AIPAC…To the Moon and Beyond

What were you doing on July 20, 1969?  On that day, Neil Armstrong became the first human to step on the moon.  The world excitedly watched as he, along with Buzz Aldrin walked around for three hours. In addition to doing experiments, they placed a US flag on the moon.

What were you doing on on February 21, 2019? On that day at Cape Canaveral, Israel launched its historic journey to the moon. And on April 11, with God’s help, and the help of people who are very intelligent, creative, and persistent, we will all watch with pride when Israel’s Beresheet lands on the moon.  Israel, tiny little Israel, will hopefully become the 4th nation, following in the footsteps of the three greatest superpowers of all time; US, Russia, and China, to land on the moon.

On April 11, we will watch with pride and we will remember where we were that afternoon.  Picture an Israeli astronaut planting an Israeli flag, a Magen David, on the moon.  (This particular spacecraft is unmanned, but the feeling would be the same).

Israel’s SpaceIL, a start-up, will be the first private aircraft to reach the moon and it will do so at a fraction of the cost of any lunar mission before it.

Small Country. Big Dreams.

The shuttle Beresheet is currently spending seven weeks making its way to the moon. It is swinging around Earth a few times and using our planet’s gravity to build the momentum it needs to get to its destination. The spacecraft carries with it a time capsule packed with digital files that hold information about the spacecraft, a Tanakh, Hebrew songs, artwork created by Israeli children and a photo of Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut, who lost his life as a member of the team of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003.  

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine came to the annual AIPAC Policy Conference this week to share how proud he was that NASA has been supporting this historical mission. NASA supplied vital components to the lander, and they will partner with Israel to conduct lunar research after Beresheet successfully lands on the moon.  This is but one example of a deep and multifaceted US-Israel Partnership.

SpaceIL Co-Chair and investor Morris Kahn also came to AIPAC to celebrate this historic achievement. For me, one of the highlights was when this short 89-year-old legend offered his prayer to Beresheet: Travel well, land peacefully and make us all proud.

Israeli co-founder of SpaceIL, Yonatan Winetraub, joined Morris and said that SpaceIL was founded to inspire a new generation of dreamers and explorers, to reach beyond our horizons and discover the unknown. He concluded by saying that when America and Israel dream, nothing is impossible. We hope that wherever we go next, we will go there together.

To me, that is why I leave my community and family behind each year for a few days in March and I attend the AIPAC Policy Conference. Stories like this inspire me. They remind me of my obsession with Israel and why Zionism is an integral part of my identity.

To be candid, I am not drawn by the politics. That said, I understand and appreciate the imperative to hear from politicians from the Left, Right, and Center, both from Israel and the US, at the AIPAC Policy Conference.  AIPAC is a bipartisan organization. The single most important part of the conference is when we go en masse to Capitol Hill and lobby our members of Congress, even if lobbying my particular Congresswoman is more like a conversation and a reunion.  Congresswoman Grace Meng is a true friend of Israel and a leader of the US-Israel relationship.

I attend the conference because it is an opportunity for me to learn and engage with Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis who love Israel and care about the US-Israel relationship. I ate lunch on Monday in a room full of  700 rabbis and cantors. Some looked like me and others had long beards to match their long coats. But we sat together because our commitment to the relationship between the two countries is ironclad.

It is equally rare and inspiring to see a diverse tapestry of secular, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews, Ashkenazim and Sefardim, and Americans of many faiths and backgrounds, including Christians, African Americans, Latinos, conservatives, and progressives unite under a conference theme of “connected for good.” This conference proved to be an oasis in the desert of divisiveness and disunity that sadly is America in 2019.

I attend the AIPAC Policy Conference because I love what Israel can be. I love the people of Israel much more than the politics of Israel, just like I love the American people more than I love American politics.

The media portrays what it wants and naturally focuses on the big speeches from prominent figures. As a bipartisan organization, AIPAC invites voices from all sides of the political spectrum to speak about the US-Israel relationship. I am grateful that an organization exists where so many Israeli and American political leaders feel compelled to attend. The entire bipartisan and bicameral leadership of Congress spoke to us.  Hundreds of speakers from across the globe came to Washington this week to share their expertise with 18,000 delegates. But the speeches of Prime Minister Netanyahu and Vice President Pence got the most media coverage.

Accusations that AIPAC has become a right-wing organization are simply not factual. On Sunday afternoon, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a  Democrat, shared his love of Israel and his commitment to continued support for the relationship between the two countries.  My own New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio shared a similar message on Monday morning.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shemini, we read about Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, who decide to go rogue and offer a strange fire to God. They walk away from everyone else and do their own thing. Sadly their fate is that they are killed on the spot.  Imagine if Nadav and Avihu were able to get over their own aspirations and dreams, and were able to work together with the others for the greater good, for serving God.

I thought of this as I read article after article this week about the conference I just attended.  At AIPAC Policy Conference, Democrats and Republicans unite together because they love America and they love  Israel.  That transcends everything else.  

Attendees could not help but see the more than 4,000 students from every corner of the US. Their blue lanyards and youth gave them away. I hope that by experiencing the bipartisanship atmosphere, this new generation will be encouraged to come to love those who think differently than they are, instead of spewing rhetoric at them.  Maybe these students will become, in the words of Yonatan Winetraub, a new generation of dreamers and explorers. The opportunities for young Israeli and American minds to collaborate are endless.

Israel landing a rocket ship on the moon with the partnership of the United States is but one example of what the US-Israel alliance can accomplish.  There are countless military and technology examples as well which protect Americans and enhance the lives of millions of people around the world. This is why for the past few years, despite my aversion to politics, I have served with pride on AIPAC’s National Council. There is simply no better vehicle to save lives and make the world a better place.

As I return from the 2019 AIPAC Policy Conference, I am reminded that the US-Israel relationship is not only about our current political leaders, but it is about our 2000-year-old dream, our commitment, and our hope–hatikvah.

About the Author
Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin is the spiritual leader of the Israel Center of Conservative Judaism in New York City, a member of the Rabbis Without Borders network, and the national Co Chair of Rabbis Against Gun Violence.
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