Op-Ed By Ezra Friedlander: Why David Lichtenstein’s Hillary Fundraiser Is A Good Thing

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From time immemorial, members of Klal Yisroel have always been involved in advocacy efforts on behalf of the Jewish people. Some call it shtadlonus, others call it askonus. However you decide to coin the term is not really that important. What is important is to understand that Jewish advocacy has been alive and well since the days of Moshe Rabbeinu.

In fact, it can perhaps be said that Moshe Rabbeinu was our very first askan. In the upcoming parshios, we find Klal Yisroel’s greatest leader advocating on behalf of the Jewish people. And before who? The evil King Pharoah, of all people! One can only wonder what the headlines might have looked like in those days, especially the accompanying comments section. Nevertheless the fact is that throughout the millennia, while our goals and missions may have changed, we have always relied on the individuals and leaders who plead on our behalf. And that is how it will be till the end of days, until Moshiach comes.

Several days ago I saw an article reporting that Dovid Lichtenstein, a prominent Real Estate executive, will be hosting a Reception benefitting the Presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. For the record, let me state that I am not representing either Mr. Lichtenstein or Mrs. Clinton, and have not shared these remarks with either one of them. I would like to make that perfectly clear.

In fact, this op-ed is not being written in support of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. I would urge others who support the various Republican candidates to host similar functions. Rather my point is to address the self proclaimed spokespeople of our community who criticize anyone and everyone who do not share their narrow definition  of what is allowable political engagement. Of corse only in the name of Daas Torah.

The purpose of this op-ed is not defending Dovid Lichtenstein but rather to encourage him to continue his efforts. Dovid Lichtenstein does not need to engage on our behalf. I’ve been at his Shabbos table once and I’m sure I speak for all those who know him by saying that he would rather be sitting in a Beis Medrash learning Torah than anywhere else. His home is a place filled with Torah learning and one can easily recognize his scholarship by listening to “Headlines”, his weekly radio program. I’m sure he would prefer to be learning than hosting political candidates.

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There are naysayers among us who just don’t get it. They sit in front of their computers pontificating about the interaction of askonim with political candidates. Do they honestly think that supporting a candidate means endorsing everything he or she stands for? I would hope that most people realize that politics is more nuanced and complicated than that. But not the self righteous pontificaters. They are, after all, on the side of the Torah, and consider themselves the true lamdonim.

Their protests remind me of a story I’ve heard many times from my father, the Liska Rebbe, Shlita.

It is said that the Vilna Gaon once asked the Dubna Maggid to give him mussar. The Maggid, of course, looked at him incredulously. “How can I give Mussar to the holy Gaon?” he wondered. “This is a man who sits all day in tallis and tefillin surrounded by seforim. It’s impossible.”

But the Gaon insisted, so the Maggid finally responded. “Is it really such a kuntz (accomplishment),” he wondered aloud, “to be the holy Vilna Gaon within your own daled amos? Let’s see if you could be a Vilna Gaon when you go out into the world!” Thus did the Gaon take it upon himself to go into golus.

To me, the moral of the story is as follows – It’s very easy for individuals to take the high road and sit comfortably at home while criticizing individuals, whether they are business people or askonim, who are trying to help the community for generally altruistic purposes. In fact, it has become fashionable in our community, as in other communities, to attack the top one percent. But they don’t realize that askonus is a profession, requiring specific talents and abilities. Indeed, there are many ways to serve the community. There are Rabbonim, Rebbeim, Gevirim and there are Askonim. What they all share is an achrayus to serve Klal Yisroel and help our community.

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As a professional who engages in public relations consulting and as someone who clearly does not consider my services as askonis , I‘ve observed several of these askonim. I value their service and I can vouch as to the effectiveness of their efforts. Without getting into the details, I can say with full certainty that many a yiddishe mama’s tears have not been shed as a direct result of the efforts of askonim who have made it their priority to solve communal problems. And yes, often solving communal problems is a direct result of interaction and relationships with those very elected officials with whom relationships were formed as candidates. I also recognize that not all askonim are created equal or have the rights intentions or methods. I get that. But to label everyone negatively is discouraging further generations of communal leaders which can be a detriment to Klal Yisroel.

