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July 01, 1988 - Image 25

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-07-01

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Art by Stephanie Shieldhouse

primary and secondary schools, and
operates a variety of social services, in-
cluding day care for children, nursing care
for the elderly, programs for the disabled,
adult education and employment training.
But more and more, Agudath Israel is
known for its role in creating a strong Or-
thodox presence in Washington and in a
growing number of state capitals. In the
last few years, Agudah has jumped into all
kinds of political squabbles: raising ques-
tions about the recent Civil Rights restora-
tion act, fighting church-state restrictions
in the current debate over a child care bill,
fighting environmental regulations that
would put a a burden on their schools, op-
posing abortion.

A Washington Presence

In several months, Agudath Israel will
take another step towards becoming a ma-
jor player on Capitol Hill when it opens its
Washington office. "We've been long-dis-
tance players, and this has limited us,"
Zwiebel says. "A fulltime Washington rep-
resentative is something we've wanted for

a long time."
This new visibility is a result of several
factors. One is the growth of the Orthodox
community itself, and its growing sense of
its own power. "lb an extent, the Orthodox
simply became tired of being ignored," says
At the same time, American society in
general is confronting the kinds of complex
moral issues that tend to tie public policy
in knots, issues like abortion, bioethics and
the multi-layered questions of sexual
And one more factor pushed Agudah
towards Washington: the increasing corn-
petition between special interest groups for
pieces of the shrinking federal pie. If the
government was going to help religious
education and social services agencies,
Agudah leaders wanted to make sure that
their own people received a fair share of the
federal largess.
The group's contacts in Washington give
a hint of their interests. In the past few
years, they have developed a strong rela-
tionship with the the Department of Hous-

ing and Urban Development; recently,
HUD secretary Samuel R. Pierce was
given the Humanitarian Award of
Agudath Israel.
"We have something called the South
Brooklyn Community Organization, which
sponsors a number of HUD-supported
housing projects—Section 202 projects for
the seniors, Section 8 projects for lower in-
come people," Zwiebel says. "They've been
enormously successful, and in the process,
we have developed a very good working
relationship with HUD."
Agudath Israel also works closely with
the Immigration and Naturalization Ser-
vice and the State Department, an out-
growth of their ongoing interest in refugee
relief work. Currently, the group is heavi-
ly involved in the rescue and resettlement
of Iranian Jews—a subject they'd prefer
not to discuss openly, for obvious reasons.
They also have a heavy investment in the
rescue of Soviet Jewry.
The group is also well known in a number
of congressional offices. "Rabbi Sherer
commands enormous respect," says a staf-


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