Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, Agudath Israel of America’s vice president for community affairs, was honored with delivering an invocation at today’s swearing-in of New York State Governor David A. Paterson.
A well-known community askon who has dedicated three decades of his life to addressing the social service and educational needs of the Orthodox Jewish community, Rabbi Lefkowitz has had a close personal relationship with the new Governor over a period of many years.
“Right from the start,” said Rabbi Lefkowitz in an interview following the ceremony, “Mr. Paterson impressed me as an individual who chose to go into public service solely out of a desire to help people, whoever and wherever they are. “ That sentiment was an underlying theme of Rabbi Lefkowitz’s invocation.
“Governor Paterson has a long and distinguished record in regard to his relationship with the Jewish community, in general, and with the Orthodox community in particular,” observed Rabbi Aaron Twerski, a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School and a distinguished community leader. “That Rabbi Lefkowitz was chosen to deliver the invocation symbolizes that relationship.”
Rabbi Lefkowitz is not the first Agudah representative to offer a benediction at the swearing-in of a government official. In January 1994, Agudath Israel’s late president and askon par excellence Rabbi Moshe Sherer delivered an invocation at the first inauguration of New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Governor Paterson’s choice follows the precedent set on that occasion, said Rabbi Nosson Scherman, general editor of Mesorah Publications. “In Judaism, a spiritual leader need not occupy a pulpit. Judaism is an everyday, every minute affair, and Shmuel Lefkowitz is a person who epitomizes that concept.”
Rabbi Lefkowitz’s many accomplishments on behalf of the Orthodox community include serving as founding director of Agudah Israel’s Southern Brooklyn Community Organization (SBCO), a prime force in providing affordable housing in Brooklyn to low- and moderate-income families — an effort he has recently undertaken with great success in Lakewood, New Jersey, as well. Rabbi Lefkowitz was also at the forefront of legislation passed in New York and New Jersey requiring health insurance plans to cover certain types of infertility treatments. The Agudah representative – who also serves as chairman of the board of Metropolitan Jewish Health System – currently directs much of his efforts to helping hard-pressed yeshivos and their parent bodies obtain government relief from the crushing financial burden of tuition costs.
“For more than thirty years,” said Agudath Israel executive vice president for government and public affairs Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, “Shmuel Lefkowitz has dedicated every fiber of his being to working on behalf of needy Jews from all backgrounds. He has done so behind the scenes, without fanfare, and has achieved remarkable results.
“What a source of great pride it is for all of us that his remarkable dedication to the klal has finally gained the recognition it deserves.”
Text of the Invocation for Governor David Paterson delivered by Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz
“Avinu Shebashamayim: Our Father in Heaven:
We New Yorkers stand before You at a most challenging time. We yearn for Divine inspiration, guidance and wisdom. It is not by chance, nor is it by circumstance that we are here today. It is by G-d’s Divine design.
We are all gathered here, as witnesses of history in the making, to give honor and blessings to Governor David Patterson and his family and the men and women who will serve alongside him together with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.
G-d has bestowed leadership on a man who possesses great humility, uncompromising integrity and devotion to public service, characteristics which are valued above all by the Al-mighty.
Personally, I am proud to share this podium with Governor Patterson. What a truly blessed nation this is, when the son of immigrant Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, has the privilege to deliver the invocation for the first African American Governor of the State of New York.
Over the years I have come to know David Patterson as a person with genuine warmth and respect for people.
He is inclusive. Together with Assemblyman Dov Hikind, he was one of the founders of the Black Jewish Coalition.
Throughout his long and distinguished career, David Patterson has been helpful to all communities and participated many times in standing up for the needy, regardless of their background. David sees the image of G-d in each and every person.
In the lexicon of David Patterson, there is no such word as disability. All G-d’s creations are perfect. Some of us are simply challenged in different ways than others. A sign of greatness is one who takes his challenges and sees in them opportunities.
Our new Governor has 20/20 vision foresight. Today we celebrate foresight – looking ahead. There is no one better qualified to take darkness and turn it into light.
It is a new day. May it herald a new future. A future where we see opportunity for one and all, for the glory of G-D and all mankind. Amen