We are currently in the midst of a Presidential campaign. There are over three hundred million people in the United States, and of that only a handful can realistically become our next President. In all likelihood, in the next several months that will be narrowed down even further to former Secretary of State Clinton on the Democratic side and one of several Republican hopefuls. Thus it wouldn’t be too much a stretch of the imagination to suggest that Dovid Lichtenstein may very well be hosting the next President of the United States. And if Mrs. Clinton should in fact become President, I have no doubt that this meeting will serve to benefit the Jewish people. I don’t know exactly how, but I am convinced of it.

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So when people take to criticizing, their comments may seem noble on the surface especially when they say that Hillary’s positions are not in sync with the Jewish community’s beliefs and are anathema to our traditions But their statements are demagogic.

Why is this? I’ve observed how other communities are so proud when someone in their own circle interacts with or hosts a future president. They realize the value it brings to their cause. We, instead, tear them down. In fact, we have a history of tearing them down. The Jewish people of the time even criticized Moshe Rabbeinu, so perhaps Mr. Lichtenstein is in good company after all.

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I’m obviously not comparing Dovid Lichtenstein to Moshe Rabbeinu. I’m just suggesting that there are many ways to serve our people. And if Dovid Lichtenstein has the capacity to host a reception to benefit a possible future President, that should present an opportunity for us to pause and praise him for his role.

For those who make the argument that “it’s all about money” in a derogatory manner, my response to them is simply that Lichtenstein didn’t make up the rules of this game. And yes, fundraising happens to be an integral element of a Presidential campaign. So much so that the Supreme Court just recently enhanced that ability. That’s just the way it is.

I’d like to consider myself an amateur student of history. We all know that during the Holocaust there were those who could have influenced President Roosevelt’s decisions to help the Jews in Europe but chose not to. Then there was Peter Bergson, not quite a political insider, yet dramatically more effective in raising public awareness about the atrocities in Europe than the others. My approach is that sometimes we need both.

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Our community is small. And while we are few in number, our needs are great. Having a future President hosted by a businessman who is a ben Torah and a marbitz Torah can shine positively for us all. I believe with all my heart that Reb Dovid Lichtenstein’s hosting a possible future President will yield tangible results for the Jewish people in many ways. Let us all for once agree with those sentiments.

Ezra Friedlander is the CEO of The Friedlander Group a public policy consulting firm based in NYC and Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter @EzraFriedlander. He may contacted at www.TheFriedlanderGroup.com [email protected]

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of YWN

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36 COMMENTS

  1. Apikorsos!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! heaven forbid to mix dirty low politics lehavdil elef alfei havdolos with the Torah hakodosha! How dare you! The Same Baal Gahva that Hashem says “Me and him cannot dwell in the same world” is comparing his askonus to Moshe Rabeinu who is the Anav mikol adam! Chutzpa and an Azuz!

  2. Wonderful article.

    When Rebbi Chanina sgan haKohanim said (Pirkei Avos 3:2) “pray for the welfare of the government,” he didn’t qualify his statement as to whether the government was good or cruel, friendly to Klal Yisroel or anti-Semitic.

  3. Ezra is a paid political hack.

    This is obviously a beachhead strategy for the Friedlander Group to create an alliance with the Hillary campaign…..so self-serving.

  4. These are decisions which our Gedolim should make NOT an askan. If Mr. Lichtenstein asked a Godol and he OK’d it it should be stated and that would end the discussion.

  5. Could all the Nay Sayers list their accomplishments what they do for the klal or even in their personal life
    Please get off the couch & get a life .
    Also if someone makes parnossa out of doing good things then all the better it’s like a doctor that saves a life if he gets paid to do if he still saved a life
    thank you all the people who work for the klall

  6. although knowing Mr. Friedlander’s style from the past and therefore realizing that this article is probably self serving (as he has supported Hillary in the past), one important point to note that Mr. Friedlander is correct. Better put eggs in all baskets, rather than end up with eggs in none. That being said, I doubt putting eggs in Hillary’s basket will serve the Jewish community as her agenda is way too liberal for the Jewish community.

