Washington, D.C. — More than 100 Orthodox rabbis and lay leaders came to Washington, D.C. from across the country Wednesday as part of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center’s 20th annual Leadership Mission to lobby their members of Congress for better security and funding for Jewish day schools, yeshivas and synagogues. The participants also heard from numerous U.S. senators who spoke on a range of issues of concern to the Orthodox community.
The Mission kicked off with an address from Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who spoke about the increase of anti-Semitism across the country and the importance of funding the federal NonProfit Security Grant, legislation that OU Advocacy helped create in 2005 to make synagogues, churches and other nonprofit facilities safer. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) spoke of the need for Israel to remain a bi-partisan issue and said, “Your coming here makes a difference.”
During the lunch session, participants heard from a range of U.S. senators, each of whom spoke about a variety of topics. Highlights of their speeches included Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who spoke against the recent Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Israel and the United States. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), spoke in favor of the MOU as well as the need to strengthen the Iran Sanctions Act and laws against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Act against Israel (BDS).
Bob Casey (D-Penn.) also emphasized the dangerous rise of the BDS movement, while Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) noted the need for low-income Jewish families to have access to kosher food through federal food programs. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced he is introducing legislation today to defer U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority until its leaders change their laws that provide reward money to terrorists’ families.
Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), spoke about her sponsorship of a bill backed by OU Advocacy that would provide federal grants to synagogues and other nonprofits so they can become more energy efficient. The Senate passed the bill in April, and Klobuchar said she believes it’ll become law by the end of 2016. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) spoke about the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship and her commitment to ensuring that Israel can defend itself.
At the Leadership Mission’s closing dinner, keynote speaker DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas spoke about the increasing extremism fomented by people radicalized by ISIS that now threatens the Jewish community, as well as the overall rise in anti-Semitism which also fuels the community’s need for better security. That, he said, is the reason Jewish institutions receive the majority of federal funding for nonprofits.
“We live in a time of increasing concern, not diminishing concern,” he said.
The federal NonProfit Security Grant Program, spearheaded by the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, was funded at $20 million this year. It provides grants of up to $75,000 apiece to houses of worship, museums, hospitals and other nonprofits. Of the 282 grants delivered nationwide in 2016, 247 were awarded to Jewish institutions. Said Mayorkas, “$20 million does not cover the need throughout the country.”
Mayorkas also spoke about his upbringing as a Cuban Jew raised in the United States and how his mother, a Jew who fled the Holocaust, “tried to teach us not to speak of our Judaism outside of our Jewish community.”
Also at the dinner, Orthodox Union leaders thanked Mayorkas and Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), chairman of the Homeland Security Appropriations Committee, for their dedication to protecting the Jewish community and gave them each a gift: a replica of George Washington’s letter to the oldest American Jewish congregation.
Said OU Advocacy Executive Director Nathan Diament, “It is reassuring to hear our legislators speak so strongly in support of the Jewish community and take the time to listen to our concerns. By coming to Capitol Hill en masse, they see that we don’t take their support for granted.”