Final AIPAC Day and Thoughts

Monday at AIPAC:
Another early start to the day. However, there is something to be said for not getting up at the crack of dawn because fate will give you gifts. Rather than heading to the local Starbucks for morning coffee, I went with the hotel room brew. OK, not Starbucks, but it was caffeine and gave me an extra 15 minutes. When I finally headed downstairs I debated if I should get the shuttle or walk. I stood outside for a moment assessing the weather, looked to my right then my left and suddenly saw someone I thought I recognized. Whenever I see someone I recognize, I call out their name and either they respond or think I’m talking to someone behind them. I called out “Marshall!” and sure enough, it was Marshall! Who is Marshall? Marshall and Carol are a couple I grew up with in Denver, Colorado! His daughter and I went to religious school together since consecration and our families have been friends ever since. Yes, one has to fly across the country to run in to people one has not seen in years! It’s a small Jewish world after all.

The morning plenary was another great pep rally for supporting Israel and preparing for lobbying meetings on Tuesday. Senator Joe Leiberman addressed the conference for his last time while in office. The morning was filled with speeches and building the excitement for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address coming up in the evening.

The afternoon was filled with opportunities for break out group discussions and clergy meetings. Specifically, the Reform movement. There are 90 rabbis and cantors from the Reform Movement in attendance. This is significant considering the Reform movement has not been so visually present before. However, this year, with the Synagogue Initiative movement, more rabbis were encouraged to attend and see that AIPAC is an organization for all Jews. True, the Reform movements beginnings lay more in the social action/justice department, but since the 1967, Israel has come more to the forefront. However, with the perception of AIPAC being more conservative leaning, many Reform Jews stayed away. AIPAC however, is bipartisan. As I said in my d’var Torah for this week, and as you’ll hear me say this Friday night, there were times that I sat while others stood and applauded and there were times that I stood and applauded while others sat. What all 13,000 in the halls agreed upon was that Israel must be allowed defend herself and that America needs to support her fully.

Again and again the statement participants made to me when I asked them, ‘why do you support AIPAC?’ was that they feel that they are doing something. That even just being present at the AIPAC conference makes a statement that Israel is important and our government needs to support Israel to the fullest.

The evening energy was so intense with Benjamin Netanyahu on the schedule. Security was tight once again with long lines getting through secret service and into the hall. While I joked about there being no clergy seating for the Sunday morning plenary with President Obama and President Peres, clergy was allowed into a closer section for Monday night’s event. We were entertained by Rick Recht, the Maccabeats and Idan Rachael. (OK, so what did the ultra Orthodox think of his amazing women vocalists?)

Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell were the warm up speakers and then it was time for Benjamin Netanyahu. We have all been wondering what happened in the meeting earlier that day with the President, but unlike last year, we were not going to hear. As Netanyahu said, you may be hearing that Israel is going to do this or that, please, I’m not going to tell you! Why would he? But he did express that something is going to happen, whether through the tougher sanctions created by the United States with containment off the table, or whether it was going to mean a direct strike. His statement was clear: Israel will defend herself no matter what.

The President and the Prime Minister cannot really come out and say that they are going to strike, that would be a declaration of war. And while we want to know what is going to happen and we live in a world of a constant barrage of information, sometimes, there are things that we are just not meant to know until it is happening.

Overall, it was an amazing evening event. That continuned even into Tuesday morning with the final plenary before delegates would go to the Hill for lobbying.

Tuesday was a campaign day! Romney, Santorum, and even Gingrich (hoping for a panel of four to ask him questions like they set up for Romney) spoke to the eager crowd. But the man who everyone was waiting to hear was Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta. He was articulate and consistently clear wiht the President’s message. America has the back of Israel and a strong interest in making sure that Iran does not become nuclear capable. That containment is not on the table, and if needed, military action is not off the table. He gave a long list of all the work the Israeli and American military have accomplished together and the strength that both share with one another. It was informative and inspiring no matter what side of the aisle the delegates were on.

And then, just like that, the conference was over. It was time for everyone to head out to meet with Senators and House Representatives. To be counted in saying that we care about Israel and as your supporters, we expect that you will also.

I went into the conference not sure what to expect, and came out better informed and enlightened. I agree that if one is looking for a way to really “do” something for Israel along with making donations, participating in AIPAC and being a voice for Israel is truly a beautiful way to be counted. No matter where one falls on the political spectrum, AIPAC is a place where there are shared values and hopes for a strong and peaceful Israel and world. So what will be next….