  7. The democrats support lifting sanctions on Iran, meaning they support allowing the economy of the foremost state sponsor of terrorism to flourish. They created a “deal” with Iran that allows them to produce nuclear weapons, C”V. They condemn Israel’s self-defense against Hamas and the PA when both of them murder Jews. They support continuing to fund with taxpayer dollars the same PA that pays the salaries of terrorists. For all these reasons they have Jewish blood on their hands, and so does anyone who helps them. To say we will deal with someone if they are elected is far from providing them material support to get elected.

  8. Advocacy is great, but this is quite a stretch.
    You need to follow very fine guidelines, and real Gadlus is needed to know where the line is, and it’s quite obvious that this is not even close.

  9. Its obvious that Ezra’s point is that we should have relationships with all candidates..I second the motion! Its about time we counter the knee jerk attitude of our self proclaimed spokespeople who decide what is Daas Torah. Clinton has a good chance of being president. Lest take advantage of any opportunity to influence her. Thank you Mr. Friedlander for setting the record straight!

  10. Politicians know very well: Be very careful with the black community, Latinos, Muslims etc. but to Jews you can do whatever you want! (as long as you give them a few $$$). Trample on their values, sell their blood and give in to their enemies, and those Jews will still smile and support you – as long as you promise future money..

    Is that the kind of “advocacy” we need???

  11. Is this an op-ed or is this a paid infomercial for the Friedlander group? Slow season, Ezra? Btw, I wonder what the Liska Rebbe has to say about you being a Chassidisha Yid squeezing next to Hillary like that (picture #4)?

  12. To #2 shazam,
    Yes, we learn in Pirkei Avos that we must pray for “shloma shel malchus,” the peace and welfare of our rulers. And indeed we do so.
    But you couldn’t be more wrong about how wonderful this article is!
    You forgot the words of Shmaya in Pirkei Avos 1:10, “Al tisvada la’r’shus.” These words are much more enlightening regarding the subject at hand. Indeed I would advise you to study how Rabbeinu Yonah explains them, as I don’t have the audacity to give my own interpretation. It would be worthwhile for anyone to read before they choose to head down the path to askanus without a Gadol b’Yisrael giving guidance.
    I felt ill as soon as I saw that the author chose to discuss Moshe Rabbeinu, who was sent to Paroh by Melech Malchei Ham’lachim Himself!
    The article is an outstanding piece of gaava, tipshus and azus bemakom echad.

  13. Does YWN bill Friedlander for advertising when it runs pieces like this? Why do we need to see all the photos of Friedlander with various politicians? Is Friedlander getting advertising for nothing here?

  14. Mr. Friedlander tries to use a story involving the Vilna Gaon to make a point for himself, but he doesn’t have the story correct. So for the sake of all those repeating an inaccurate story, be they Rebbes or pashuta yidden, let me set the record straight.

    As brought in various sources, including the authoritative three volume work HaGaon (volume I, p.254.), by Rav Dov Eliach, the story dialogue went like this –

    Dubno maggid: What chochmah is it to be a gaon and tzadik while sitting in a closed room, far from the tumult of life and its challenges? On the contrary, to go out into the marketplace, be involved in the affairs of the world, and to remain a gaon in Torah and pious man in deeds, davka in that there is chochmah!

    Vilna Gaon: I am not interested in being a ‘kuntzmacher’ (someone who performs feats, like a circus performer).

    So the point of the story is the opposite of what Friedlander wrote. The Vilna Gaon did not leave his studies after hearing the maggid’s words.

    He went into galus in his younger years, either at age 18 or early 20s when he was not yet a major figure and way before this purported story took place. Since the Dubno Maggid was about twenty years younger than the Gaon the Maggid would have been an infant during the Gaon’s golus years. Hence, and it is quite obvious that the golus and the mussar shmooze were not connected.

    The story also first appeared in print in Michtavei Chofetz Chaim in honer of the CC sheloshim which would be after Oct. 1933. The version there is similar to the story in HaGaon and no mention is made of a connection to golus.

    Let’s recognize the difference between Rebbeshe maisos and accurate history.

  15. One of the reasons why Loshon Hora and Moitzee Shem Rah is so evil, is by looking at some of the comments. When someone hides behind a screen name and publicly bashmoots an individual is beyond cowardly. Whoever cannot publicly disclose their own identity while degrading another Yid, is simply a Rosha. Period. End of story.

