Yesterday, a delegation of 40 members of the leadership of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America traveled to Washington, DC to meet with members of Congress and the Clinton Administration and discuss issues of importance to the American Jewish community.
Organized by the Union’s Institute for Public Affairs, the day’s events began with delegates visiting with members of the House of Representatives. The topics focused upon in those discussions were current issues related to the Mid-east peace process, the Religious Liberty Protection Act, and the Workplace Religious Freedom Act. The morning’s events with the House culminated in an address from its Speaker, Dennis Hastert. Speaker Hastert underscored his appreciation for religious diversity and freedom in America as well as his personal appreciation for the challenges faced by Israel gleaned from travelling to the Jewish State.
The OU delegates then proceeded to a Senate Luncheon at which they were joined by 10 U.S. Senators of both political parties. Each of the Senators consistently expressed their strong support for a safe and secure Israel. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch both expressed their commitment to promoting religious liberty in the U.S. and their support for the Religious Liberty Protection Act, with Sen. Lott stating his intention to have a floor vote on “RLPA” before the end of this year. Senators Sam Brownback and Barbara Mikulski each expressed their commitment to moving the Workplace Religious Freedom Act through the Senate in the coming months. Just two days after hosted Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Bradley as the keynote speaker at a Union dinner, special note was taken by the OU delegates of Republican presidential hopeful John McCain’s remarks; Senator McCain expressed his appreciation for a longtime working relationship with Orthodox Union leaders and his strong support for a secure Israel. Many of the Senators – ranging from the liberal Paul Wellstone to conservative John Ashcroft – expressed their deep and sincere appreciation for the unique role and perspective the Orthodox Union and its constituency plays in America’s public policy discourse.
From the Senate luncheon, the Union delegation proceeded to The White House for a closed briefing on the current state of Mid-east issues with Special Ambassador Dennis Ross; followed by a dialogue on domestic issues with President Clinton’s Budget Director Jack Lew. Among the topics discussed with Mr. Lew were the prospects for the expansion of tax-exempt education savings accounts to the parents of K-12 students, including those of children in parochial schools. The day’s events ended with a celebratory dinner featuring Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., Zalman Shoval and Deputy Chief of Mission Lenny Ben-David.