President's Message

Getting Started: The View from the West Coast

When a new president of the Orthodox Union assumes office, he inevitably feels a sense of awe over being chosen to lead such an extraordinary organization and assume the responsibility of providing direction, guidance and strength to its various constituencies. The key constituency, of course, is the klal, the Jewish people.

OU presidents must always bear in mind the organization’s motto: “Enhancing Jewish Life.” That message guides our every action; it is our motivation, our strength.

At the outset, I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, my friend and colleague, Dr. Simcha Katz. The OU that existed in January 2010 when he took office is not the OU we see today. In terms of programming, and the staff to implement this programming, the organization has grown enormously. Our array of youth and kiruv initiatives, including the NextGen programs of NCSY, Jewish Student Union (JSU), the Heshe & Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC), Heart to Heart, OU Birthright and Alumni Connections, has made it clearer than ever where the future of the Jewish people lies. When I started getting involved with the OU, my first love was NCSY, so these developments are very important to me.

But when the next generation takes over—and we are grooming them for that—they will most likely remember Dr. Katz’s presidency as the time when the affordability of Orthodox life, particularly regarding the cost of yeshivah and day school education, became the OU’s number-one domestic priority.

Dr. Katz dramatically expanded the Institute for Public Affairs, adding staff to work with Nathan Diament to do locally what he does nationally. As a result, the OU is making an impact in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Texas and California in the state houses on legislation to relieve the tuition burden on yeshivah families.

Dr. Katz noted early in his term that the “tuition crisis” was fretted about for years, but now it is time for action to replace talk. To that end, he changed the playing field, and for that, his presidency will always be remembered with great respect. In his future involvement with the OU, I know that Dr. Katz will remain in the forefront of guiding the OU’s efforts to make Orthodox life more affordable for our families, with all its implications for shalom bayit, for viability of yeshivot and day schools and for “Enhancing Jewish Life.”

Just as Dr. Katz built on his predecessors, I will build on mine. Since I am not from New York (full disclosure: I admit that I was born in Brooklyn before heading to Los Angeles, after the Dodgers prepared the way for me), I may be unique in the ranks of OU presidents, but because the Orthodox Union is an international organization, my outlook will always be as broad as possible. Perhaps we will have some leadership meetings in Los Angeles rather than in New York; perhaps the particular needs of the West Coast will become somewhat more prominent on the OU agenda, just because of my familiarity with them. That is natural. But there will be no major changes in the priorities of the OU.

As mentioned, we are an international organization. We send our NCSY summer programs all over Europe in addition to Israel; we have an NCSY region based in Chile that also serves Argentina; we have ties with organizations working to rebuild Jewish life in Germany; our kashrut department offers kosher education programs that attract participants not only from Israel but from Europe and even Australia. Speaking of Australia, we have an ASK OU program supported by the Harry H. Beren Foundation of New Jersey that provides a monthly shiur via Skype to a kollel in Melbourne.

In my former positions as chair of the OU’s Youth Commission and the Synagogue Standards Commission, I have logged many airline miles visiting programs and shuls across North America. I have seen the OU’s work all over the country and, of course, in Israel.

Certainly as new issues come to the fore in the years ahead the OU will respond. Right now, however, I would sum up our major priorities as the affordability of Orthodox life, the strengthening of our communities and the synagogues serving these communities, the strengthening and protection of Israel—both through our work with the various branches of the United States government and through our programs at the Seymour J. Abrams Jerusalem World Center—the focus on NextGen and kiruv from NCSY up to Alumni Connections, the advances in our development efforts to support OU Kosher in funding our agenda, the Inclusion of those with disabilities into the full life of the Jewish people through the wonderful work of Yachad and Our Way, the promotion of Torah education through the publications of OU Press and combating Jewish unemployment through the work of the OU Job Board.

Regarding OU Kosher, the OU symbol is internationally respected as the gold standard of kashrut excellence. We must always remember that the same standard of integrity that we have come to expect from our kashrut division’s hashgachah must be reflected in every aspect of the OU’s lay and professional conduct. We promise nothing less.

I look forward to working with lay leaders, staff, synagogues, community and political leaders and with whomever I will come into contact in the years ahead, sharing with them one goal—“Enhancing Jewish Life.” I invite you to work with me to benefit the klal. May we all go from strength to strength and by doing so, celebrate this kiddush Hash

This article was featured in the Summer 2013 issue of Jewish Action.
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