Eleven out of the New York City Council’s 51 members attended a roundtable discussion at Agudath Israel’s Manhattan headquarters on Tuesday about issues related to the Orthodox community specifically during a time when the city has turned into a progressive bastion.
The message from most of the lawmakers, which included a member of the council leadership, Brad Lander of Boro Park and Park Slope, a co-founder of the progressive caucus, was that progressives should be the natural allies of the Orthodox community.
“I’m a card-carrying member of the progressive caucus,” joked Mark Levine, a Democrat representing parts of the Upper West Side, “and this list [of concerns for the Orthodox community] reads like a progressive manifesto.”
The issues that were mentioned included funding for job training, an easing of the city’s policy to litigate every private special education placement and capital grants for computer hardware, as well as universal prekindergarten, a program which yeshivos want to join for the half day they teach secular studies.
It was a new idea for Agudah — invite as many city legislators as possible for a roundtable discussion about the community’s unique needs, and see how many will show up. The participation rates — more than 20 percent of the council — underscored the clout the group has as the address for the Orthodox community.
Nine committee chairmen, the chair of a pivotal subcommittee, as well as Rory Lancman, a Democrat from Queens, showed up for the morning breakfast.
Attending were Brad Lander (Rules), Mark Levine (Parks), Carlos Menchaca (Immigration), Helen Rosenthal (Contracts), Ydanis Rodriguez (Transportation), Inez Dickens (Planning), Mark Weprin (Zoning), Ben Kallos (Governmental Operations), and Steve Levin (General Welfare) committees, as well as Chaim Deutsch, chair of the newly created subcommittee for Nonpublic School Education.
Among the suggestions made were to convene a meeting with relevant councilmen, the Agudah and developers to explore affordable housing options that would be palatable to the community.
The meeting was the brainchild of Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, Agudah’s vice president for community affairs, and Shlomo Werdiger, chairman of the board of trustees. It was led by Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president, and Chaskel Bennett, a member of the Board of Trustees.