  16. Everyone chiiillll! First of all we’re not electing the new Rav in shul or the bungalow colony board members (Which we would expect the avalanche of irrational and vicious statements like these)… We’re electing a President of a Country! AKA The United States of America and of course we don’t share the same views and values. So relax with the name calling and insults. You’d think people were reacting to Freidlander defending someone for hosting a menace and a threat to our community. Brothers, we are a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the population and yet OUR organizations, OUR askanim, and members of OUR community visit and host sitting Presidents, potential presidents, and countless city, state, and federal officials. (On Republican side nearly all the candidates are on first name basis with many leaders of our organizations and influential voices in our community). Personally I strongly oppose Hillarys candidacy….. But folks folks…. Like it or not there’s a more than likely chance she’s in the White House next 8 years. Stop being so petty and narrow minded. Of course it’s a good thing he’s hosting a fundraiser for her. You don’t have to like it and you don’t have to like Freidlander, his Shtikel Torah or his politics! But come on guys… “Pathetic” “Embarrassment” “Hack ” “Sinking to low levels” Relllaaaax chevra!

  17. Long article with lots of comments.
    Bottom line-we would rather see a Republican candidate in our house then Hillary.

    Maybe Ezra can arrange it.

  18. So we as Yidden stand for nothing just for cozying up to whomever we think will win?!

    Disgusting!

    We as Jews cannot condone and support candidates who support toavah. Rabbi Abigdor Miller zt”l always used to stress this.

    Neither can we endorse candidates who put our own brothers and sisters at risk. Clinton supported the Iranian deal which every person with a half a brain knows that the Iraians can, according to the “deal”, and will, continue their WMD program .They Irinians themselves said they will continue to developed WMD. We cannot endorse candidates who continue to ignore Jewish victims of terror while supporting the “poor Palestinians” ( there is no such people in reality) who need not give up their terror compaigns nor condemn terror.

    We need to stand for morals for that is our obligation as religious Jews.

    We need to stand with our brothers and sisters.

    Ezra Freidlander, Moshe Rabbeinu did not cozy up to, nor campaign for, nor solicit donations for Paroah. So don’t build you torahs lukshen on Moshe Rabbeinu being an asken.

  19. One wonders if it’s worthwhile responding to another piece from E. Freidlander, but for the sake of the innocent:

    Would
    Moshe Rabbenu host a fundraiser for Pharaoh

    ?How about even Rebbi for (Marcus Aurelius) Antoninus? or R’joselm of Roseheim for Charles V?

  20. Second,
    Backslapping and cozing up is a reality in politics ,but all of us -hopefully- have red lines ,if you Ezra have,how is it that yours are odds with most religious jews

  21. continued..

    e.g a little over two years ago when Ezra took out double page spreads in the weeklies in support of then frontrunner chr.Quin

  22. Thirdly, on the contrary often putting distance between ourselves a problematic candidates causes them to come running after us

    e.g the Obama Administration called up the Chicago kollel in the end of ’08 prior to his first term ,to ask how come the orthodox were so disapproved of them and what should be done

    There was somewhat similar situation with the mayor of a large city .

    Fourth,

    If Lichtenstein is doing it altruisticly for the Klal,then surely he will appreciate,commend and accept all the well meaning consternation and concern
    [ iirc all have more to self centeredly gain rather than lose from democrats throwing cheap money at us ,]

    TO conclude,

    Our people have had more than our share of politicos of all stripes sadly supporting all sorts
    While some of these programs may have merit in the right measure and at the right time and place, the fact that they and yourself are coming from the antithesis of the Torah ideal makes it a distorted diversion. In the Torah ideal there is nothing but God “for he is one and his name is one” (Zechariah 14,9) The issue is another foreign ideology, and another ism. We Jews seem to have a propensity for that which is alien to God starting with the [Gelt]Golden Calf but it has only caused us untold suffering throughout our long History.

    But to do it in
    Chassidish attire,

    Oseh ma’aseh zimri v’notel zchar K’pinchas?

  23. It’s interesting all the ignorant people he’s talking about posted to his article. I also like how some of you try to discredit him by saying “if paroh made a fundraiser…” guess what he did and yosef was right by his side for many years….if you’re uneducated please keep quit and let the adults and people who actually help our communities do what they need to do..all you negative nancys do is make yourself sound envious