July 14, 2024
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Agudah Welcomes Rokita at Annual Legislative Breakfast

Agudath Israel of America, a haredi Orthodox organization, held its Annual Legislative Breakfast November 3 at the offices of AllianceBernstein in New York. The event provided a forum for elected officials—generally conservative and Republican—to voice their positions to the leaders of the strictly Orthodox membership.

Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a principal with Bernstein Global, welcomed local, regional and federal legislators and religious and business leaders to the early-morning program. Attendees included New York City Council Member Mark Levine, chair of the council’s Jewish caucus; New York State Assembly Members Helene Weinstein and David Weprin; Peter Rebenwurzel, breakfast co-chair; Joseph Stamm, breakfast co-chair; Dr. Tevi Troy, president of the American Health Policy Institute and former deputy secretary of Health and Human Services; NY State Senate Deputy Majority Conference Leader Michael Gianaris; Rabbi David Zwiebel, executive vice president, Agudath Israel of America; Congressman Todd Rokita; NY State Senate Leader Marty Golden; and Chaskel Bennett of Agudath Israel of America. Other Jewish leaders present included Rabbi Asher Lopatin, dean of Yeshivat Maharat, a clergy-training institute for women, and a leader of the “‘Open Orthodoxy” movement.

Theodore Edward “Todd” Rokita, a third-term congressman representing Indiana’s 4th District, served as keynote speaker for the morning event. The conservative Republican, “committed to reducing the size of government and returning to Constitutional principles,” is vice-chairman of the Budget Committee and chairman of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, and a strong advocate of local control and placing authority in the hands of parents and teachers, instead of federal bureaucrats.

The Indiana Congressman focused his remarks on the provisions of recently passed (July 8, 2105) HR 5, a bill that directly affect many in his audience—especially in the items pertaining to allocations to private schools. Of significant importance to the “Yeshiva community” is the provision of “public” services in private schools, maintaining the level of funding but eliminating much of the federal bureaucracy.

The bill, he says,“expands full choice,” a remark that engendered enthusiastic applause—and will secure public services in private schools while eliminating much of the current federal bureaucracy, but will not lessen available funds. “If money is placed with particular purpose, why not let local decision makers use the money as it sees best?” he queried.

Remarks by Troy, who served as White House liaison to the Jewish community during the administration of George W. Bush, added a touch of humor to the morning—reminding attendees that the leading candidates of both major parties have “mechutanim” (Jewish in-laws). On a more serious note, he discussed the changing position of Jews in American politics, noting the major change in participation between the 19th and 20 centuries—continuing into the 21st centuries. Jews should not focus only on issues of Israel and anti-semitism, he suggested, but rather “must recognize the importance of education, taxes and other domestic issues.

“Jewish influence can help determine the direction of the United States going forward,” said Troy.

New York State Senator Marty Golden closed the program with an enthusiastic and congenial directive. “You can, you will, win…when we stand united.” Golden, so clearly speaking to a mutually supportive audience said, “The Republican philosophy is the power in the room…the power in this room is—it is tremendous.” Past practices of “going to the table and cutting deals” must end, promised Golden. “It’s time! No more deals!” assuring that Republican and Democratic colleagues in the New York State Senate would be successful in funding the “education tax credit.”

“This is the year to get that,” said the veteran legislator.

By Maxine Dovere

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