For years, the Orthodox Union has advocated on behalf of the Jewish community. From lobbying influential politicians to issuing policy briefs and holding policy conferences, the OU’s Institute for Public Affairs has worked at the highest levels of government to protect our community’s interests.
However, as Assemblywoman Handlin’s article points out, local individuals, businesses and organizations exert enormous influence on their elected officials, who want nothing more than to connect with their voters. The OU realizes that while high-profile meetings play a part in addressing the tuition affordability crisis, nothing can replace grassroots involvement on the local level.
That is why the OU has been galvanizing communities across the country to get politically involved. From the school president to the federation leader to the rank-and-file community member, each person has a role to play in bringing our community’s unique needs to our legislators’ attention. The OU is committed to helping every Jewish community become politically active by providing lobbying guidance and policy expertise.
Without effective political involvement from the Jewish community, elected officials will remain ignorant of our community’s needs and suspicious of its motives.
Today, most elected officials—even those who champion the Jewish community’s causes—don’t understand that public school simply cannot provide the ethical and religious instruction that Orthodox families consider essential to their children’s education. They don’t understand that our community considers religious school attendance a necessity for every Jewish child—regardless of the parents’ means. Legislators will not accept the gravity of the crisis until they are approached by the people directly affected by it—Jewish families from all backgrounds and income levels.
Once legislators realize that the Jewish community is not trying to undermine public education by sending their children to private schools, they will be infinitely more supportive of tuition affordability and other efforts. Tax credit scholarships, which exist in Pennsylvania, Florida and Arizona, and vouchers, which exist in Louisiana and Milwaukee, could bring tuition relief directly to Jewish parents who need it most. State aid to nonpublic schools for textbooks, nursing, and energy-efficient school buildings—already in existence in New Jersey—could lower overhead costs at Jewish day schools and translate into tuition savings for all parents. These state-level policies are the nuts and bolts of tuition affordability, and the Jewish community can pave the way for them by building rapport with their elected officials.
What can the OU do to help your community become politically active? The staff at the OU’s Institute for Public Affairs has decades of experience in advocacy—in both lobbying and being lobbied. We can help communities understand their policy needs and organize their advocacy efforts to be most effective. We can teach community leaders how to interact with elected officials in a way that builds goodwill and produces results. We can organize events to introduce the Jewish community to their elected and unelected officials, as well as “get out the vote” efforts to increase voter turnout in the Jewish community.
What we at the OU cannot do is vote in local and state elections or invite your local and state officials to speak at your school’s banquet or maintain a friendly relationship with your local and state legislators. Only local Jewish community members can perform these vital tasks, paving the way for solving the tuition affordability crisis.
To learn more about how you can get politically involved, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-513-6484.
Maury Litwack is the director of political affairs for the OU’s Institute for Public Affairs.