WASHINGTON, Dec. 6 (JTA) — The upcoming opening of an Orthodox Union office in Washington reflects the group’s interest in having a stronger voice in public policy. The O.U. decided earlier this year to move its Institute for Public Affairs to the nation’s capital in January after four years of promoting the idea within its ranks. “There are some issues where the Orthodox community’s views are not necessarily represented by others in Washington, so it’s important that we have a presence there,” said Nathan Diament. The director of the IPA, Diament has been shuttling between New York and Washington to lobby for the O.U. for more than two years. That arrangement occasionally put the group at a disadvantage, O.U. officials said. “Much of influencing the political and even cultural debate in Washington has to do with developing relationships, whether it’s on Capitol Hill, the administration or the national media, and it’s hard to develop relationships long distance,” said Diament. Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, president of the O.U., said being in Washington “allows us to be more proactive than reactive. The people there are the people who set the tone.” O.U. officials said they hope to beef up the group’s operation with additional staff and use the office to extend its Washington internship program. Fellow Jewish lobbyists in Washington said the O.U.’s increased presence on Capitol Hill will strengthen the Jewish community’s voice. “Our public policy voice should be guided by Torah values, but at the same time it could very well be that we have different opinions,” said Abba Cohen, director and counsel of the Washington office of Agudath Israel of America, a fervently Orthodox group. The IPA’s chairman, Richard Stone, said he looks forward to working with Agudath Israel. Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said he suspects his organization will side with the O.U. on some issues and oppose them on others. “It’s important for policy makers in Washington to understand the diversity of viewpoints Jews have,” Pelavin said. Having Diament in Washington will “help them to do just that.” The O.U.’s agenda in years past has included lobbying for American intervention in the Persian Gulf crisis, tuition tax credits and school vouchers, and a new law to protect religious observance in the workplace.
Orthodox Union preparing to open Washington office