Baltimore, MD - Sept. 26, 2016 - On Sunday morning, September 18th, Agudath Israel of Maryland held its second annual benefit brunch at the Baltimore home of Susie and Matt Schoenfeld. The event drew a capacity crowd of 140 community leaders and activists who came to show support for the vital community organization and to celebrate its numerous accomplishments advocating for the needs of the community. Featured speaker Senator Joe Lieberman engaged the audience with his trademark moderate perspective on this most unique 2016 presidential election.
Throughout the event, a theme emerged of Agudath Israel representing the Jewish community in government and to the outside world, and modeling what it means to live as a Torah Jew. This theme began with Rabbi Shmuel Silber, rabbi of Suburban Orthodox Congregation, who introduced Senator Lieberman. In Rabbi Silber’s remarks, he thanked the organization for its tireless and selfless efforts on behalf of the klal, as embodied by Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, Director of Agudath Israel’s Mid-Atlantic Region. Rabbi Sadwin’s work, he said, “doesn’t just benefit the Orthodox Jewish community; it benefits the collected Jewish people. That’s the holy mission that Rabbi Sadwin does on our behalf.”
Senator Joe Lieberman continued this theme, reminiscing about his interactions as a young senator with Jewish community leaders of the past, such as Rabbi Moshe Sherer, z”l, the longtime president of Agudath Israel of America, and Rabbi Herman Naftoli Neuberger, z”l, the venerable late president of Ner Israel Rabbinical College. The senator referred to them as “tremendous representatives of Torah Jewry who became his great friends and advisors.” Senator Lieberman spoke of the Jewish community’s important role as leaders and advocates, serving the needs of the Jewish people. He noted the rising ratio of the Orthodox within the larger Jewish community. “With these numbers,” he said, “comes a new power, but also a responsibility to represent the Jewish community to the non-Jewish community, to the government, and within the Jewish community itself, to be guided only by the words of Torah.” He urged those present to be more active within the elected government – even running for office or campaigning.
Senator Lieberman said, “I never felt that being an Orthodox Jew was a barrier to anything.” His refusal to attend events on Shabbos did not hurt him. “Once they understand why you’re doing it, and that you’re doing it consistently, they’re very respectful. I got to the point where being an observant Jew was a plus for me politically.”
Senator Lieberman explained the elections as a reflection of the country’s general disenchantment with the political system and its desire for change. He feels that the American people are fascinated with Donald Trump because he’s outside the system. “He’s not part of the [Republican] kehilla,” said Senator Lieberman. His policies are not in synch with many of the party’s elites, who, as businessmen, are generally very pro-trade and pro-immigration. The senator speculated that should Trump win, these people may end up joining with some Democrats to form a third party.
Senator Lieberman also said that this is a transition year, with both parties changing dramatically. The Democratic party is moving to the left. The Republican party is a mix of big business, anti-government groups and social conservatives. The debates will impact the elections, but the demographics of those who vote will have an even greater impact.
In his remarks, Rabbi Sadwin acknowledged the hosts of the event and its numerous sponsors and patrons, as well as Mr. Howard Tzvi Freedman, the event’s Honorary Chair whose close relationship with Senator Lieberman was pivotal in arranging the event. Several elected officials attended, including Maryland State Delegates Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg and Shelly Hettleman, Baltimore City Council Member Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, Baltimore County Council Member Vicki Almond, and Democrat Nominee for Baltimore City Council Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer.
Rabbi Sadwin said, “This event was an excellent showcase for the warm and generous community in the Maryland area, and for the work our organization is doing. As Rabbi Silber and Senator Lieberman stated, as Jews who live by the Torah, we can have great impact on our communities, as living examples of Kiddush Hashem and spokespeople for the needs of those around us.”