May 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

NORPAC Mission Builds Support in DC

Given the complexity of some of the issues involved, and the sharp partisan divide in government, members of the Jewish community might think that serious political activism—on behalf of Israel—is best left to the professionals or to a select few very motivated volunteers.

The annual mission to Washington, D.C., orchestrated by NORPAC, demonstrates conclusively that meaningful bipartisan political action—that can make a real impact—is within reach of anyone willing to take a day off, do some basic preparation and work with a team.

The 2018 NORPAC mission to Washington, held on Wednesday, April 25, brought together roughly 1,000 citizen advocates from all across the region—Bergen County, Edison/Highland Park, West Orange/Livingston, Bronx, Brooklyn, Five Towns/Long Island, New Rochelle, NYC, Queens, West Hempstead and Connecticut, as well as participation from other states as far away as Florida and Nebraska. Mission participants were organized into small groups and assigned meetings with members of Congress and/or their aides to discuss select pending legislation that enhances the U.S./Israel alliance. When the mission ended, 96 percent of all Senate offices and almost 80 percent of the House had had a meeting with people from NORPAC.

NORPAC makes the work of mission participants relatively easy—providing talking points and briefing packets in the week before the mission, organizing buses from dozens of departure points, creating a training video (shown on the buses to D.C.), providing all three meals, composing small groups, and scheduling specific meetings in Congressional offices for each group.

To make the whole operation run so smoothly, NORPAC’s one professional staff member and volunteer leadership team put in a great deal of work.

Dr. Laurie Baumel of Teaneck, co-chair of the mission, explained that planning for each year’s mission starts five months in advance of the event. And the work of the mission planners continues for weeks afterward, as the leadership reads all participant surveys and follows up on the issues the small groups discussed in the congressional offices.

In the weeks before the mission, NORPAC’s Talking Points Committee considers different possibilities for the issues to be raised, debates the options and selects those that are most urgent and that reflect the bi-partisan and non-denominational nature of the organization.

Participants in the 2018 NORPAC mission to D.C. were instructed to advocate for three legislative initiatives in their meetings with members of Congress and/or their aides:

– The Combating BDS Act of 2017 (HR 2856; S 170), which supports state and local government efforts to remove their pension funds and contracts from entities that engage in BDS activities.

– The Israel Anti-Boycott Act (HR 1697, S 720), which combats efforts at the U.N. Human Rights Council to endorse boycotts of companies that do business anywhere over the 1949 armistice line, including East Jerusalem and the Golan.

NORPAC has been leading an annual mission to DC for 25 years, since Rabbi Menachem Genack of the Orthodox Union organized the very first mission with a few dozen people. NORPAC’s leaders are proud of the size of the missions now, yet they also encourage participants to bring friends so more people attend, as there is power in numbers. The goal of the annual missions are very practical—to create relationships with members of Congress, to educate them on issues of vital importance to the U.S./Israel alliance and to pass legislation.

Dr. Baumel knows firsthand that the missions have a real impact. She recalls a small-group meeting she and her daughter participated in with a New York-area congresswoman in 2003. The group discussed the Koby Mandell Act, then pending, which authorized the U.S. government to prosecute perpetrators of terrorist acts against U.S. citizens in foreign countries. The congresswoman said, “I didn’t know about that bill,” and then said to her aide, “Sign me on.” The bill became law weeks later.

Jeffrey Schreiber of Edison, mission logistics co-chair, shared another story that illustrates the impact of the mission to D.C. “A few years ago we advocated for $250 million in funding for a brand-new, then-little known anti-missile system called Iron Dome. Many of our missioneers got strange looks during their meetings. “What? A missile that shoots down other missiles that are only in the air for a few minutes at most? Impossible!” The very next day the system successfully intercepted a missile in theater, made the papers and 400 congressional offices got calls and emails from our people, telling them that, yes, the system works. Well, all the Iron Dome funding was approved shortly thereafter, saving untold numbers of lives.”

Participants in the mission sense the value of the meetings they hold with members of Congress. They also offer a number of reasons why they cleared a day for the mission.

Garrett Scheier of Manville decided to participate in the NORPAC mission for the first time this year because his aunt-in-law encouraged him to do so (she is Dr. Galina Datskovsky of Fair Lawn). On the bus headed to D.C. in the morning, Garrett said that he was looking forward “to speaking directly with elected officials or their aides about important issues for the United States and for Israel.”

Mr. Jeremy Fingerman of Englewood participated with his wife and their 17-year-old daughter. This was the seventh year they attended the mission as a family. Asked why this event is an annual priority to his family, he said, “It’s vital that we share this experience with our shul community. Stepping up for Israel every year is important; our legislators need to see us taking action for Israel on a regular basis.”

Milton Erdfarb, a bus leader from Highland Park who has participated in the mission for five years or more, said, “In almost every representative’s and senator’s office we have visited, we have been greeted with uplifting messages of support. The most recurrent theme we hear is how important our lobbying efforts are to the Congress people we meet. Bringing 1,000 grassroots people to Washington, D.C., and blanketing the Hill with regular citizens is tremendously influential and seems to be very effective whenever we directly ask for support of bills that maintain a strong relationship between Israel and the United States.”

Sydney Teigman of Englewood, a ninth grader at SAR High School, attended the mission “because it’s a tradition in my family that my dad and brothers participated. My brothers are in college now so I wanted to go to learn more about politics and support Israel with my dad.”

Yael Adler of West Orange, a junior at Yeshivat Frisch in Paramus, said she decided to go on the NORPAC mission “because I wanted to help reinforce U.S./Israel relations and learn about the issues that are a deep concern to both countries.”

Group leader Tzvi Plotzker of Teaneck summed up the sentiments of Mission 2018 participants, stating, “This was the best NORPAC mission ever! Thank you to all who took a day off from work or school and spent the day to advocate for the U.S./Israel relationship.”

By Harry Glazer

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