June 21, 2024
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Kiddush Hashem in Congress

Rep. Don Bacon: “I committed to Rabbi Hofstedter that we in Congress
will do everything in our power to ensure the safety of the Jewish people.”

Sometimes wonderful, illuminating flashes of light can come from the most unlikely of places.

The U.S. Congress is often a place of such strife, such acrimony and enmity but, for a small chunk of time last week, it was a place of tremendous kiddush Hashem and achdus!

Who would have believed that the millions of people watching C-Span would hear words of the deepest praise and value for limud haTorah from the podium in Congress?! Who would have believed that a prominent congressman would get up and hail Torah education and limud haTorah as very important American values while expressing appreciation that there are lomdei Torah throughout the country devoting their time to learning Jewish texts of Torah?

That is exactly what happened last week when Congressman Don Bacon, a representative of the second district of Nebraska, took the floor last week and made an unprecedented speech. Certainly, there has never been a time when the walls of Congress heard such praise for the ideal of limud haTorah and of learning Jewish texts. Indeed, the congressman told the august body that advancing Jewish scholarship and learning is what should be done in the face of evil.

“The World Needs to See This!”

Mr. Bacon’s unique remarks on the floor of Congress came in the aftermath of a seminal meeting between Rav Dovid Hofstedter and the congressman last month. At that meeting, Mr. Bacon, who had somehow even heard about the Dirshu World Siyum held last year in Newark’s Prudential Center, expressed his admiration over the fact that such a massive public gathering was held to praise engagement in Torah scholarship and the moral lifestyle promoted by the Torah.

When Rav Hofstedter asked the congressman whether gatherings such as these should perhaps be minimized because of potential antisemitism, Congressman Bacon replied, “No! The world needs to see this. The world needs to see how your community studies and embodies the uprightness and morality reflected in the Jewish texts that you study.”

At that meeting, they discussed the terrible rise in antisemitism in America, especially against those who wear distinctive Jewish dress as chareidim do. Indeed, in his speech from the podium Rep. Bacon said that “those who clearly identify as Jews, with their garb and outward trappings, have been viciously and frequently targeted.”

In his speech to Congress, after condemning the serious uptick in antisemitism and pledging that he, as well as all members of Congress, would do their utmost to stop it and bring the perpetrators to justice, Rep. Bacon spoke about Dirshu. He said, “Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the prominent members of the Orthodox community, Rabbi Dovid Hofstedter, a son of Holocaust survivors who founded Dirshu, the largest Torah organization in the world.” Bacon went on to say that he had spoken to Rav Hofstedter about the troubling rise in antisemitism that perhaps has not been this pronounced since the 1930s. Mr. Bacon then said something that might have seemed surprising coming from a non-Jew in Congress, but it perhaps attests to the impact that Dirshu has on a global level as well. He said, “Rabbi Hofstedter and Dirshu represent the true antidote to this venomous hatred that has been exhibited toward the community… The community will never stand down. They will continue to practice their Jewish heritage with their heads held high!”

Mr. Bacon then said that “out of the darkness of the Holocaust, Rabbi Hofstedter decided to dedicate his life to reviving the levels of Jewish scholarship and education to the levels that were predating the Holocaust. As the son of Holocaust survivors, Rabbi Hofstedter’s personal life’s mission that he has chosen to undertake and execute upon ought to serve as a source of inspiration for every member of this legislative body.” Congressman Bacon concluded his remarks by saying, “I thank Rabbi Hofstedter and all members of the Dirshu organization for all that they do to advance Jewish education and scholarship…”

A Two-Fold Objective

After Bacon’s remarks were broadcast throughout the world on C-Span, it was clear that the objective for Rav Hofstedter to go to Washington was accomplished. In fact, at first glance it seemed incongruous that Rav Hofstedter who heads Dirshu, a purely Torah organization led and guided by the most senior gedolei Yisrael, that unifies all lomdei Torah from the various shevatim of klal Yisrael, should go to Washington to advocate on behalf of klal Yisrael. In truth, however, the kiddush Hashem displayed and the increased awareness as well as praise for limud haTorah heard in the congressional chamber have shown just how very important that mission was.

When Rav Hofstedter acquiesced to the lawmakers’ invitation, he had several objectives. First and foremost, to engage in promoting kiddush Hashem and kavod shomayim by highlighting so many of the Torah community’s positive contributions to American society. The second objective was in the realm of shtadlanus, to try impressing upon those lawmakers who still retain some appreciation for moral values to stand steadfast against efforts to completely erode the moral climate of the United States.

That meeting with Congressman Don. Bacon, coupled with Rav Hofstedter’s powerful address to many members of Congress as well as individual meetings with other members of Congress including Congressman Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis of New York and Congressman Randy Feenstra, not only made a kiddush Hashem but has also shown concrete results.

The visit to Washington was covered in various secular media outlets as well, such as the National Post of Canada and others. They focused on the issue of antisemitism and the fact that Rav Hofstedter told Congressman Bacon that what was so concerning was that “as the son of Holocaust survivors, it is deeply disturbing to witness the violent attacks against the Jewish community and the singling out of the visibly Orthodox community.” Don Bacon mentioned those remarks in his speech to Congress.

Indeed, The Economist, a national magazine with millions of readers worldwide, recently reported that the U.S. government is now drafting legislation to combat antisemitism. Clearly the message is being heard.

Dirshu, an organization that facilitates kiddush Hashem every day by unifying klal Yisrael and bringing together Jews from the entire cross-section of Torah-observant Jewry, has displayed an ability to extend that kiddush Hashem to the halls of Congress and throughout America.

We live in a time where Torah is being attacked by many, not only in the diaspora but in Eretz Yisrael itself, where the new government has made very troubling declarations about how they view Torah. The fact that in the chamber of Congress, and entered into the Congressional Record for posterity, profound praise for limud haTorah was heard is historic. The fact that in Congress praise was heard for an organization whose entire mission at the behest of gedolei Yisrael is to encourage Jews of every type and in every country to learn Torah, may serve as an antidote to the attacks on Torah from within and without.

By Chaim Gold

 

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