Kiddush Hashem in aftermath of visit of Rav Dovid Hofstedter to Capitol Hill.
“We need to stand in solidarity with our Jewish brothers. Thank you, Rabbi Hofstedter and Dirshu, for taking the mission to Washington!” This sentence was tweeted by former governor of Arkansas and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee last week. What was the story behind this tweet?
Just after Shavuos, Rav Dovid Hofstedter, nasi of the Dirshu Torah Organization, was invited to Washington by a group of congressmen to express their solidarity with the Orthodox Jewish community and their commitment to preserving freedom of religion and its sacrosanct nature.
What was the impetus behind this unusual invitation and how did it play out, especially taking place when antisemitism in America was reaching a fever pitch due to the fighting in Gaza?
From a Day of Jewish Unity to A Congressional Invitation
The impetus behind the meeting was the aftermath of an earlier effort by Governor Huckabee. Every year, right before Rosh Hashanah on the Chofetz Chaim’s yahrzeit, Dirshu holds a Yom Torah and Tefillah, a day of davening and chizuk. The Yom Torah and Tefillah is meant to encourage Jews to walk in the path of the Chofetz Chaim who taught about the terrible scourge of lashon hara and slander and the importance of promoting unity and brotherhood among Jews. In the Orthodox community, the day is marked by extra tefillah and recitation of Tehillim along with learning choice excerpts from the teachings of the Chofetz Chaim. In addition, Dirshu has seen fit to mark the Chofetz Chaim’s yahrzeit to promote what has been labeled “An Annual Day of Jewish Unity” in the secular world.
Having heard about the day of Jewish Unity, Governor Huckabee was so impressed by the concept that he wrote an important op-ed article in Fox News, praising and commending this effort. In the article, he opined that not only Jews, but non-Jews as well, could benefit from learning from the teachings of the Chofetz Chaim and engaging in promoting unity as the country is being torn apart by internal strife and slander in an unprecedented manner.
Furthermore, he hailed Dirshu as the largest organization in the world promoting the study of Torah. This article caught the attention of several congressional leaders, including some from New York and New Jersey, where many of those who learn in Dirshu’s programs live. Amazingly, it also caught the eye of many members from states that do not necessarily have a large frum population but are deeply troubled at the moral direction in which America is heading and respect the values and ideals that Dirshu espouses.
Indeed, perhaps more than anything, the visit of Rav Hofstedter to Washington, his meetings with lawmakers and his important speech before an impressive congressional delegation was a colossal kiddush Hashem. The members of Congress expressed their tremendous appreciation for the value of Torah learning and also their concern for the double standard to which the Orthodox community was held during the pandemic.
The Son of Holocaust Survivors Addresses Hate Crimes And Double Standards
During his seminal speech, Rav Hofstedter first addressed recent events in Eretz Yisrael and the concern about the intellectual dishonesty and moral equivalence from much of the media and, sadly, from fringe elements in Congress who engaged in antisemitic tropes when talking about those events.
He then addressed the rising antisemitism throughout America. “Sadly, in my years of leading the single largest Torah organization in the world, I have come to realize that much of the negative sentiment directed toward Jews who desire to defend themselves stems from raw antisemitism. And what we have seen domestically in recent months is a manifestation of that same form of antisemitism, in the form of hate crimes against the Jewish people—which continue to rise in volume across the United States. For this reason it’s as important as ever that the Jewish people be aware that our public servants in the halls of Congress are committed to ensuring that those perpetrating these crimes are held accountable, and that there is no room in any one of your many districts for these types of vicious and vile acts. As the son of Holocaust survivors, this troubling trend has made me acutely concerned about the direction of our nation’s public discourse.”
Rav Dovid continued, “There is yet another incredibly troubling trend experienced and witnessed by many of us in the faith-based community during the coronavirus pandemic. That is the blatant double standard that the faith-based community had to endure in terms of the restrictions imposed upon us and our respective institutions and houses of worship during the coronavirus pandemic. It is wholly unacceptable that the leadership of the governments of NYC and NYS, which have the largest population of Orthodox Jews in the nation—and an immensely sizable population of members of our organization—had to be subject to an inexplicable double standard. When a government passes rules and regulations, those rules must be evenhanded. For elected officials in New York and elsewhere to have shown such blatant heavy-handedness toward the Orthodox Jewish community when our families were already enduring the pandemic and all the natural difficulties associated with it, is nothing short of a disgrace… I am encouraged by the sentiments I have heard since arriving in Washington today, where many members of Congress clearly share this outrage.
“To lend some context as to why this sort of double standard strikes such a personal chord with me, I’d like to take a moment to share my own personal life story. As the son of Holocaust survivors, I have always viewed the greatest revenge against Hitler and the Nazis as revitalizing Jewish scholarship and education to the high levels predating the Holocaust. I have made this objective my life’s mission.”
The Impact of the Visit on Influential Members of Congress
Rav Hofstedter’s words had a profound impact on the lawmakers, and a number of them followed up by sharing their impressions of the visit with Dirshu. Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis of New York issued a statement: “It was a pleasure to meet with Rabbi Dovid Hofstedter, leader of the world’s largest Torah organization. We engaged in thorough dialogue about the importance of preserving freedom of religion. I commend Rabbi Hofstedter for the work he has done to restore Jewish scholarship levels with Dirshu and will continue to advocate for individuals’ sacred right to freely exercise their faith without fear of persecution.”
Randy Feenstra, a congressman from Iowa said, “I enjoyed meeting with Rabbi Hofstedter, and I am excited to work together moving forward. We both deeply appreciate the importance of preserving the freedom of religion—one of the most important and fundamental rights we are blessed to enjoy in this country…”
Jeff Van Drew, who represents the Second District of New Jersey, put it succinctly when he said, “The spike in hate crimes against Jewish people across America and elsewhere across the globe is an issue that must be expeditiously dealt with. There is no room whatsoever for this sort of vitriolic hate and violence. We in the United States Congress will continue to stand up for the Jewish people. As you rightfully pointed out, perhaps at no time since the 1930s have we found ourselves in as precarious a situation when it comes to Jewish lives being threatened both domestically and on a global scale.
“Under your leadership, Dirshu is continuing to fight the darkness and moral confusion emanating in the world with light.”
By Chaim Gold