Sep 14, 2023 11:30 AM
Haredi advocacy organization Agudath Israel raised more than $10 million in two days this week, with the funds allocated to its broad range of operations.
Carrying the title, “We’re in it Together,” a major theme of the campaign was, “Defending the rights of our yeshivos.” Advertisements ahead of the fundraiser carried images of headlines from New York Times articles reporting on the lack of secular education in many New York City Haredi schools, investigations that a video ad for the fundraiser described as situations in which the Haredi community is “defamed and mischaracterized.”
The campaign’s webpage shows an array of other Agudah projects, all preceded by the phrase, “In it together.” Some of the drive highlighted Agudah’s social services efforts, such as “guiding seniors through their golden years” and “directing families of children with special needs.”
In the days leading up to the fundraiser, the organization placed advertisements in Jewish publications with imagery of a single white sheep amidst a pack of black wolves, a reference to an early rabbinic saying about Jewish survival amidst non-Jews. “It’s not easy being one out of many,” said one of these ads. Another read, “Singled out,” as a magnifying glass passing over a sheep revealed the word, “Scrutinized.”
The fundraising campain’s success can be seen not only in the total amount raised, but also in the group of “matchers” for the fundraiser.
Some of the matchers are real estate professionals, such as Joseph Brachfeld, who led the establishment of the Town Square mall in Monsey, and Rueven Wolf of Read Property Group. Others include lawyer Abraham Gutniki, and the founder of The Heitner Charitable Foundation and asset management firm Reddick Wellington, Bernard Heitner.
While the lengthy list of donors and matchers revealed a broad base of support for the organization, the fundraiser is not without criticism.
“As an attorney who represents children who have been damaged educationally by the yeshivas over their unwillingness to follow the law on secular instruction, I can understand why they’re trying to raise so much money,” lawyer David Shapiro of Shapiro Litigation Group tells Shtetl. “Given the number of children whose lives have been ruined by these yeshivas, they’re going to need it [to defend themselves against] more lawsuits brought by parents on behalf of their children.”
Relatedly, in one video ad for the fundraiser, Shloime Werdyger, chairman of Agudath Israel’s Board of Trustees, stated, “Agudath is on a hiring spree – we had to hire more attorneys, we’re hiring more people, we’re opening up more offices across the country."
MIchael A. Rebell, Professor of Law and Educational Practice at Teachers College, Columbia University, was also critical of the fundraiser. “They certainly are not representing the students who, like all students in New York state, have a right under the state constitution to a ‘sound basic education,’” he told Shtetl. “Such an education should include as much religious education as the parents and the schools desire, but it also must include basic English language functioning and knowledge of, among other things, American history and civics.”