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In January 2019, Democrat Lou Lang of the Illinois state house resigned after 32 years in the legislature. The law called for the open seat to be filled by appointment until the next regularly scheduled election in November 2020.

Rabbi Yehiel Kalish, a long time lobbyist and former Agudath Israel representative, got the prized seat after promising Lang that he "would vote like a mirror image of his predecessor."

However, it was not too long afterwards that Rabbi Kalish admitted in an interview with Mishpacha Magazine that in his zeal to help the community and retain this “Jewish” seat in the state house, he made this promise without calculating all of the potential consequences.

At the end of May 2019, a controversial bill cropped up on the legislative agenda.

Known as the RHA, or Reproductive Health Act, the measure was intended to decriminalize late-term abortions.

A group of freshman Illinois female legislators pushed it to the top of the agenda. Bending to pressure from the left, led by the powerful pro-choice lobby, the house speaker announced a vote would be held in two days.

The next 48 hours were a political nightmare for Rabbi Kalish.

As a Democrat, he was expected to fall in line with the supermajority and vote yes.

As a rabbi, he had to vote no.

Rabbi Kalish ended up voting “present,” which merely means a refusal to take sides. It does not count toward or against passage of a bill, but it contributes toward the quorum, or minimum number of members required in attendance for a legislative body to conduct business legally.

It didn’t matter that the RHA passed the state house easily by 14 votes and that Rabbi Kalish’s vote was not decisive. In politics, you can’t make everyone happy — but this vote made everyone unhappy.

His Orthodox constituents were dismayed, having expected he would vote no to stay in line with their common religious beliefs, and to prove that his brand of politics was based on values and integrity, not expediency.

The overwhelmingly liberal Democratic district who heard Rabbi Kalish's imprudent promise to vote like a mirror image of his predecessor, took that to mean he was bound to vote yes on the RHA.

In the aftermath of the vote, Lang vowed political revenge and recruited a strong progressive candidate to oppose Rabbi Kalish in the March 2020 primary.

Ultimately, Rabbi Kalish lost his seat when he finished second in a three-way Democratic primary election. 

In an era when single-issue voters can make or break an officeholder’s career, Rabbi Kalish failed a political litmus test he could never have passed.

In retrospect, Rabbi Kalish admitted that in his zeal to help the community and retain this “Jewish” seat in the state house, he made a promise without calculating all of the potential consequences.

He had made major strides to assist his constituents. He secured more than $150 million to upgrade local nursing homes; $17 million to fund reconstructions of a major north-south artery in Skokie; and obtained more than $3.5 million for capital improvements at 15 different nonprofits in his district, including a half dozen Orthodox Jewish ones.

“For sure. The foolish mistake I made was thinking nothing could come up that I couldn’t find an answer for or explain,” Rabbi Kalish said. “That’s often how balabatim like me, lacking daas Torah, think. ‘We’ll do great things for the community and everything will be okay.’'

“It’s not that running for elections was ever something I craved,” Rabbi Kalish recalls thinking. “I devoted most of my career to public advocacy, lobbying if you will, mainly for governmental groups and agencies on behalf of the Orthodox Jewish community. I thought to myself: Who is going to speak for the religious community if not one of their own? Who is going to defend our rights to practice our faith in this country when we are under constant attack? That same sense of duty prevented me from dropping out.”

Looking back, Rabbi Kalish minces no words in saying that “the Democratic Party, as a whole is unwelcoming to organized religion.

“The Democratic Party will say we respect freedom of religion, but the radical left wants to remove organized religion from this planet because it gets in their way,” he says. “But we, as a community, also have to remember that the radical right hates Jews — all of us. Both sides have a disdain for the Orthodox community — the radical left because of religion, and the radical right because we’re Jews.”

He views the ongoing radicalization with much consternation and felt revulsion when watching a viral video of protestors in Washington, D.C., accosting restaurant patrons, forcing them to raise their hands in solidarity.

“This mob mentality exists strongly in the left,” Rabbi Kalish says. “You cannot disagree with them on any point and still be part of them.”

Mishpacha's full interview with Rabbi Kalish can be seen here.

Does all of this sound eerily familiar to the current election season in Lakewood?

Rabbi Kalish's vote was never needed and he still caved in.

If Rabbi Avi Schnall is elected to the assembly, he will under even more intense pressure to vote for the Democrat agenda because their margin in New Jersey is tighter.

More ironic, Rabbi Schnall is attacking Ned Thomson for voting against the budget despite knowing that he voted against because the pork and LQBTQ stuff it included. Essentially, Thomson simply followed his party's rules. Yet, at the very same time, he is attempting to trying to fool us into thinking that he will be able to NOT follow his party's rules when they contradict our values. Rabbi Kalish's history shows simply how not possible that is.

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