It is early Sunday morning, and I just boarded my flight to Washington DC to attend the AIPAC conference. Perusing my fellow sleep deprived travelers I am impressed by the number of passengers headed to DC for the same purpose as I am. The plane is full, but room is still found for trepidation, my constant travel companion, gnawing at my lingering doubts, fearful our collective voices will be muted because of the cacophony of ambient noise. Further adding to my queasiness is the fact I am a novice, never having attended a convention of this magnitude and questioning whether I make a difference.
My first session is by private invitation only, and I thank Ken and Randee Rubenstein for their help in gaining my access. The speaker is Tal Becker whose resume includes such minor accomplishments as being Israel’s deputy legal advisor to the U.N. and one of three Israelis who are directly involved in the so called peace initiatives with Abbas. He also happens to be a former student of mine during my tenure in Australia who was a “Ben bayit” as my family became an extension of his own. (During my recent visit to Israel we met over coffee as I was trying to entice him to speak at Anshei Emuna in the coming year.) I’m sitting at table 62 of this intimate select group of more than 1500 people. (Phillip Avruch, Herbert & Sherry Rosenstock, good friends and members of Anshei Emuna are also at this luncheon)
Unfortunately, but par for the course, there were the protesters outside the convention center. It was upsetting however to find Neturei Karta the anti Israel, anti Zionist group, dressed in devout garb but spewing forth venomous hatred of their fellow Jew joining with other Anti-Semites in a diatribe against Israel. Thank God the weather became colder, and the freeze quashed their zeal to stand in the elements to berate those whose views differ from theirs. (You see God does work in mysterious ways.)
Paradoxically the protest was in stark contrast with the mutual respect and dignity shown by the 14,000 plus participants at the conference. Rabbis with black hats chatted freely with kipah wearing female clergy with the focus of the three days aimed at building on our commonality. We stood in unison to unashamedly support Israel and complement politicians from both sides of the aisle. We heard differing and perhaps contradictory opinions, but we also heard the inner and sometimes muted voice of those whose participation vouched for their support. Sadly even in democracy, political ramifications often impact on our ability to express our true sentiments.
We heard from Israeli entrepreneurs showcasing the amazing depth of Israel’s high tech industry and were shown presentations of their remarkable innovations. We heard from individuals across the globe who have benefited from Israeli ingenuity, inventions that give the blind alternatives to normal vision and law enforcement tools to see through solid walls. We heard from Ethiopian Jews who through Operation Moses were spared a life of depravation with one becoming the first Ethiopian member of the Knesset. We heard Knesset member Naftali Bennett the head of the Bayit Hayehudi, the Jewish Home Party speak about the need to inject Judaism back into the soul of Israel. He spoke of the changing dynamic in Israel and the need to reignite the spirit of yiddishkeit and love of the state.
John McCain spoke extremely well, and you could actually feel his love of Israel and his respect for all of Israel’s accomplishments. Chuck Schumer and Jack Lew were equally eloquent. John Kerry, who had to tread water carefully, was still encouraging in his forceful position on Iran’s nuclear program. He demanded serious consequences for those trying to circumvent sanctions. Honestly I could not find fault with any of the presenters or presentations. Obviously the Prime Minister spoke passionately and with a sense of urgency to resounding applause from an audience that lapped up his every word.
However to me the resounding success of the past few days was seeing people from all walks of life, both Jew and Gentile standing together and in a clear and loud voice enunciating their wholehearted support for Medinat Yisrael. Historically, “vaya’anu kol ha’am yachdav” the entire community speaking with one voice was limited to a single event, the revelation on Mount Sinai. When we can recreate what happened at Sinai, when we all speak k’ish echad,b’lev echad, like one voice with one heart, then perhaps we are witnessing a move from “reshit tzmichat geulateinu” the beginning of the final redemption to hopefully a sustainable final redemption.
May we all merit sharing in the building of the Beit Hamikdash, on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, in our lifetime, in our land and with all humanity saying collectively, as John Kerry tried albeit unsuccessfully, “am Yisrael chai.”
Rabbi Jack Engel