The Agudah Convention theme of Together We Will came to life over Shabbos with hundreds of men, women and children
joining in a shared quest to strengthen Jewish communities while continuing to uphold the Torah values that define Klal Yisroel. Guests basked in the glow of an uplifting Shabbos spent in the presence of Gedolei Yisroel, further enhanced by the convention’s incomparable ruach and a veritable cornucopia of spiritual growth as prominent rabbonim addressed timely issues.
The crown jewel of the convention, the Motzoei Shabbos keynote session, drew both convention guests and many others who flocked to the Crowne Plaza Stamford to take part in the post Shabbos program, with thousands more listening in on the Agudah’s dedicated live stream. Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Agudath Israel of America’s director of New York government relations, opened the session by thanking the convention team for its many hours of hard work. The next speaker, convention chairman Rivie Schwebel spoke about growing up in a home founded on Agudah values and his father’s close relationship with Rabbi Moshe Sherer, z’l, president of Agudath Israel of America for fifty five years. Drawing on his personal experiences, Mr. Schwebel praised Chayim Aruchim, which currently receives 650 calls each month from families struggling with end of life issues, while announcing the launch of a new division created to assist Sephardic families, and also lauding the Yeshiva Services division for its successful efforts that have brought much needed financial aid to our schools.
Trumpeting the importance of promoting k’vod shomayim, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, Novominsker Rebbe and Rosh Agudas Yisroel, took on those who seek to trample our essential Torah values by promoting secular lifestyles that have no place in our world. Rabbi Perlow categorized the Open Orthodoxy movement as a corruption of Torah ideals and downright apikorsus, warning that we need to keep the Ribono Shel Olam as the center of our lives in order to protect ourselves from the threats that surround us on a daily basis. Reinforcing the words of Rabbi Elya Brudny who spoke at the Thursday night keynote session, Rabbi Perlow emphasized the important role that parents and grandparents must play in their children’s lives, laying the cornerstone of Torah values that will sustain the next generation throughout their lives by teaching them the shiras hachaim that is the alef bais of Jewish life, bringing the Ribono Shel Olam into our lives with simcha. Rabbi Perlow also stressed the importance of preserving kedushas Eretz Yisroel, finishing with a rallying call for listeners to join the Agudah in its vital work.
Classifying the Agudah as a movement, not an organization, because of its success as a catalyst for change, Agudah CEO Shia Markowitz spoke about the many conveniences we enjoy today that are the results of hard fought battles waged by the Agudah. Likening the Agudah’s efforts to the building of the mishkan, Reb Shia said that three types of volunteers are needed to continue advocating for Klal Yisroel: those whose skills can benefit the Jewish community, those who are capable of financing the many ongoing projects and those who support and applaud the Agudah’s efforts. As the Jewish community continues to grow, its needs will also increase, making it crucial for every individual to accomplish their unique task as a member of a united Agudah that bears testament to Hashem’s oneness and our achdus as a nation.
A short audio visual presentation extended the convention theme of Together We Will to a battle cry of Together We Did, Together We Do, Together We Will, showcasing the Agudah’s work throughout the years, demonstrating how many of the battles being fought today are continuations of issues that have been faced for generations.
Referencing Bnai Yisroel’s acceptance of the Torah with love during the time of Purim, 70 years after the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman, Rosh HaYeshiva, Meor Yitzchok, Monsey, noted that now that we are seven decades past the horrors of World War II, we are once again facing a critical juncture in our lives where we must renew our commitment to Klal Yisroel. Rabbi Wachsman shared a story he heard from his own grandfather of the Chofetz Chaim expressing personal doubts about being asked to speak at the first Knessia Gedola in 1923, conveying a message of selflessness and humility, qualities that are the very essence of the Agudah.
Acknowledging the difficult economic circumstances faced by so many, Rabbi Wachsman spoke about the importance of financially supporting the Agudah, a way to guarantee an eternal destiny in Olam Haba. Advocating for the tzibur is an arduous task akin to climbing a ladder, said Rabbi Wachsman, but like the ladder in Yaakov’s dream, the ladder of askanus is one that reaches the heavens and gives each of us the ability to be mikadesh shem shomayim as we use our gifts to benefit Klal Yisroel.
The final speaker of the night, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president, Agudath Israel of America, acknowledged many close friends of the Agudah who passed away over the past year including Rabbi Sherer’s aishes chayil, Mrs. Devorah Sherer, z’l. Rather than personally praising different divisions of the Agudah for their success stories, Rabbi Zwiebel quoted various outside sources who have recognized the Agudah for its many noteworthy accomplishments, including achievements that will provide much needed relief in a variety of ways for tuition strapped parents in Illinois, Ohio, Maryland, Florida and, hopefully soon, New York.
Rabbi Zwiebel stressed the importance of uniting as a tzibur to care for the Jewish community, which continues to face daunting challenges, a role embraced by Agudath Israel of America as an organization that cares for every member of Klal Yisroel.
A gala melava malka and kumzitz followed the keynote session, with the hartzig music of the Shira Choir with Simcha Leiner enhancing the singing and dancing that went on well into the night. The convention continues today with concurrent sessions on emunah, the economic crisis facing the middle class and dealing with individuals in crisis, followed by a closing keynote session on facing the challenges of addiction within the Jewish community.