I contributed to the Torah Tuition Fund appeal this Shabbos at my shul even though this is money that the government is really supposed to be paying back parents through tax credits and school vouchers for private school tuition paid. Before the appeal I asked the shul management to announce the date and time of the upcoming Dinner of the JFK Club but they felt the shul can not announce the JFK Democratic Club Dinner event because it is a political event. Yet 4 years ago when State Assembly candidate Nilly Rozic ran in the primary it was announced from the pulpit by the Rabbi that she will give a short speech before Mincha in the Bet Midrash (small shul).
The reason that was allowed to take place and for it to be announced to the members at large was because there was no outright or even implied endorsement of Rozic’s candidacy. The Rabbi back then explained to me that any candidate from any party who requests to speak at the shul would be granted the same - hence no endorsement of any of them. The same should be true for the announcement of a Democratic Club Dinner - no endorsement implied - because a Republican or any other major party Dinner could be promoted as well, if they were to ask.
So why promote any political event? The same reason why Nilly Rozic’s address to the congregation was promoted - for its educational content so that we should be informed of what is being offered to be done, or with public officials, what is already being done for us. The same can be said for a civicly sponsored breakfast. When a civic group such as the Kew Gardens Homeowners’ Civic Assoc. or a social services agency such as the QJCC sponsors a community breakfast which invites our local officials to address our community it is for the purpose of educating our residents of what is being done in the City Council, State
legislature and on a Citywide level for our community and for Jewish causes in general (such as stances against BDS). In this vein it is interesting that the shul has a policy not to promote a political club dinner in which our local and citywide public officials would address the assembled of the things that are being done for us - the same as is done at a QJCC/KGHHC
community breakfast. But in any of these venues not only is the public being educated about public policy being enacted, the assembled are educating the public officials of the power of the electorate and the level of the commitment of the people asking for fair legislation to be enacted on their behalf.
It is lamented that the Orthodox community here in Queens is not as organized politically as those in Boro Park or Far Rockaway. Perhaps it could be said that we, in Kew Gardens Hills or Forest Hills are B”H not as needy as poor families such as are in Williamsburg or Boro Park. Yet even where we are here in Queens it is said and has been said for years that there is a tuition deficit crisis in our Yeshivas. So what do we do? We hold appeals among ourselves that we should help each other - no doubt a laudable activity but where is the courage to reach outwards towards the political system to make our claims more vocal and
reverberating? This requires more courage and initiative. It is incumbent upon all communities with legitimate claims of the way they’re being treated or mistreated to make their case from whatever level of power they are able to do that. Frum communities from different neighborhoods, be it the Five towns, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens Hills, Brooklyn and Far Rockaway should all let the public officials know that tax school credits and school vouchers is something that we all care about and we show up in numbers to community events be it civic or political and at the voting polls in even greater numbers.
The JFK Democratic Club which is the dominant club for Queens does not show a great presence of Orthodox Jews and that is not only a shame but is well noted by the Democratic Party Organization. That is a fact that was well established by a private breakfast held in YIKGH by Rabbi Schonfeld with our local officials and a few community-involved people. In that meeting it was well articulated that the Orthodox community’s presence and voting power is weak here in Queens and needs much improvement. That was noted by Rabbi Schonfeld in an article in the Queens Jewish Link following the meeting.
I am active in the JFK Democratic Club in the role of public relations. I think it is a vital club even if I may have diverging opinions from some that are expressed there. I was instrumental in getting the dinner to be held in the most politically involved shul in Queens which is that of YIKGH. I wanted to attract a large segment of our frum community to attend and be part of the event. The club was equally gracious to honor at the dinner, Yaniv Meirov, founder of Chazaq, and Cynthia Zalisky, executive director of the QJCC, - people who represent our Orthodox community very well. In Albany, the Democratic Assembly is very reluctant to go along with Governor Cuomo’s acceptance of the school tax credit bill and they would certainly be against an outright school voucher bill which they object to on the basis of the Blaine amendment.
The Blaine amendment in the NY State constitution forbids direct governmental aid to religious schools on the basis that it mixes church and state. Similar amendments are instituted in only 38 of the 50 states which means that the U.S. constitution is not the impediment towards its eventual demise and repeal. It is fitting that it should indeed be repealed because the origins of the Blaine amendment was borne out of religious discrimination against the arriving catholic Irish immigrants. Specious legislation such as that which discriminates against parents who send their children to private schools by depriving
them of financial school choice can be maintained only if there isn’t a powerful enough interest group to pressure the politicians into fair legislation. It took the civil rights movements of the 60’s and 70’s to combat discrimination against Blacks and women.
The Jewish Orthodox, Catholics and any other religious groups also need civil rights reform because as long as education is not free to choose with the same government backing as public schools we are being held back financially. This is why we need to make an appeal for the yeshiva tuition fund to help those who have to pay tuition twice - once for their own children and then again for their neighbor’s children (in the form of property taxes).
So I say let’s make our presence felt politically by joining the Democratic Party.