It was the morning of January 15, 2009 when my wife, Debbie, and I received the news no one ever wants or is ready to hear. I was told that a mole they had removed from my leg tested positive for Melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of cancer. Upon hearing the news, I asked my doctor “Am I going to die from this?” to which she replied with the most truthful yet, less comforting answer she could give me, to my query she responded “I don’t know.”
In the following days I was subjected to a battery of tests that revealed that my cancer was at Stage III; I was told that the disease had invaded my lymph nodes and that surgery to remove them was needed. Surgery was followed by three months of recovery and a year long protocol of Interferon therapy, all of this with the hopes that my chances of survival would reach 85%. Just over 6 years later, while not entirely out of the woods, I happy to report that I am still cancer-free and my survival rate has risen exponentially over time.
So, in January, 2009, at the age of 37, this father of two young children, Abby and Josh, who, at the time, were only 7 and 4, faced his own mortality and asked himself, what can I do in my life, how long or short that may now be, to make sure that my children’s future as Jews is protected and ensured?
After multiple hours ans days filled with prayer and introspection, I decided that, for the rest of my life, regardless of how long or short G_d has intended for such to be, working to protect the Jewish Homeland, was to be the everlasting legacy I will leave to my children, grandchildren, and the broader Jewish Community. Thus, in the spring of 2009, I began my journey, joining the cause of AIPAC, by attending my first Policy Conference.
The 2015 AIPAC Policy Conference was the seventh one I have attended. The full extent of the pride, sadness, joy and sorrow, that I experienced, as I stood with 16,000 friends celebrating the State of Israel and her special relationship with the United States, cannot be described in words.
Suffice to say that, for this Jewish immigrant to the US from Mexico, to be sitting in the halls of the United States Congress and be able to watch the Prime Minister of the Jewish State, address the most powerful legislative body in the world, and to see and feel the warm embrace that the leader of my Homeland received from everyone in attendance, was as exhilarating and prideful as any other moment I’ve experienced in my life.
Some have spent significant time and effort focusing on the number of people that attended the session rather than the substance of the same. I assume that, according to most, if not everyone, between the Members of Congress, the distinguished guests on the floor of the House of Representatives and those of us in the gallery, there were approximately 1,200 people witnesses to history in the making. I just don’t agree with that count, for me, that number is materially understated.
By my count, there were over 12 million souls rejoicing in the events that took place under the dome of the US Capitol on the morning of March 3, 2015. How can that be possible? you ask. Here’s why.
Just seventy years ago, the Jews of Europe, my ancestors, were being marched to their death by a genocidal regime. While my people were being murderd at Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps, the world stood by and did absolutely nothing to stop them, despite multiple cries to do so by some of the Jewish leaders of the time. By my count, the 6 million Jews that died at the hands of the Nazis, they too, were with us that morning.
Today, over 6 million Jews live in Israel, at a time, when another genocidal regime has threatened to annihilate all of the Jews of the earth starting with the destruction of the Jewish State. For me, those 6 million Israeli Jews were also with me at the Capitol, however, different from the six million Jews that died at the hands of the Nazis, these six million Jews were the guests of honor; this time, the Jews of Israel had a powerful voice and a message, they were represented by their elected leader, their Prime Minister, who was there to tell the world that the Jewish People are no longer weak and vulnerable and that the days when we were targeted with unfettered and systematic prosecution, harrassment and assassination were over.
Just imagine how different history might have played out if the 6 million that perished at the hands of the Nazis, had been afforded a voice and a message, let alone a Homeland of their own. The world failed the Jews then, I am here to ensure that the world doesn’t fail my children and their grandchildren now or in the future.
6 years and 6 million. In the last 6 years, AIPAC has afforded with the opportunity to meet and lobby leaders of Congress to ensure that Israel is protected and able to defend herself, by herself, from those seeking to destroy her.
In the last 6 years AIPAC has afforded with the opportunity to meet and learn from distinguished scholars, analysts and pundits, about the issues facing, not only the State of Israel but also, the Jewish world in America and abroad providing me with the tools to be a better advocate, educator and lobbyist.
In half of the last 6 years AIPAC has taken me to Israel three times and, in each, I’ve learned not only about the threats facing Israel but, more importantly, about the hope and dreams of the Israeli people, their continuous work to make Israel a more perfect society by celebrating freedom, diversity and democracy, and by educating me on the daily miracles being performed by the people of the tiny State of Israel, for no other reason but for the betterment of humanity, in the true spirit of Tikkun Olam.
My AIPAC journey has not been one I’ve undertaken alone. Debbie, Abby and Josh have joined me in this journey, Vicky, Ariel, Alan, Uri, Tali, David, Karen, Alan, Jessica, Ronnie and the other David (the one from Chicago), have also joined me in this journey. Elise, Mark, Lillian, Jon, Mahra, Kevin, Jason, Lori, Mike, Rena, Ken, Michelle, Seth, Laurie, Kevin, Terry, Mark, Elias, Leora, Jerry, Michael, Jon, Brian, the other Brian (also, from Chicago) and hundreds of other fellow activists that have become part of my family and that I want to list here but can’t for lack of space, have also joined, inspired and encouraged me, at all times, to pursue this journey, even in the darkest of times and the most seemingly hopeless hours when the hill seems too steep to climb.
6 years and 6 million; for it is the 6 million souls that died in the Holocaust and the 6 million Jewish souls that live in Israel today that motivate me and inspire me the most to continue these pursuits: To protect my Homeland and to reaffirm that when we say “NEVER AGAIN!” we mean “NEVER AGAIN.”
6 years and 6 million. While I am hopeful that the number of Jews that have died at the hands of genocidal regimes will never grow past the 6 million that died at the hands of the Nazis, I am sure that, thanks to the miracle of modern medicine, that, so far, has cured me from cancer, the number of years I will continue devote this noble cause will continue to grow, but most importantly, through the continuous pursuit of the Jewish people to build our Homeland and to share with the world the modern miracle that is the State of Israel, the number of Jews living in Israel will continue to grow, exponentially, until the hopeful phrase we recite on joyous occasions, “L’Shana Habaa v’Yerushalaim, Next Year in Jerusalem” becomes a celebration of accomplishment for the Jewish people so that we may all live in peace and free, in our Land, the Land of Zion and Jerusalem.
Am Israel Chai!