Serving as the voice and representative of hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Jews is a responsibility that I take very seriously. I am troubled by organization leaders who make political statements without strong support from their constituencies. I have often pondered how we at the OU can develop a model that would allow us to more adequately represent our member synagogues and what they are thinking.
Yet, this is easier said than done. We have officers, board members and member synagogues from different regions, representing a range of opinions. For the OU to get a cross-section of its constituent base, and to know what it is thinking, can be challenging indeed. It recently occurred to me that we have a unique opportunity to get to know where our synagogue members stand on the major political, societal and other issues affecting the Jewish community. One of the key components of the 2006 OU Biennial National Convention, to be held November 22-26 in Jerusalem, will be the approval of resolutions. These resolutions are important because they will determine the OU’s policies and direction over the next two years; and while there is room for flexibility on the part of our governing bodies in terms of implementation, we are bound to the spirit of these resolutions.
At the coming Convention, member synagogues will have a meaningful voice in determining OU policy, which will enable them to make a real difference politically both in the Diaspora and in Israel. This is a historic development within the OU, one that excites me tremendously.
What will some of these resolutions concern? Many of the resolutions are sure to center on Israel.
It has been our longstanding position not to interfere in security issues that affect the Jewish State, though we do take an active stand on issues that involve religious and humanitarian concerns. This past summer, with the evacuation of some 10,000 Israeli citizens from Gush Katif and Northern Shomron, we wrestled with how to respond to this traumatic event. It was an emotionally tumultuous time for us at the OU but we were governed by past resolutions and OU policy.
This is a historic development within the OU, one that excites me tremendously.Now, with a new government in place, one that ran on a platform of evacuating over 70,000 Jewish citizens in Yehudah and Shomron, it may be a propitious time for us to re-evaluate our positions. Such a large-scale evacuation entails many significant humanitarian, religious and emotional issues that will require a strong public stand. I highlight this matter because it is one that we’ll be confronting directly over the next year. In addition, a myriad of other issues involving both Israeli and domestic concerns requires a strong, clear and unwavering response from the OU.
Therefore, I have appointed a Resolutions Committee, chaired by Aron Raskas of Baltimore, to craft a framework for the resolutions to be considered at the Convention. Committee members include Institute for Public Affairs Director Nathan Diament, Honorary Vice President Fred Ehrman, Rabbi Lenny Matanky of Congregation K.I.N.S. of West Rogers Park in Chicago, Senior Vice President Michael Wimpfheimer, YLC Member Naomi Maryles, Board of Directors Member Rabbi Max N. Schreier, OU Regional Vice President for New Jersey Roy Spiewak, Executive Vice President Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb and myself. All of us have been working diligently to formulate these resolutions.
As a synagogue organization, the OU is comprised of hundreds of shuls throughout North America. Each member synagogue is entitled to send between two and eight delegates to our Convention (with an equal number of alternates), depending on the size of the shul membership. Delegates will be empowered to vote on the resolutions, which will be distributed to our member synagogues in early summer. (I must note in passing that there is certainly an incentive to be either a delegate or an alternate—the trip and hotel costs are tax-deductible.)
I am urging every shul to convene a special meeting to discuss and vote on the resolution texts. Each shul should decide which text most closely identifies its position, so that the delegates will be adequately prepared to articulate their shul’s position and vote accordingly.
At the Convention, delegates will have ample time to voice their opinions, vote on the results and provide a mandate regarding the positions we should take. This will be a unique opportunity for every delegation to say “We have an influence on what will happen because we are part of the OU synagogue network. This is what we want the OU to do.”
As a result of our new policy, when I go to Washington D.C., Israel or elsewhere in the world, I can honestly declare “I represent hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Jews through their congregations, and this is their position.”
This process will begin this summer in synagogues across North America and will culminate at our Convention in November. I look forward to genuine, heartfelt debate on issues that touch our very lives as Jews. I have no doubt that the OU, each of its member synagogues, and indeed, the Jewish people, will be the beneficiaries of this process.