Queens Presence Included Rabbis Krohn, Yisraeli, Feiner, Bamberger, Walkin, Meirov, Gluck, and Oelbaum
The long weekend of Thanksgiving brought crowds to the Crowne Plaza Stamford in Stamford, Connecticut, for the Agudath Israel of America Convention, where a variety of topics relating to Torah-observant Jews were addressed on the theme of Moving Forward. For those who could not attend, the entire event appeared online on a website that contained videos, speaker bios, and relevant information.
With the fully Democratic state legislature set for the coming year, many participants listened to the Leadership Lounge panel comprising former City Councilman David Greenfield, Assemblyman-elect Simcha Eichenstein, Lakewood Councilman Meir Lichtenstein, New Jersey Agudah political director Rabbi Avi Schnall, and his New York counterpart, Rabbi Yeruchim Silber. “We cannot box ourselves in. No party is 100 percent in line with our values. The agenda shifts, but that does not mean we cannot work with the party in power to find common ground,” said Eichenstein.
Rabbi Silber offered the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) as an example. During the administration of Governor David Paterson, the Democratic-controlled legislature passed TAP, but it was vetoed. It passed in the following year when the Republicans became the majority among lawmakers. Different parties, but the same cause was sought by Orthodox Jews.
His colleagues agreed with the bipartisan approach, but on the image of the community each offered anecdotes of stereotypes and misunderstandings that they experienced in government. “Yeshivah students making a Thanksgiving dinner for homeless people – we have to say that we are doing great things, and not only for ourselves,” said Greenfield.
He then said that the image of Orthodox individuals convicted of crimes while being honored by institutions is hurting the community’s image. “When someone is actually guilty and we know he’s guilty and he’s embarrassed our community, we should throw them out of our shuls. That kind of behavior is unethical, illegal and goes against our halachah and hashkafah as Orthodox Jews. It would send the best message.”
Eichenstein urged not to see lawmakers as hostile. “A lot of legislators are well-meaning but they do not understand our education system. We need to start showcasing. We need to work with electeds who may not agree with us 75 to 80 percent of the time.”
Another popular Thanksgiving evening lecture was the “unusual and different type of session,” as described by Rabbi Paysach Krohn: “Shidduch Coaching: an idea whose time has come.” As he noted, there are more singles going on dates than ever in history – and fewer marriages. The author said that involvement in matching singles together is of such importance that it is part of the mitzvah of P’ru U’r’vu. From his experience speaking with matchmakers, coaching helps children of divorced parents, as well as orphans, see marriage as positive and how to make it succeed. “Many people pass up good opportunities for bad reasons,” he said.
The keynote panel for the first evening had the leading poskim of Agudath Israel of America. Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky shlita spoke of the event as a preparation for the Siyum HaShas on Wednesday, January 1, 2020. “When they go to work they still think about the Daf, and sometimes they call from work. By learning just a daf ha’shavua. It is to their credit. To really take the opportunity,” Rav Kamenetsky said. Connecting to Parshas VaYishlach, he spoke of Yaakov Avinu as the example of involvement in limud haTorah. “Agudah keeps us alive; Agudah keeps us learning. Agudah keeps us continued in doing mitzvos.”
Queens supporters of the Agudah had an easy time reaching the convention, thanks to the Alliance of Bukharian Americans (ABA), which paid for a bus to pick up participants in Kew Gardens Hills and Forest Hills. Avraham Kesherim spoke of the ride and the convention as an example of unity, with its mix of Ashkenazim and Sefardim, chasidim, and misnagdim. His connection with the Agudah stretches back more than 30 years, and he spoke fondly of how it assisted Persian Jews fleeing the 1979 Islamic Revolution. “Many traveled through Vienna, where Agudah provided meals, Jewish learning, and help in filling out documents,” he said. Sharing the bus with Mr. Kesherim were Joseph Hoch, Queens Jewish Link Publisher Yaakov Serle, and Chazaq Operations Manager Yaniv Meirov.
“Queens had a presence at the convention. Rabbi Krohn was a speaker, as was Rabbi Eytan Feiner of The White Shul in Far Rockaway, and Rabbi Zvi Gluck of Amudim had a table,” said Meirov. “Rabbi Moshe Bamberger of Lander College for Men and Chief Bukharian Rabbi Rav Yitzchak Yisraeli were speakers, and Rabbi Yitzchak Oelbaum, Rav Ahron Walkin, and Rav Ilan Meirov were also there. It was a very beautiful and uplifting event.”
With the exception of the lectures given during Shabbos, all the presentations given at the Agudath Israel Convention 2018 can be found at www.agudahconvention.org.
By Sergey Kadinsky