By Roslyn Singer
For Rena Klein, of Edison, New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie’s approval of the state budget—which included increased funding for technology and nursing aid for non-public schools—was a lesson in how advocacy has impact.
Klein participated in one of several missions to Trenton arranged by OU Advocacy’s New Jersey team.
Klein’s daughter, who has diabetes, attends a school without a full-time nurse. Additional state funding would allow many nonpublic schools to employ full-time nurses. “It was so important to express to my legislators that having full-time nursing in every school—public or private—is really an issue of fairness,” Klein says.
“The state legislature’s approval of increased nursing aid for nonpublic schools demonstrated how my voice and the voice of the Jewish day school community can influence our legislators and make an impact on our lives,” she adds.
OU Advocacy has pursued similar opportunities for Jewish communities in several other states as well. Each of these states passed legislation providing millions of dollars of funding for Jewish education.
“Whether in state capitals or in Washington DC, we are proud of our track record of tangible successes for our community,” says Nathan Diament, executive director of OU Advocacy.
In New York, OU Advocacy-Teach NYS’ missions to Albany and the “Schools in Session” program, bringing state senators and assembly members to visit local Jewish day schools, showed policymakers the importance of Jewish education and the challenges of tuition affordability.
When New York’s budget was approved, it included an unprecedented amount of funding for nonpublic schools. In addition, a joint OU Advocacy-Teach NYS and Yachad Mission to Albany for the special education bill helped shepherd through sweeping changes at the New York City Department of Education for families of children with special needs.
In Pennsylvania, an OU Advocacy-organized lobbying day brought 300 Jewish community members from across the Commonwealth to Harrisburg to advocate for crucial security legislation and tax credit programs for nonpublic schools. For some Pennsylvania Jewish day schools, the tax credit programs provide as many as 40 percent of their students with scholarships. The bills were approved in early July.
“Having access to the security grant will allow us to sleep a little easier at night knowing that we are doing our best to keep our children safe,” says Besie Katz, principal of Politz Hebrew Academy in Philadelphia.
OU Advocacy efforts in Florida and Maryland saw similar success. A joint mission to Tallahassee organized by OU Advocacy and the Jewish Leadership Coalition (JLC) led to an expanded school choice bill that included features proposed by the OU and the JLC.
In June, more than 500 members of Maryland’s Jewish community attended OU Advocacy’s inaugural legislative breakfast to discuss educational affordability with fifty elected officials and candidates running for office. This activism led to the first-ever busing program for Jewish day schools in Montgomery County, Maryland.
On the federal level, OU Advocacy works to ensure the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grants Program remains funded. Spearheaded by the OU eight years ago, the program has delivered more than $110 million to Jewish and other nonprofit organizations.
“Wherever we advocate, the big takeaway we get from elected officials is that they need our voices,” explains Maury Litwack, director of OU Advocacy’s state political affairs. “We can make a difference for Jewish day schools.”
High-Level OU Advocacy in Washington
Since assuming the post of the Orthodox Union’s executive vice president in April, Allen Fagin traveled to Washington, D.C., four times for high-level OU Advocacy meetings.
In early June, Allen joined OU Advocacy Executive Director Nathan Diament for meetings with key congressional leaders including then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va), House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md), Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo) as well as key White House officials.
Just a few weeks later, Allen returned to the White House to join fellow Jewish organizational leaders in a joint meeting with President Barack Obama and Israel’s former President Shimon Peres in honor of President Peres’ final visit to Washington before the conclusion of his term in office.
In late July, Allen made two visits to Washington with OU President Marty Nachimson for another round of meetings with national policymakers. Taking place in the midst of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, the meetings provided a critical opportunity for the OU leaders to voice strong support for Israel’s efforts to neutralize Hamas’ rockets.
The OU leaders joined other Jewish leaders for a meeting with more than twenty Democratic members of the U.S. Senate. They discussed the resurgence of global anti-Semitism, and were assured of the senators’ commitment to help combat this ancient scourge. They then met privately with key U.S. Senators including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) and Senators Ted Cruz (R-Tx) and Ben Cardin (D-Md). Afterward, the OU leaders had a lengthy meeting with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.
Roslyn Singer is the director of communications, OU Advocacy.