a follow up email from Mr. Zuckerman setting up a meeting with the President’s health care team to continue this important discussion.

Jarrod Bernstein – who, prior to joining the White House, worked in the Office of Homeland Security – spoke about the state of homeland security, with an emphasis on safeguarding Jewish schools and community institutions, especially in light of the recent horrific killings in France and the general threat of violence by Islamists against Jews worldwide. He articulated the Obama Administration’s commitment to maintain generous funding levels for security initiatives for Jewish and other high risk sites.

The group raised the issue of Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin.

The Agudath Israel’s final meeting was with Steve Simon, Senior Director for Middle East and North Africa, National Security Council, who, together with Rob Waller, Director for Israeli Palestinian and Jordanian Affairs, discussed the security of Israel, mainly the existential Iranian threat, the impact of the Arab Spring, and the state of U.S.-Israel relations in general.

The Agudath Israel delegation was led by the organization’s executive vice president, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, together with Rabbis Weinberger and Cohen, Rabbi Labish Becker, executive director of Agudath Israel, and Rabbi Yehiel Kalish, Agudath Israel’s National Director of Government Affairs. Most of the participants were young balebatim who are active in the community and have been involved with Agudath Israel.

Agudath Israel has been cultivating such activists through its Lefkowitz Leadership Initiative which is a tribute to the late Agudah leader, Rabbi Yisroel Lefkowitz, a”h, who saw the need to recruit the leaders of the future.

These young leaders achieved the twin goals of ‘liros v’leiraos’ – both to see and to be seen in the seat of federal authority in our nation’s capitol. Their feedback included comments like “Today was terrific! High quality presenters, a diverse group of participants, and real time results. The very best of askanus was on display today.” One of the White House staffers, himself duly impressed with the meeting, told an Agudah staff member that he “has rarely dealt with such a respectful group as yours”.

A frequent theme that emerged throughout the session was the important role played by Rabbi Cohen in his ongoing work on behalf of Orthodox Jews. When discussing higher education and Pell Grants, Mr. Zuckerman said, “We couldn’t have gotten that accomplished without you,” while Mr. Bernstein commented “Abba Cohen is the most zealous advocate we have, and he deals with honesty and integrity. Next to the word Mensch in the dictionary is his picture.”

Perhaps most telling was Mr. Bernstein’s observation that “Jews have come this far in the US because you keep us on the ball. You cannot let up for two seconds on our leaders. Keep the pressure on.”

{Noam Newscenter}


  1. so now we are going to be told to vote for Obama?
    we have to distance our selves from the White house, that screams a louder message

  2. the reality is deja vu all over again, and again. Seriously, we’re all getting tired from this continuous ongoing repetitive pantamine.

  3. Should we sit in the dark and wait until a new administartion comes in? If all this administration hears is the views from the far left of the jewish community (J steet, reform etc…) then we only have ourselves to blame. Having a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation is vital. Nobody is advocating supporting this president or a challnger, the reality is we must fight for whats important to us. I applaud the Agudah for being out there on the front lines day after day. Only a simpleton doesnt undertand this.


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