A delegation of 100 Orthodox rabbis and communal leaders from across the country – from California and Kentucky to New York, Pennsylvania and Florida – converged on the nation’s capital Wednesday for the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center’s 22nd annual Leadership Mission to Washington, D.C.
During the day-long event, the participants met with top administration officials at the White House, heard from several U.S. senators, met with U.S. representatives and their staff to advocate for the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (H.R. 1697/S.720) and to increase funding for the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program NSGP), which awards religious schools, synagogues and other houses of worship grants of up to $150,000 apiece to improve building security. (The OU Advocacy Center spearheaded the NSGP in 2005 together with the Jewish Federations of North America and other coalition partners and bipartisan leaders in Congress.)
Starting their day at the White House, OU delegates met with U.S. Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman to discuss U.S. policy toward Israel; Domestic Policy Council Director Andrew Bremberg to discuss school choice and other key issues; and Homeland Security Adviser Rear Adm. Douglas Frears to discuss programs to keep synagogues and schools safe.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) kicked off a lunch event on Capitol Hill where he and Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.),& Ted Cruz (R-Texas), James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) delivered impassioned speeches in support of legislation such as the Israel Anti-Boycott Act; expanded NSGP funding; the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem last month. The senators also spoke in support of other policies to protect Israel, such as the Taylor Force Act to stop U.S. aid from being used as reward money for terrorists and their families.
U.S. Representatives who met with groups of OU delegates included Carlos Curbelo, Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Ron DeSantis (R-Fl.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.); Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) Jamie Raskin (D-Md.); and Albio Sires (D-N.J.).
The mission’s closing session featured an award presentation to Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) for his lead sponsorship of legislation passed in February that codifies a new era of fairness for disaster-stricken synagogues, churches and other houses of worship by making them eligible for federal disaster relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The Orthodox Union Advocacy Center spearheaded the coalition pressing for the bill’s FEMA provision.
The OU delegates were then addressed by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who announced the creation of the Justice Department’s “Place to Worship Initiative,” a religious liberty proposal focusing on protecting houses of worship and other religious institutions’ rights to “build, expand, buy, or rent facilities” under the provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA.
Sessions also announced that the Justice Department had filed a lawsuit against the borough of Woodcliff Lake, N.J. for violating RLUIPA by preventing an Orthodox Jewish congregation from expanding its facility.
Said OU President Mark (Moishe) Bane, “Our elected leaders, by taking the time to meet with us, demonstrated that they heard and understand our concerns. We are truly appreciative of their support for policies that help strengthen our synagogues and shuls and the values we stand for as Orthodox Jews.”
Said OU Advocacy Center Director Nathan Diament, “It is absolutely critical that so many of our community’s leaders come to Washington year after year to engage with legislators at the highest levels about policies such as stopping boycotts against Israel and augmenting funding for our most important facilities amid a time of escalating anti-Semitism.& We appreciate the work of the Justice Department on behalf of religious freedom& and the new initiative announced at our mission to help ensure fair treatment for synagogues and other houses of worship.”&