February 27, 2024
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February 27, 2024
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OU Conference Highlights Top Issues Facing Community

Tarrytown–At a Shabbos afternoon panel on fighting global antisemitism at the OU Convention in Tarrytown last week, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations told the crowd there is no future left for the Jews of Europe–that due to the growing Muslim demographics throughout the Continent, fighting antisemitism there has become nigh impossible.

Richard Stone, the Conference’s chairman, and Norman Eisen, former US Ambassador to the Czech Republic, were also on the panel. Eisen told Ynet that in his opinion Hoenlein’s statement was far too strong, even if the antisemitism on the continent is a particularly difficult challenge. In an email, Hoenlein told JLNJ that the antisemitism was always there. “It’s just more visible, more acceptable. I have spoken about this for 20 years, as you know.”

Hoenlein also said that although great strides have been made in the US Congress, Jews have a lot to be concerned about including “the rise of ISIS and the threat of Iran, which is greater than ever before but the world doesn’t recognize it.” Hoenlein said that Jews should do whatever they can to make their voices heard and influence policy.

In talking to JLNJ about the panel, Rabbi Moshe Elefant, COO of the Orthodox Union’s Kashrut Department said, “There are still Holocaust survivors alive today and it’s incredible that in their lifetime antisemitism would come back so quickly.” Elefant’s father was from Czechoslovakia and the son found Eisen’s remarks fascinating, especially when he described being the frum US Ambassador to the Czech Republic and having to kasher and clean the embassy for Pesach.

Allen Fagin, executive vice president and chief professional officer of the OU told JLNJ that the purpose of the convention was to focus on issues that affect the future–including the role of women, tuition affordability and kiruv, as well as agunot, global antisemitism and other matters.

The OU is moving to increase participation by women in lay leadership and professionally, Fagin said, and has already added five women officers. “Like any smart organization, we should be availing ourselves of all the talent we have, male and female. This is a serious first step. We will try to make certain as we hire, that we look carefully at the totality of the talent pool and consider every potential qualified candidate.”

The panel on “Bringing Orthodox Jewish Women to the Leadership Table” included Rabbanit Chana Henkin, Founding Dean of Nishmat; Chana Neuberger, NSA’s Chief Risk Officer; and Dr. Rona Novick, Dean of Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration.

Another important workshop, “The Role of the Beis Din in Preventing and Resolving Agunah” was presented by Rabbi Shlomo Weissman, Director of the Beth Din of America, who acknowledged the tragedy of women being denied a Get despite the “functional end of their marriage long ago.” He said, “There are women out there–our friends and relatives–who simply can’t remarry despite the functional end of their marriage long ago. We’ve dealt with cases where husbands have made explicit demands for money; we’ve seen women of child bearing age who have been denied gittin for years–one year, two years, three years, more–where their inability to date and remarry has real consequences on the trajectory of their lives. I’ve seen insane cases of real long term igun–17 years, 20 years.”

He said the halachic prenuptial agreement works because it resolves the issue without changing the halachic process. “When a couple signs a pre-nup, we know the Get won’t be improperly withheld because a disinterested third party–the Beis Din–will step in to determine the proper time for the Get to be given, and, importantly, has the power of the purse to back it up. Time and time again, the pre-nup has yielded its positive results even in the most acrimonious divorce cases.”

In an email to JLNJ, Rabbi Weissman added, “The Beth Din tried to be helpful in assisting couples getting divorced and arranging Gittin across the board–whether or not a prenup was signed.  This includes sending out hazmanos (summonses) and, when appropriate, issuing seruvin (letters of contempt that subject a recalcitrant spouse to communal sanctions).  A seruv can be very helpful in empowering rabbis and community members to put pressure on spouses that do not cooperate in the Jewish divorce process.  Of course, the process is much smoother when there is a prenup in place.”

Tuition relief is a major OU issue. Every day school parent knows that “tuition affordability” is an oxymoron, and Fagin said the OU is working to alleviate the crisis. “We have had outstanding success in providing additional government funding to day schools and yeshivot and it’s time to beef up those efforts. We are heavily engaging in advocacy in five critical states: New Jersey, New York, Florida, Maryland and Pennsylvania, which have 80 percent of the day school population,” Fagin said.

Rabbi Menachem Genack of Englewood, CEO of Kashrus for the OU, is also the founding Chairman of NORPAC and suggests that a similar group could help with the tuition crisis. “We have to replicate what Bergen County has done in terms of creating PACs (political action committees). NORPAC does a great job in terms of support for Israel. We have to create a similar infrastructure supporting Jewish education.” He said the OU is planning to mobilize the community to become politically active and look to state legislatures to get more funding for the secular part, like math and technology.”

“Kiruv activities are critically important,” Fagin said. “NCSY has about 15,000 students, both in yeshiva day schools and public schools. Not a day goes by when we are not approached by a school to establish a new chapter, but we have limited financial resources.” Money isn’t the only resource NCSY needs, he added, “There are any number of ways to get involved. People can volunteer time as study partners or mentors and run clubs.”

Rabbi Judah Isaacs, Director of the OU Department of Community Engagement, and a Teaneck resident, organized the convention.

By Bracha Schwartz

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