Sunday was the last day of this year’s Agudah Convention, and the participants, both at the Crowne Plaza in Stamford, and those watching the livestream, found themselves presented with some of the critical issues facing Jewry today.
Anti-Semitism: The Proper Response
Sunday’s keynote session traditionally addresses, in depth, a timely problem that the Klal is facing. This year the topic was anti-Semitism, an ugly problem which has been becoming more a part of our daily life. The session was moderated by Rabbi Labish Becker, Executive Director of Agudath Israel of America, and the speakers were Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Organizations; Rabbi Avi Schnall, Director, Agudath Israel of America’s New Jersey office; and Rabbi Sholom Kamenetsky, Rosh Yeshiva, Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia.
After noting that anti-Semitism is a mystery – that such a small people should inspire so much hatred – Rabbi Becker called upon Mr. Hoenlein who gave a summary of the history of anti-Semitism, and where the world stands on it today. “Pittsburgh was the end of the age of innocence for American Jewry,” he said. He made a passionate call for people to be involved, to call out and protest anti-Semitism, and to work towards eradicating it. Rabbi Schnall noted that voting and reaching out to public officials can work wonders towards showing them that the complaints they receive from the vocal minority of anti-Semites should dismissed in favor of the majority who are not anti-Semitic. Very importantly, “We must report every incident of anti-Semitism, no matter how trivial!” according to Rabbi Schnall.
Last to speak was Rabbi Kamenetsky, who explained that in his opinion, anti-Semitism and hefkeirus go hand-in-hand; the Yid represents order in this world – Hashem commands us what to do, and we follow. One who wishes to live a life of hefkeirus is reminded when he sees the Jew that this is wrong, causing hatred and anti-Semitism. There are three responses to anti-Semitism, as modeled by Yaakov Avinu: doron, tefillah, and milchamah. While the “to do” items noted by the first speakers are certainly important, we must remember that milchamah is the last resort, after quiet shtadlanus and tefillah have not solved the problem.
Making a difference – can everyone?
Agudah’s Government Affairs team gathered for a special presentation about advocacy, and how a single person can make a difference. Agudah’s eight regional representatives, together with Rabbi Abba Cohen, Vice President for Government Affairs and Washington Director, and moderator Rabbi A.D. Motzen, National Director for State Relations, met with a large and engaged group in the Crowne Plaza’s State Ballroom to discuss some tips and tricks for making a difference in one’s community on behalf of the Klal. Rabbi Cohen, a veteran of the Washington D.C. political scene for over thirty years, wanted the assembled to know about his co-panelists: “I want everyone to know,” he said, “that the people sitting at this table, at my right and my left, are the most outstanding shtadlanim in America today.”
After explaining how a person can start getting involved in politics in his or her area, Rabbi Avi Schnall, Director of the New Jersey Office of Agudath Israel, noted that, “We all make mistakes – that is never a reason not to do something.” And Rabbi Yitz Frank, Executive Director of Agudath Israel of Ohio added that a person getting involved now can make a difference years later. “Some of our greatest accomplishments were things we anticipated six, seven years ahead of time.”
The other panelists for that session were Rabbi Yisroel Gelb, Director of Agudath Israel of California; Rabbi Yossi Kaplan, Director of Agudath Israel of Colorado; Rabbi Moshe Matz, Executive Director of Agudath Israel of Florida; Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, Director of Agudath Israel of Maryland; Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Director of New York Government Relations, Agudath Israel of America; and Rabbi Shlomo Soroka, Director of Government Affairs, Agudath Israel of Illinois.
There are other ways to make a difference. In a session called “Hungary and Denmark: Two Historic Jewish Communities at Risk,” Rabbi Shlomo Noach Mandel, Executive Director of the Jewish Educational Program (JEP) of Toronto told the convention attendees of the current state of Judaism in Hungary and Denmark, both countries with hundreds of years of Jewish history, and about the people who are making a difference there. He noted that a community is defined not only by its gashmius – its ruchniyus is just as important: “It’s nice to have a kosher pizza shop in Budapest, but that’s not the thing that defines the neighborhood.” Rabbi Mandel was accompanied by Rabbi Chaim Michoel Gutterman, director of Shuvu, and Aaron Gavriel (Miklos) Panyi, a founding member of the Lativ Kollel community in Budapest, Hungary.
A Modern Issue…
The increase of affluence in our communities has brought forth a plethora of challenges that were just as present, but not as common, thirty years ago, according to panelists Dovid Kohn LCSW, and Rabbi Shmuel Zvi Berkovicz, Rav of Khal Yereim of Passaic, New Jersey. The session discussed both sides of the coin – the impact of affluence, and the impact of the lack of affluence, on our children and ourselves. One of the concerns that was discussed was termed “affluenza” by Mr. Kohn. Affluenza is a “sense of deluded thinking that everyone can afford anything they want just because they want it,” said Mr. Kohn, and it’s exacerbated because there are, with Hashem’s help, many more affluent people in our communities than there were not so long ago.
Although the Agudah Convention is over, the sessions can still be accessed by going to www.agudahconvention.org, or on Torah Anytime.