Let’s face it. Some things we simply take for granted. These may be “small” things, like being able to swing a golf club without pain or larger things like getting up in the morning or having a safe and secure State of Israel. I am regularly called upon to serve in a leadership role for my community and as a role model for my children. My love of Israel is one of the values that make up the core of my teachings and philosophy, and going to AIPAC is a big part of that.
I wanted to share some reflections on this year’s policy conference, albeit with a different twist, since I went as a rabbi, and as a father. This year my high school age daughter joined me for the first time.
That first night was the rabbinic dinner reception. For my daughter, seeing the massive amounts of people all here for the same purpose was awe inspiring. I told her she “ain’t seen nothin’ yet; wait until you see a general session.”
The attendees were all told to arrive very early for the Monday morning session because of the multiple layers of security we had to go through. When the Prime Minister of Israel speaks, the Secret Service pays attention.
After finally making our way to our seats, we anxiously waited to hear from Prime Minister Netanyahu. The excitement in the room was palpable, especially because of all the hullabaloo that surrounded his visit. We knew it would be some time until he would reach the podium, and we used this time to meet and greet new and old friends. I have often quipped that the policy conference is like America’s Kiddush, where you get to see so many people from all parts of your life.
We first heard from the former President of Spain, Jose Maria Aznar, and the recent Foreign Minister of Canada, John Baird. I watched my daughter become enthralled by the support of the crowd for these two bold world leaders as they openly professed the need to support Israel. This feeling was only enhanced by the words of Milos Zeman, President of the Czech Republic, and the first ever leader of a European Union country to address AIPAC. To hear a European leader emphatically declare “Never again, never again!” is a rarity and a very big deal.
We next heard from Ambassador Samantha Powers, the permanent US Representative to the UN. She received a warm welcome as well, though I think the crowd was getting anxious to hear from the Prime Minister at this point.
Then came the big moment. Here I was with my oldest daughter, 16,000 of our closest friends, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The reception he received was thunderous and enthusiastic. I prepared my daughter to be ready to clap and stand up several times. Indeed, the up and down reminded me of the Neilah service. The Prime Minister did not disappoint. He gracefully thanked everyone who made this possible and expressed his sincere thanks and appreciation for President Obama and all he has done for Israel.
Bibi, with his natural gift for oratory, began with some self-deprecating humor about “the speech.” He went on to say nothing that surprised anyone, yet he inspired everyone. He made several quotable lines such as “Israel should never be a partisan issue.” “Americans worry about their security; Israelis worry about their survival…. America and Israel are more than friends, we are family—mishpacha.”
As a member of the audience, one had to feel as being part of something historic and meaningful. You felt like your presence really makes a difference and an impact on how our lawmakers and government officials see Israel. You felt like the Prime Minister was speaking directly to you.
After several breakout sessions in the afternoon, we gathered again for the evening general session. We heard from the Mayor of Washington, DC, Muriel Bowser, followed by National Security Advisor Susan Rice. The speech by Ambassador Rice was interesting because of the noticeable attitudes of disagreement toward her in the crowd. For me, this was a valuable teaching moment to show my daughter how we treat those with whom we disagree. The reception for her remarks was tepid, yet respectful.
The final two presenters of the evening were worth the price of admission. First, we heard from the parents of Eyal, Gilaad and Naftali, HY”D, who had the courage to address this crowd and ensure that Jewish unity continues in the wake of their tragedy. Their tragedy is our tragedy; their sons are our sons. They assured us that our warm international embrace of last summer was not in vain. There was no dry eye in the house.
For years as I watched my beloved New York Yankees, when they needed to close out a game with a win they called upon the Sandman, the closer, number 42 Mariano Rivera. Well I guess AIPAC has a number 42 of its own. No, he does not wear pinstripes, but he is one of the great friends of Israel. I of course am referring to our senator, Robert Menendez. His formidable speech brought the house down. He made us all proud to represent New Jersey.
The final highlight of Monday evening was the Leadership Reception. At this dinner, all guests have the opportunity to mingle and meet various senators, congressmen and Israeli dignitaries. My daughter and I met with Senators Cory Booker and Chuck Schumer and Ambassador Ron Prosor, just to name a few. One can readily see how those personal conversations affect how these lawmakers act towards Israel.
AIPAC is a tremendous opportunity for us to actively show our support for Israel. The more people we get to speak up for Israel, the more our government has to pay attention. The more our lawmakers see thousands of students taking time from their precious schedules to lobby for Israel, the more success we will have.
According to AIPAC, they have already outgrown the DC Convention Center and will have to find new space for next year. I want to see more members of my shul go, more students from our schools go, and more people than ever go to policy conference 2016. AIPAC ensures that no one ever takes the safety and security of the State of Israel for granted. We signed up already, did you?
By Rabbi Samuel Klibanoff