On Sunday, The Orthodox Union held their biennial convention at the Young Israel of Woodmere. It was the final convention of outgoing President Moishe Bane, and the official election of the new administration, including new OU President and Kew Gardens Hills resident Mitch Aeder.
While the event did not have an official theme, it sure seemed like it from the variety of speeches made. Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer discussed the OU’s mandate – to elevate every Jew through Torah - and while some will attempt criticize the OU because they are too far Left or too far Right, the only direction they are focused on is forward. Rabbi Hauer highlighted the fact that Yaakov Avinu’s special gift was to ensure that his family remained whole at the end of the day, despite all that had happened, and that is what the OU strives to do – be a unifying force in K’lal Yisrael.
President Bane continued this theme of unity in his final State of the Orthodox Union Address. After going through all the different subdivisions of the OU, Bane discussed the areas of the Jewish community that may not be receiving the attention they deserve and require. He began by highlighting all the good that NCSY accomplishes, but pointed out that while NCSY was intended for the youth within the synagogue, it has veered towards children who are in public school. NCSY will be returning to its original intention – synagogue youth. That being said, those children in public schools will not be forgotten. They will have their needs met by the rapidly growing JSU – Jewish Student Union, a division that grained traction during the pandemic. Bane also announced initiatives to help retirees, young professionals, older singles, single parents, immigrants, and American olim. Each of these groups are vital parts of the frum population, but each come with their own unique challenges that the OU is looking to take on.
Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon, Rav of the Gush Etzion Regional Council and Rosh Yeshiva of Jerusalem College of Technology, closed the convention with more words of unity. Rabbi Rimon told the audience in attendance that it will not be the Charedim who bring Moshiach. It will not be the Tziyonim who bring Moshiach. It will not be the Conservative, the Modern Orthodox, or any particular group that will bring Moshiach - but all of us together.
The sentiment of the convention was extremely beautiful: A unifying theme from the organization that has the word “union” in its name. The OU is bringing up this topic at the right time. With the world so divided right now, with everyone having an opinion and a platform with which to espouse said opinion, there is more division than most other times in world history. Even the people who agree with each other on the direction we should go may vehemently disagree on how to get there. The fact that the OU is looking to represent all areas of Orthodox Judaism is a tremendous step towards that goal. The fact that they do not rely on their words alone, but are actively creating programs and divisions to target those who may have historically fallen through the cracks, shows the world that they are serious about bridging gaps.
The most difficult gaps to bridge, however, will likely be with all of the various sects of Judaism: the Chasiddishe to the Modern Orthodox, the Reform to the Yeshivishe, the Sefardic to the Ashkenazi, the ba’al habatishe to the unaffiliated. These are the bridges that must be built. Until then, we remain divided and the message of Rabbi Rimon will go unheeded. This is a positive step, but until we can actually be unified as a nation, it will only remain a step.
I wish the OU much hatzlachah in this endeavor, and encourage anyone who is interested in helping them reach their goals to reach out and volunteer to help them get there.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.