Advocacy in its Prime: Agudath Israel of Illinois Executes Successful Springfield Mission

The delegation with Governor JB Pritzker

On Wednesday, May 8th, in the pre-dawn hours, Agudath Israel of Illinois embarked on its annual full-day mission to the Illinois State Capitol. With almost 50 participants, this year’s mission, led by Rabbi Shlomo Soroka, Director of Government Affairs, was one of the largest ever.

On Wednesday, May 8th, in the pre-dawn hours, Agudath Israel of Illinois embarked on its annual full-day mission to the Illinois State Capitol. With almost 50 participants, this year’s mission, led by Rabbi Shlomo Soroka, Director of Government Affairs, was one of the largest ever. The mission’s delegates reflected a broad cross-section of Illinois’ Orthodox Jewish population: community and lay leaders, Rabbonim, and representatives of the various Jewish organizations and day schools. The group included both men and women of varying ages and backgrounds.

Each year’s mission to Springfield is a crucial day of lobbying, where delegates meet with many legislative leaders throughout the day. Arriving in Springfield with such a large crowd also sends a strong message about the engaged constituency that Agudah represents. This year was no exception, and the group met with scores of important government and legislative officials in their offices, the lunch reception, and even the hallways of the Capitol.

“Being involved in these missions makes a real difference,” explains Rabbi Sammy Joseph. “It’s difficult for people to understand how much goes on behind the scenes of lawmaking, but seeing everything come to life in Springfield is incredible.” First-time mission attendee Mr. Adam Rosenberg describes, “Getting a front-row seat and witnessing the discourse between Rabbi Soroka and our elected officials left me inspired to seek out ways to get more involved with Agudah’s political work and shtadlanus on behalf of the Klal. I hope to return in the future.”

The group spent the day between concurrent meetings with many legislators while also joining together for key meetings with Governor JB Pritzker, Senate Minority Leader John Curran, House Minority Leader Tony McCombie and Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Alicia Tate-Nadeau.

The legislative agenda this year included four main items:

The Invest in Kids Act (STC): launched in 2018, the Invest in Kids initiative has been a lifeline to struggling parents, with an average of $12,000 in scholarships provided annually per student. More than 1,000 students are now attending Jewish schools using Invest in Kids Act tax credit scholarships.

School Transportation: for over a decade, Agudath Israel has received a school transportation grant that currently helps over 3,000 students travel to and from their Jewish schools. This grant is more vital than ever to ensure the safety and security of our children. As the costs of transportation have tripled since the program began, funding for this program needs to be increased to properly protect our children and serve the needs of our community.

Security grants: With antisemitic incidents more than doubling in the last year, including a 1000 percent increase in bomb threats targeting Jewish institutions, security is a top priority for the community. The IL-Nonprofit Security Grant Program (IL-NSGP), which protects high-risk non-profits, was initially appropriated $20 million annually. The current proposed budget reduces the appropriation to only $3 million. With the risk to Jewish and other targeted communities at record levels, fully funding this program is vital.

Faith by the Plate: This bill would require Kosher and Halal food to be provided upon request in public schools and state-owned correctional facilities. Every student, regardless of their dietary restrictions or religious needs, would have access to nutritious meals.

While the Invest in Kids Act does not get fully repealed until January 1st, 2025, the funding mechanism for the coming school year has already expired. This leaves 15,000 children who currently not only benefit from the program, but rely on it, in a state of limbo and potentially even crisis.

The delegation enjoyed a very productive meeting with Governor Pritzker in which they discussed ways to protect children who rely on this program and reinforced the hope that a deal could come to fruition before the end of session. The Governor was also open and eager to discuss AIOI’s other legislative agenda issues, including the disturbing global and local rise in antisemitism and security grant funding. He also expressed his support for the school transportation grant.

The group’s lunch reception with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) was productive in discussing both the federal and state Non-Profit Security Grant Programs (NSGP, IL-NSGP). Director Alicia Tate-Nadeau and her colleague Bob Evans shared helpful information and guidance for organizations to obtain and utilize the funding more effectively.

It was a long but fulfilling day for all those who participated. Many participants commented on how impactful and influential the mission was, especially when viewed from behind the scenes. One first-time mission participant commented, “The way AIOI has its finger on the pulse of such a large range of legislative representatives and matters, and so skillfully navigates the personalities, agendas, and the overall environment, is a work of art.”

Agudath Israel welcomes individuals who wish to volunteer and get more involved, especially as the pressing need to speak up for our communal needs during challenging times grows.

  • Governor JB Pritzker and Rabbi Shlomo Soroka
  • Agudath Israel of Illinois delegation pose together for a photo during the Agudath Israel Springfield Mission
  • Lunch reception with Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Alicia Tate-Nadeau
  • Meeting with Governor JB Pritzker
  • (L-R) Mr. Eli Webster, Rabbi Yechiel Bresler, Rabbi Yaakov Robinson, Mr. Mordy Kaplan, Mr. Yossi Tsadok
  • Meeting with Republican Senate Leader John Curran
  • The delegation with Governor JB Pritzker
  • Delegates with Republican House Leader Tony McCombie
  • Delegates with Senator Sara Feigenholtz (D-6)

Photo Credits: Shaina Benhiyoun/Agudath Israel

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