Last week, Agudath Israel of America announced the appointment of Daniel Kaminetsky of Bergenfield as its general counsel.
Mr. Kaminetsky has 20 years of experience in private practice, much of it involving legal issues affecting clients in the Jewish community. A recent case involved successfully defending the Vaad of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway, an organization that certifies the kosher status of local establishments, in a defamation lawsuit arising from one of the Vaad’s communications.
“I thought it was a pretty natural segue for me to go from the private practice to the type of work Agudath does, which is advancing the needs of the community,” Mr. Kaminetsky said. “I feel like I’ve been doing that on a micro level; now, I’m doing it on a macro level. “
Mr. Kaminetsky has a robust family background in communal work. His grandfather, Rabbi Dr. Joseph Kaminetsky, served for decades as the national director of Torah Umesorah, an organization dedicated to building Orthodox Jewish day schools, and ensuring their viability and success. “My grandfather traveled across the United States and Canada, working with local lay leaders to set up day schools,” Mr. Kaminetsky said. “And he helped create a network so they could all benefit from Torah Umesorah’s resources and guidance.”
Mr. Kaminetsky’s father, Rabbi David Kaminetsky, “followed in his own father’s footsteps,” Mr. Kaminetsky continued. “He was an educator for basically his entire career.” Rabbi David Kaminetsky was a principal first at the Moriah School in Englewood, where he spent several years, and then at the Frisch School in Paramus. Next, he became principal of the Manhattan Day School, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, for 18 years. For the last 16 years of his life, he led the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge. He died in 2018.
All of Daniel Kaminetsky’s siblings and in laws are involved in Jewish education. He has four who are very active in Long Island schools, and two who are involved in educational institutions in Florida. “So communal work is really very much a family affair,” he said. “And Agudath Israel is a very community-minded organization. Agudath Israel is dedicated to building the Jewish community through education, and advocates for yeshiva day schools in every arena, including at the city, state, and federal levels, and works to ensure that they are in compliance with all applicable regulations.”
When Mr. Kaminetsky interviewed for his new position at Agudath Israel, Rabbi Yitzhok Ehrman, its chief operating officer, talked about the organization’s commitment to helping Jews across the religious spectrum, Mr. Kaminetsky said. “He said that anywhere a Jew is in need, Agudath Israel is there to help them.” And in his new role, Mr. Kaminetsky plans to help.
He anticipates working with people who are being deprived of their religious rights or are facing discrimination because of their religious beliefs. “We get calls from people who say they are being discriminated against because of Sabbath observance,” he said. “I got an email recently from a student who is being told that unless they are willing to violate the Sabbath, they may be forced to leave the physician assistant program they are enrolled in.”
Agudath Israel has helped with this type of issue in the workplace, Mr. Kaminetsky continued. A situation a few years ago involved a nurse who worked in a New York City public hospital and reached out for assistance when a supervisor told her and three Jewish coworkers that they would have to work on Yom Kippur or face reprisals and risk losing their jobs. The nurse said that she had observed every Yom Kippur since she had immigrated to the United States from Russia 20 years earlier; she did not want to work on the holy day but would do so if it meant keeping her job.
Agudath Israel reached out to the hospital’s CEO and asked if the nurses’ requests not to work on Yom Kippur could be accommodated, explaining that employees have a constitutional right to observe their religious holidays. The organization also asked some local politicians to intervene. Ultimately, the hospital reversed the decision and allowed the nurses time off for Yom Kippur.
Another area Agudath Israel’s legal department has dealt with involves local zoning or land use regulations. In one instance, a developer bought a large parcel of land in a town in upstate New York and obtained all the necessary permits to build multifamily housing, Mr. Kaminetsky said. “The project was shovel-ready when the developer ran into some problems and sold the parcel to another developer, who happened to be a chasidic Jew. All of a sudden, all the permits were pulled, and the entire project ground to a halt.
“This is something we actually brought to the attention of New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, because it’s a blatant form of discrimination.
“Where you had one contractor, the program sailed through, they had no issues with permits, and all of a sudden, a different contractor had all sorts of issues with the project. And it was the same type of high-density housing – the plan was to build the same exact type of thing.
“It is very, very worrying, and the attorney general was concerned to hear about it.” The organization also has been involved in situations where municipal requirements appear to discriminate against religious institutions. “For example, for a movie theater, they require one and a half acres of space, for a hotel, they require two acres of space, and for a synagogue, a house of worship, they require five acres,” Mr. Kaminetsky explained. “Which is clearly designed to make it more difficult and unreasonable to have Jewish communities come to those places.
“These are issues that are very concerning to us. I am working with the other professionals here to make sure that these issues get the attention they deserve and get redressed and get corrected.
“I have a tremendous sense of gratitude to be coming to work every day and doing work that I really feel can make a huge difference,” Mr. Kaminetsky said. “Just to come to work and really feel like you’re helping people is very gratifying for me.
“I’m thankful that I found this job, and that they found me, and I’m very determined that it will be a very mutually beneficial relationship for many years to come.”