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No Child Left Behind

Eytan Kobre

To meet Maury Litwack, national director of the OU’s Teach Advocacy Network, is to encounter a different kind of lobbyist — a good guy who works for the good guys

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

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THREEFOLD “The three elements you need in dealing with indifference are patience, a vision, and hard work. You need to be patient and realize that changing attitudes takes time… And you have to, of course, engage in the hard work needed to make it happen; you can’t just wish it into reality. This is a recipe for success in anything we do, personally, professionally, and communally” (Photos: Amir Levy)

L ast week, in a nondescript office in Teaneck, New Jersey, I came face-to-face with the Jewish lobby. And I can happily report that contrary to popular belief, it’s not a shadowy cabal of conspirators, but a heimish fellow with a trimmed brown beard and black yarmulke, and his name is Maury Litwack.

As national director of the Teach Advocacy Network, a project of the Orthodox Union (OU), the quietly passionate Litwack is at the forefront of a legislative revolution-in-the-making on behalf of America’s 260,000 yeshiva students. Since his advocacy network went live in 2012 — and, he adds, “with great thanks to our many coalition partners and the politicians who have come through on this” — he estimates it has helped bring over 500 million dollars to yeshivos nationwide. This money has gone toward things like school security, textbooks and technology, tuition scholarships and — in a historic first in New York — direct government funding for secular studies teachers.

Last week, news broke that Maury has been asked to join the transition team of Phil Murphy, the incoming democratic governor of the deep-blue state of New Jersey. It’s the first time that an advocate for the yeshivah community will be part of a committee advising a governor on everything from education policy to specific personnel appointments, and it reflects a recognition in the political world generally, and New Jersey specifically, of the growing prominence and power of the Orthodox community.

With upwards of 40,000 yeshivah kids calling New Jersey home and over four times that number in neighboring New York State — one out of every 13 kids in New York City is now a yeshivah student — politicians know they need to pay attention to the yeshivah community. And in case they don’t, Maury is there to remind them.

“I recently saw an article claiming that every week in Lakewood, another future yeshivah class is born, which I think is entirely possible,” Maury says. “And just last week, the Bergen Record, the big newspaper here in North Jersey, wrote about the explosion of yeshivah kids in this part of the state too.”

Maury modestly downplays his new appointment, stressing that he “doesn’t want to make it more than what it is.

THESE PEOPLE CARE The 600-strong delegation Litwack assembled was the largest Orthodox Jewish contingent to lobby in Albany, and this year he plans to bring 2,000

This committee doesn’t make decisions; I plan on serving in an advisory role to the governor and his staff to say, ‘These are our priorities and this is what we believe.’ ” But, he adds, with a note of determination in his voice, “For us, going to yeshivah is not a choice, it’s a way of life, and this incoming governor gets that. My plan is to be a voice for that in this new administration.”

Working for the Good Guys

The term “lobbyist” carries for many a denotation of disrepute, given all the talk about “draining the Washington swamp,” and the public perception of lobbyists as K Street wheeler-dealers who get laws passed that benefit their clients but harm the interests of average citizens. Maury Litwack is a lobbyist, to be sure — he even authored a 2010 how-to guide to effective advocacy in Washington, D.C., called The Capitol Plan — but to meet him is to encounter a different kind of lobbyist, one who’s a good guy and works for the good guys.

And one, too, who could be making a lot more money than he does now had he not traded in his career in government advocacy for a chance to work for the klal. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 687)

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