One of my synagogue lay leaders often uses the phrase, “perception is reality.” And, while I know there is a big debate as to whether that is true or not, every time I hear her say it, it rubs me the wrong way. I believe “perception unchallenged becomes reality” and I never felt that more deeply than over the past forty-eight hours following the AIPAC Policy Conference which I attended in Washington DC. The amount of articles, statements, and anger by those who either were not in Washington or who walked out on Donald Trump’s speech is astounding given that they were not a part of the many of us who chose to listen and shake our heads for the majority of his speech. So let me try and hopefully change the perception for those of you who believe that 18,000 of us became Trump supporters…
I chose to stay for Trump’s speech, unlike many of my colleagues, because as a long-time AIPAC supporter, I understand AIPAC’s important mission – to create meaningful relationships with politicians on both sides of the aisle so that the ties between the United States and Israel remain strong. I often think about my grandparents who had tickets for the SS St. Louis (but actually made the decision to go to Shanghai instead) and whether or not that ship might have docked on US shores had we had an AIPAC to petition FDR back then. Unfortunately, the ship was sent back to Nazi Europe. So, if Trump becomes President, God forbid, I want to help ensure that AIPAC can have a relationship with him whether or not I think his statements are bigoted and horrific (which I do).
As we sat in section 417 of the Verizon Center, you could feel the nervousness in the air as Trump approached the podium like a WWF wrestler surrounded by his 8 bodyguards who made a circle around him (unlike the other candidates who just walked right up to the dais). We didn’t stand, we didn’t hoot and holler, all we did was listen. After the tenth “believe me” comment during the first two minutes of his speech, all of us knew he was full of it. But, he did say some things that were appreciated – many of us liked the idea of the US Embassy being moved to Jerusalem, many of us liked the idea of a tougher hand on Iran who continues to develop missiles and weapons aimed at Israel, and many of us liked the thought of working on a two state solution once the Palestinians cease their daily terror attacks on Israel. We occasionally clapped at the ideas not the man.
Through it all, though, we kept shaking our heads because we knew this was all “smoke and mirrors.” We knew Trump had someone help him find the right words to share with a crowd that is deeply concerned about Israel’s future. We knew this was a man who had made despicable statements about women, Muslims, and so many others. We knew this is a man who is dangerous and could ruin our country. Maybe it was only those of us in section 417 who didn’t get sucked into his dynamic persona, but I think that the AIPAC constituency is smarter than that – after all, look at the organization that has been built over the years and its important influence in Washington.
So, to all of you who have bashed AIPAC or to those of you who are appalled that we stayed during Trump’s speech, I can speak on behalf of the first few rows of section 417 that we didn’t fall in love with Trump nor did we forget for a moment that the words he shared that evening would probably change the next day. We sat there like we did with all the candidates and listened, agreed, disagreed, and pondered the future of our beloved United States and our Jewish homeland. The reality of what happened in that stadium during Trump’s speech is not that Trump gained 18,000 new votes – we are smarter than that.
As we celebrate the holiday of Purim today, I can’t help but think about Esther who could have chosen not to invite Haman to her dinner feast because she hated his ideas and dangerous leadership. But, instead, she chose to invite both Haman and Achashverosh to the feast because she knew that she had to have the King hear Haman’s rhetoric in order for the Jews to have a safe future. I believe those of us who listened to Donald Trump did the same thing – we invited him into our “home” to hear what he had to say and if he happens to become the leader of our country, we will have begun the relationship to deal with him appropriately and make sure he cannot carry out his destructive plans.