By Judith Dinowitz
As Talmudic scholars would say, it is now a chazakah. For the third year in a row, Agudath Israel of America hosted a breakfast reception in Lawrence for Senate Majority Coalition Leader Dean Skelos. This year’s event included impassioned pleas by local homeowners in the Five Towns and Far Rockaway area who have not yet received assistance to rebuild their homes after Hurricane Sandy, from either FEMA or from insurance companies. Senator Skelos vowed to attain the funding necessary. “One of the things that we’re doing, working with the governor, is trying to make sure that the funding is there to help restore our communities,” he said. “We’re getting it there as fast as possible.”
This was but one of the issues discussed at the breakfast, hosted by Dr. and Mrs. Shamshy Eisenberger, which paid tribute Senator Skelos for his strong support of the Jewish community, and his work with Agudath Israel in increasing funding for the Yeshiva community.
As Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, Agudath Israel’s vice president for community affairs, noted, “This past year alone, Senator Skelos’ accomplishments include a bill granting state funding for late busing transportation for nonpublic schools, increasing the base budget for Comprehensive Attendance Policy (CAP) reimbursement to nonpublic schools by $7 million, support for a special education bill, TAP funding for rabbinical colleges (with close to $18 million in checks already sent), amending the palliative care act, and the creation of a new subcommittee in the Senate for New York City Education, chaired by Senator Simcha Felder.”
Rabbi Lefkowitz then went on to outline Agudath Israel’s budgetary and legislative priorities for the coming year, including additional funding and services for the yeshiva community, help for couples struggling with infertility, and strengthening the religious rights of patients in hospital and other health care settings.
Senator Skelos spoke of his desire to be seen as the senator for all Jewish communities in New York State, noting his tendency to travel to different communities. “If there’s a problem with the senator there, I tell the constituents, ‘Call me, I’m your senator.’” Of Rabbi Lefkowitz, he said, “I can honestly say that whenever the rabbi comes to me, it’s about something important. It’s not just, ‘I want something.’ It’s about doing good.”
The gathering was graced by the presence of Rabbi Binyomin Kamenetsky, rosh hayeshiva, Yeshiva of South Shore, whom the senator acknowledged as his mentor and one of his best friends. Other notable guests included a number of prominent rabbanim from the Far Rockaway/Five Towns community, Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, and Rabbi Boruch Ber Bender, president of Achiezer.
Moti Hellman, chairman of the event, said, “The interaction between Senator Skelos and the Agudah representatives was impressive. It seemed that they were the best of friends. It’s something I never imagined, to see the mutual respect and admiration between key lawmakers and the Agudah.”
Dr. Ernest Isaacson, an Agudath Israel askan, said the event epitomized the high levels of Agudath Israel’s advocacy efforts. “It was a good way to interact with someone who’s been a friend to the frum community. This is why the political arm of Agudath Israel exists—so that legislators know we’re a force and so that the Orthodox Jewish community knows where to turn, at the national level and the state level. And the place was really full, which helped convey that message.”
Yoily Edelstein, a young leader in Agudath Israel, pointed out Senator Skelos’ quick response to the news that the city had not picked up the cost of late afterschool busing, as Senator Skelos had assumed would happen. Without batting an eye, the senator immediately said, “Really? I’ll take care of that.”
Rabbi Yehiel Kalish, Agudath Israel’s national director of government affairs, called the breakfast a spectacular success, noting the hard work of the Far Rockaway/Five Towns steering committee, breakfast chairman Moti Hellman and event coordinator Rabbi Yonah Feinstein. “Senator Skelos was fantastic, Rabbi Binyomin Kamenetsky was spectacular, and the crowd had the chance to speak with the senator about real issues.” He was excited about the senator’s commitment to Sandy aid. “The senator will be providing a staff member to assist our community in working with insurance and denied FEMA claims. We know he’ll be helpful.”
Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Agudath Israel’s executive vice president, expressed his hopes for the impact of the breakfast. “It is a special hashgachah that the most powerful person in the New York State Senate represents such a large constituency of Torah Jews. It has been proven in the past that these breakfast meetings between Senator Skelos and his constituents have a real impact on issues of critical importance to the community. Today’s event, we are hopeful, will yield similar positive outcomes.” v