Agudath Israel Federal Advocacy
We asked. They listened.
Over the last few months, you received several action alerts from Agudah about security grants. We asked our members and the wider Jewish community to contact Congress about the importance of the Nonprofit Security Grant Program. We asked Congress to fully fund this critical program, and a few days ago, they listened. The new spending bill included $60 million for the program!
Now it’s time to say thank you.
Hundreds of institutions, some of them likely in your community, will be eligible for grants of up to $150,000 to protect their institutions from terrorist attacks.
Please take one moment and thank the elected officials who ensured that the funding was included once again. Click below to send a thank you email to your elected officials who voted for this funding package.
Rabbi Abba Cohen Named Agudah’s Vice President for Government Affairs, Reflecting Three Decades of Achievement in National Orthodox Advocacy
Agudath Israel of America is pleased to congratulate Rabbi Abba Cohen, Washington director and counsel and long-standing vice president for federal affairs, on being named to the broader position of vice president for government affairs.
Appointed to the Agudah’s fledgling office in Washington D.C. thirty years ago by Rabbi Moshe Sherer z’l, Rabbi Cohen has distinguished himself as an exemplary and respected advocate for the Jewish community in our nation’s capital. Knowledgeable, experienced and a true public servant who has represented the Agudah on a variety of matters both to the federal and to foreign governments, Rabbi Cohen’s efforts have paved the way for many successful initiatives that have brought significant benefits to the klal.
During his tenure he has worked with successive congresses and administrations in crafting and promoting numerous laws and regulations enhancing the religious rights of individuals and institutions in the Jewish community and strengthening the interests of, and benefits provided to, its faith-based schools and social programs.
In addition to his responsibilities at Agudath Israel, Rabbi Cohen was appointed to the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad by then-President Obama in June 2015. The Commission is entrusted with protecting and restoring foreign sites of cultural and religious heritage, which may include shuls, cemeteries, yeshivas and other Jewish landmarks. Among other notable achievements, he was the recipient of an award from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for assisting the Transportation Security Administration in enhancing protection of the civil and religious rights of Jewish travelers.
Rabbi Cohen’s new title reflects the Agudah’s ever-growing foreign and domestic agenda in Washington, and its efforts that have led to accomplishments benefiting the Jewish community on the federal, state and local levels. Describing Rabbi Cohen as an essential member of the organization’s executive leadership team, Agudah executive vice president Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel hailed Rabbi Cohen for his decades of dedication and achievement.
“This new title, bestowed upon Rabbi Cohen as he approaches his 30th anniversary of service to Agudas Yisroel, reflects his enhanced stature in carrying out the historic advocacy mission of the Agudah,” said Rabbi Zwiebel.
Rabbi Cohen said that he was gratified by the new title which better conveys the Agudah’s continuously evolving scope of activities.
“To see our Washington agenda grow is inspiring and will encourage further engagement with more people on more fronts,” said Rabbi Cohen. “With government and other officials gaining a better appreciation of our dynamic involvement in an even wider array of areas, we will iyH see enhanced opportunities to assist our community in meaningful ways.”
Agudath Israel Washington Mission: Delegates Prepare to Meet Government and Elected Officials
“One person can make a difference!” This theme, the ability of the very few to make things better for so many others, was the rallying cry of last night’s orientation for Agudah’s annual Washington Mission. The two day lobbying event began on Tuesday afternoon and will include numerous meetings with elected officials and others in the high government positions who work closely with the Agudah’s leadership and regional directors throughout the year. Representing Jewish communities from coast to coast, more than 50 delegates from ten states traveled to Washington D.C. to discuss matters of concern affecting Orthodox Jews with top federal officials during Agudath Israel of America’s Washington Mission.
Agudah board of trustees chairman Shlomo Werdiger and Agudah’s National Director of State Relations A.D. Motzen welcomed mission delegates, emphasizing the importance of lay people working with officials to create positive results and to uphold the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of religion.
Carving time out of his extremely tight schedule in order to address the mission, prominent litigator Nathan Lewin shared his observations on how dedicated advocates who are engaged in the legislative process can become effective catalysts for change, particularly today when the Supreme Court appears to be more favorably disposed towards religious groups than in the past. Mr. Lewin spoke about religious rights cases that he has argued in his own half-century long career and discussed the major role his father played in the 1957 federal kosher slaughter legislation that remains on the books today. The Polish-born Mr. Lewin, whose family fled from the Germans in the early days of World War II when he was a small child, also warned about waves of anti-Semitism that have become disturbingly prevalent, noting that they may be the harbinger of a more serious situation in the future.
