By Larry Gordon
It is a magnificent social-science display that is focused on the American Jewish community. From time to time, we have come together on these event Shabbosos or weekends where we have the opportunity to take a peek at what Jewish life is like out there, that is outside the New York metro area.
And so it is that it came to be after years of prodding by friends and colleagues, we took the plunge and headed for Washington DC to learn more, glean some insight, and become educated to a further extent about what it is like when Jews from around the country and around the world come together in support of our common bond—the well-being of the State of Israel.
There were many aspects and dimensions to these 25 hours that we spent as a prelude to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference at the Washington Convention Center. It is important to tiptoe about some of the sessions we attended and some of the things we heard because the credo at these events usually is “Everything is off the record unless it is specifically indicated that it is on the record.”
Over Shabbos, we met Jews from Kansas City (Kansas), Boca Raton, Los Angeles, Sydney (Australia), and Israel, all here in the nation’s capital for a few days because they understand how important it is to take time and show up in person and make our voices heard to the decision-makers here in government who have the ability and power to set policy.
So here we were at the beginning of the second Adar, in the prelude to Purim when the Jews were threatened with a different and much earlier Iranian genocide in the ancient times of Achashverosh and Haman, the anti-Semitic demons of yesteryear. Interestingly, the deviousness and duplicity of those Iranian or Persian leaders are not much different from the threat posed by Iran to Israel today.
And though there was a great deal to discuss and talk about on matters that concern Israel and its relationship with the American Jewish community, the focus over these few days was, time and again, the Iranian threat.
But first the matter of the intrigue of what it is like when Jews, many who have never met each other before, comfortably come together and join forces because of our common bond: we love and care for Israel and her safety, which is also our safety and security.
The conference, which officially started on Sunday, featured a Shabbaton led by Rabbi Steven Weil, executive director of the Orthodox Union. It was a great introduction to my first policy conference, and I found that the education and inspiration one receives at these events is both educational and inspirational.
I’m not saying that there is a specific theme to these AIPAC meetings, but I believe that the news that happens out there and around us dictates what happens in here. To that end, in retrospect, I can say that the focus of this event was revving up sanctions on Iran in order to force the leaders there to abandon their designs on developing a nuclear bomb.
And this is precisely where a good deal of the community that vigorously supports Israel differs with the approach of the Obama White House. We received an off-the-record briefing from an official involved in the U.S.–Israel relationship who indicated to us that lessening sanctions on Iran even minimally at this point would send the wrong signal to the mullahs there. The Obama liberal approach to just about every policy matter over the last five years is not something that most ardent supporters can agree with.
Rabbi Weil broached the subject as well by asking why it was that the idea and imagery of the Egyptian chariots and their riders drowning in the Red Sea is such a high point and mandatory part of the Pesach liturgy. The Jews were already out of Egypt and G‑d had promised them that they were going to Sinai to receive the Torah and then it was on to the land of Israel.
So why the detailed description of the destruction of the Egyptian armed forces, the most advanced in the world at that time, as the central focus of our observance? And the rabbi explained that with the Jewish people having been enslaved for over 200 years, the sight of the Egyptian army and their version of weapons of mass destruction was very intimidating to the fleeing Jews.
The rabbi then goes onto to explain the similarities and likeness between the chariots of those times and Iran’s nuclear weapons today. Taking both the ancient and contemporary events into consideration, one is offered a finer understanding of why making certain that Iran’s weapons are dismantled or destroyed is just as important today as it was then to see the Egyptians drown in the sea.
It was an outstanding Shabbos that set the pace and tone for what was to come over the next few days in Washington. I met some of the AIPAC staff, young men like Jason Kopel who lives in Flatbush and runs the Brooklyn office of AIPAC. Jason was born and raised in Boro Park, went to Yeshivah of Flatbush, and today wears a black hat and a long kapotte on Shabbos. Jason was one of two or three so-called “black hats” who were here for Shabbos.
Another interesting young man whom I met was Rabbi Ben Packer of Heritage House in the Old City of Jerusalem. For many years, Ben worked with Rabbi Meir Schuster, who passed away a few weeks ago, and now it is Rabbi Packer who faces the challenge of stepping into those big shoes and works with the disparate population of young Jewish souls who find themselves at the Kotel in Jerusalem on Friday night. Ben was born in Virginia and made his way to Israel as a yeshiva student, got involved in helping Rabbi Schuster, and the rest is history.
And I met a couple—Rabbi and Mrs. Chanoch Lieberman—from Charleston, North Carolina. Originally from New York, they settled in the South to set up shop and bring Jews closer to authentic Judaism. There are some 15,000 Jews spread around North Carolina; as for those who are Orthodox, the rabbi thinks for a moment and says that he knows about 15 or so.
All of the above, along with 14,000 other people from all walks of Jewish life, came down to DC last week in order to demonstrate their personal support and interest in the U.S.–Israel relationship. Washington is where the power is in this country, and though it sometimes seems cold and even brutal or detached, the reality is that it has a face and can be dealt with on a warm and personal level. That is what coming to Washington DC for these four days was all about. It is about person-to-person contact, being together, getting to know one another, and setting out individually and together as a unit to make known that which we all have in common, the desire for a strong and secure Israel and a good and healthy U.S.–Israel relationship. v
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