New Agudah Chairman Lays Out His Priorities

NEW YORK -
Reb Shlomo Werdiger
Reb Shlomo Werdiger

Speaking to Hamodia only hours after it was formally announced that he had been elected as the new chairman of the board of trustees of Agudath Israel of America, Reb Shlomo Werdiger was enthusiastic and determined about his goal: to help provide the Agudah with the tools and resources it needs in order to serve Klal Yisrael.

“Agudas Yisrael is the only organization of its kind. At the end of the day it is — and has always been — the address for every challenge and every issue facing Klal Yisrael. It is the only organization that, under the direction of Gedolei Yisrael, seeks to protect all frum Yidden from across the spectrum of Torah Jewry.

Leading up to this past summer’s Siyum HaShas, Mr. Werdiger played a pivotal role in raising the enormous sums that made it possible and affordable for 90,000 Jews to gather at that historic event.

“The problems facing Klal Yisrael today are unprecedented in their nature and gravity. No one envies the issues a Rav of a community faces today, and Agudah must take an active role in dealing with these issues.

“We want to draw on what we did for the Siyum HaShas, and greatly increase our hasagos. We want to put the organization on a strong financial footing, increase the legal staff, add more communications people, and give it the resources it needs to be mekadeish Shem Shamayim.”

Mr. Werdiger replaces Rabbi Gedaliah Weinberger, who now assumes the title of chairman emeritus, having headed Agudath Israel’s top board of lay leaders for the past six years. The venerable Reb Yechiel Ben Zion Fishoff, who served as chairman of the board before Rabbi Weinberger, also carries the title chairman emeritus.

In announcing these developments, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Agudath Israel’s executive vice president, extolled Rabbi Weinberger for his “tireless devotion to the ideals and activities of Agudath Israel” during his tenure as chairman of the board. “The good news,” he continued, “is that Reb Gedaliah, in his role as chairman emeritus, will continue to devote his prodigious talent and boundless energy to the many projects of Agudath Israel in which he has been so deeply involved.”

As a descendant of Gerrer chassidim, and a dedicated chassid himself, Mr. Werdiger says that Agudah “is in his blood.” He had a very close relationship with Rabbi Moshe Sherer, z”l, the legendary askan who led Agudath Israel for a half a century. He acknowledged that his personal close connections with Gedolim would be beneficial in his new position. But throughout the interview, he repeatedly veered away from talking about himself.

“This isn’t about me. I am not alone in this. We have a very committed board of fine, chashuve baalei batim, and we are determined to expand the board. We want it to be a national board, and we will bring in individuals from across the country, not only from the greater New York area.

“Every major askan from across America ought to be on this board. We need young blood and are also seeking to bring in and train a younger generation of askanim who will eventually take over.”

Mr. Werdiger emphasized that the board of trustees does not make policy for Agudah.

“We are totally subservient to daas Torah. It is the Moetzes that sets forth the policies – our role is only to implement them. It doesn’t matter how I feel about something; the only thing that counts is daas Torah.”

Mr. Werdiger’s election as the new chairman of Agudath Israel’s board was welcomed by Rabbi Zwiebel as “a major development not just for our trustees, but for the entire Agudah movement. Reb Shloime is universally beloved by Jews from all backgrounds… Admorim and Roshei Yeshivah consider him their close confidant; colleagues and peers look up to him as a natural leader. He has already distinguished himself as an outstanding Agudah activist, and as chairman of the board he will b’ezras Hashem surely lead us to even greater heights still.”

“I’m grateful to the Ribbono shel Olam for giving me this opportunity to serve such a holy cause, and to my chaveirim on the board of trustees for selecting me to serve as their chairman,” said Mr. Werdiger. “Y’didi Reb Gedaliah Weinberger has accomplished so much. And before him, Mr. Benny Fishoff — I stand in awe of this great man. It is both a special honor and a daunting challenge for me to step into their shoes. But I am confident, b’siyatta diShmaya that Agudath Israel will continue to grow and accomplish, in fulfillment of the essential role the Gedolei Yisroel have assigned to it.

“There’s lots to be done. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work!”