The final speaker of the night was Agudah vice president for government affairs and Washington director and counsel Rabbi Abba Cohen, who coordinated the mission in conjunction with Agudah executive director Rabbi Labish Becker, Rabbi Motzen and Agudah events coordinator Mrs. Debby Jacobs. Rabbi Cohen, who has become a respected figure in the halls of government during his 30 year career in Washington, gave a brief overview of some of the many issues that are being supported by the Agudah in the 116th Congress, including Israel, security grants, schools choice, combating BDS, and tax issues affecting nonprofits. The vast scope of issues that affect the Jewish community are so far reaching that Rabbi Cohen noted that even with another ten employees on his staff, he still would not be able to fully cover them all.
Dividing themselves up into groups by state, delegates spent the rest of the evening preparing for their upcoming meetings and presentations during their whirlwind trip to the nation’s capital.
“Having had the privilege of cultivating positive working relationships at the local, federal and state levels, we have seen time and time again the importance of having our voices heard and our faces seen,” said Rabbi Motzen. “We are truly blessed to be living in a democracy that allows us to live our lives as Orthodox Jews and to have lawmakers and other high ranking officials who appreciate the importance of religious freedoms. We look forward to continuing to advocate for our community at all levels of government.”
Religious Discrimination Top Priority Says Longtime Ally AG Barr, as Agudah’s Washington Mission Continues
27 years after he was honored with the Humanitarian Award at Agudath Israel of America’s 70th annual dinner for taking a strong stance against religious discrimination in a Rockland County village, Attorney General William Barr once again proved himself an ally by assuring delegates to the Agudah’s Washington mission of the federal government’s commitment to upholding the religious rights of every United States citizen.
Attorney General Barr met with the Agudah group at the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building on Wednesday morning. With instances of zoning laws and other regulations cropping up with alarming frequency in an effort to stop the Jewish community’s spread, particularly in the greater Lakewood area and in Upstate New York, religious discrimination has become a significant concern over the past several years. Having served previously in the same capacity from 1991 to 1993, Attorney General Barr played a key role in the 1992 lawsuit brought against the Village of Airmont, which attempted to ban synagogues within its borders in an attempt to stem the growth of the Monsey community. That precedent setting case has been cited in numerous similar lawsuits and Attorney General Barr said that his office is proactively pursuing several cases of religious discrimination, an issue that he considers to be a top priority.
That news comes as welcome relief to many, including Rabbi Avi Schnall, the Agudah’s New Jersey director, who alerted the attorney general to incidents of religious discrimination in Lakewood, New Jersey.
“As residents of this great country, people of all faiths should feel confident in the fact that the constitution protects the free exercise of religion,” said Rabbi Schnall. “Over the years Attorney General Barr has proven himself as a staunch defender of those rights and a true friend to the many faith based communities throughout the United States.”
Attorney General Barr also expressed his support of school choice, another issue that his office will be actively addressing by defending parents’ rights to select educational institutions for their children that best reflect their values and priorities. The attorney general said that he intends to promote the development of school choice programs nationwide.
“With all the negativity and rising anti-Semitism around us, the opportunity to dialogue with Attorney General Barr and to hear him express his unapologetic support for religious rights is deeply reassuring,” said Chaskel Bennett, a member of the Agudah’s board of trustees. “We look forward to working closely with the US Justice Department’s civil rights division under AG Barr’s leadership to ensure that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of all Americans are upheld, enabling them to practice their religion freely no matter where in the United States they live.”
Agudath Israel Welcomes Education Freedom Scholarships
Agudath Israel of America applauds U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and congressional sponsors Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Representative
Bradley Byrne (R-AL) for leading the effort to increase school choice for families nationwide. The Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act they unveiled today will provide billions of dollars in tax credits to support state-designed scholarship programs. Providing a dollar-for-dollar tax credit will encourage individuals and businesses to invest in education.
Currently, 18 states have scholarship tax credit programs which have helped hundreds of thousands of students attend the school of their choice, public or private. Jewish day school families, among many
others, have been beneficiaries of such programs. A federal tax credit would enhance existing programs and allow states to provide more educational options to all of their students.
Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President of Government Affairs was one of the invited guests at the Department of Education event where the details of the bill were unveiled this morning. Following the event he said, “We encourage lawmakers, Republican and Democratic, to put a bipartisan stamp on the common-sense policy that is at the heart of this bill: assisting parents to provide the learning environment that is the best fit for their child.”
“Agudath Israel has played a key role in advancing school choice across the nation, yet half of the states in this country have not yet enacted a state program,” said Rabbi A. D. Motzen, Agudath Israel’s National Director of State Relations. “Offering a federal incentive and allowing scholarships to be used for a broad range of educational expenses is exactly what is needed to encourage all states to opt in to this major investment in education.”
On Tuesday, March 5th at 2:30 p.m. EST Agudath Israel will be hosting a webinar/conference call to discuss the details of the bill, what it can mean for our community, and ways to help this effort succeed.