Last year, my family was scattered throughout the northeast prior to the AIPAC Policy Conference. My husband went to Washington on a coach bus, as the adviser to over 40 high school students, including our younger daughter, leaving New Jersey on Friday afternoon. I had been planning to drive down after Shabbat but, at the last minute, I decided it would be easier to go on Friday, so I pulled two of our children out of school and we picked up Shabbat food and headed down to D.C. by car, also leaving on Friday afternoon. Our oldest son was at school in Binghamton, and he flew into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Virginia, leaving New York at around 4 a.m. on Sunday. He tried to fly out of Greater Binghamton Airport, but his flight kept getting delayed and he ended up getting a ride to, and leaving from, Elmira/Corning Regional Airport, an hour away. Our older daughter was on an NCSY shabbaton at West Point, and took a train to D.C., leaving in the middle of the night after Shabbat. We were all quite determined to attend.
This year, a devastating nor’easter was predicted to hit the northeast, including the Washington, D.C. area, on Friday. This was to be the second “bomb cyclone” of the season, and winds were predicted to gust up to 70 mph. Concerns about travel to the conference began earlier in the week, but not everyone had the luxury of leaving on Thursday.
My son’s friend, who lives and attends school in California, planned to fly east for the conference on Friday. Her flight was rerouted to Minneapolis, where, after several announced flight delays, passengers were told that their connecting flight had been cancelled. Stuck in Minneapolis for Shabbat, she was forced to reach out to a friend for hospitality and could not get a flight to D.C. until early Sunday morning.
I spoke to several people, all from the NY/NJ area, who didn’t even try to leave on Friday, out of concerns about the weather. Not wanting to miss Sunday morning’s general assembly session, they left their homes after Shabbat, not arriving in Washington until 11 p.m. at the earliest, and some not until closer to 3 a.m. One photographer from New York, who happened to be shomer Shabbat, told me that he left his home at 3 a.m. on Sunday in order to make the 8:30 morning session.
AIPAC runs a pre-conference shabbaton each year, providing Shabbat-observant delegates with the opportunity to get to D.C. in a leisurely manner and still have a meaningful Shabbat experience, complete with speakers and full Shabbat activities. This year, hundreds of delegates were unable to reach D.C. prior to Shabbat—many of those didn’t even try, due to the forecasted potentially destructive storm. Most of these individuals drove to Washington late Saturday night, and some did not leave until the wee hours of Sunday morning, since the winds were still high the night before.
Fortunately, I had planned to leave early this year, so my plans didn’t have to change due to the storm. I left at noon on Friday, thinking that even with a delay we would reach Washington in plenty of time for Shabbat, which started at 5:44 p.m. in D.C. Fortunately, I decided to use Waze rather than just taking my usual route. Clearly there was something going on, as Waze routed me a different way from the moment we left the NJ Turnpike. It was also clear pretty early on that this would not be a normal trip. The snow and rain were annoying, but not troublesome. The wind, however, was an entirely different matter. I felt compelled to stay in the right lane at all times, as the wind was coming from that side and literally pushing my car to the left. That was a little unsettling, but as we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge it became downright scary. And the weather seemed to be confusing Waze also, as our ETA kept jumping back and forth by at least a half hour or more.
“Guys, we’re not going to get there by Shabbos,” I said, panicking slightly as Waze indicated there was a 77-minute delay. Not a minute later, that delay was gone and all signs pointed to our arriving even before the 18 minutes. Thankfully, that was how the trip ultimately played out.
My husband and his high school contingent had a crazy trip to the area on Friday as well. It seems that bus drivers are not allowed to use Waze, since the app does not take the height of the vehicle into account when routing trips. Whatever navigational app the bus driver actually used must have been malfunctioning—or severely impacted by the many road closures during the storm—since his ETA jumped around even more than mine. Unfortunately, it did not go back and forth quite enough; rather, it continually showed a later and later ETA. Ultimately, the group arrived at its destination in Maryland after more than eight hours on the bus. At least the bus came equipped with a bathroom, but those poor kids had finished their snacks pretty early on and probably could have eaten the seat cushions by the time they arrived.
This all just serves to show how important AIPAC is to the many thousands who attend each year. Next year’s policy conference is scheduled for March 24 to 26; let’s hope that the weather cooperates.
By Jill Kirsch
Jill Kirsch is the senior editor at The Jewish Link of New Jersey and The Jewish Link of Bronx, Westchester and Connecticut.