My 2017 AIPAC — Palpable inspiration

What did people call ‘Jewish Pride’ in the old country?

In Yiddish, they’d say Nachas, with a soft ‘ch’, but in our house – we pronounced it Nachos, like the tortilla chip. But, I guess it makes no difference what you call it, spending time at AIPAC these last couple of days, was real NACHAS!

If only my parents or grandparents could have seen us, 18,000 strong, filling up the Verizon Center in D.C.; hearing Heads of State, the Vice President of the United States, and members of every organization — all going out of their way to promise their unyielding friendship, they’d have believed that we are in Olam Haba — The World to Come.

At a time when some world powers still parade their weaponry in front of their populations, using missiles and tanks to show their power, AIPAC highlighted Israel’s strength by showcasing Israeli ingenuity and its worldwide impact and contributions – especially when it comes to helping people in distress around the globe.

Among the first guests to speak at the enormous Walter E. Washington Convention Center was a representative from the Peres Center for Peace, who had helped save the life of an Arab-Israeli boy, who was born with a near fatal heart defect. A recording of Shimon Peres preceded it where he said that he wished his legacy was to save a child. The boy – now ten years old, came with his family to thank the foundation, which is continuing Peres’ legacy in saving children.

Next we heard from the IDF Head of Medical Services, who shared with the audience how Israel has treated over 3,000 Syrians, injured in the recent Syrian civil war. This was accomplished in secrecy, under the cover of night, to protect them from reprisals back home. Then we heard from the Head of Israel’s emergency medical team, which is ranked No. 1 by the World Health Organization, for helping to field disasters around the world.

Naturally, there was talk of US – Israeli cooperation, Iran sanctions, the Iron-Dome and other essential systems that the US has helped finance, in order to help give Israel cover from Hamas’ missiles and protection from its enemies. But the emphasis of the conference was more on the Israeli cooperation with others. Paul Kagame, the leader of Rwanda, came to thank Israel and express his solidarity and support for AIPAC. Rwanda is one of the few countries, together with the US, that helped defeat a UN resolution against Israel. Togo’s Foreign Minister talked about his country’s initiative to host the first African-Israeli summit, as gratitude for Israel’s role in helping their country.

I was especially impressed by the words of a California firefighter who told us about his decision to volunteer with the Emergency Volunteer Project, which trains and brings emergency first-responders from across the US to Israel to assist Israel’s emergency services and to help the civilian population in times of crisis. He’s not Jewish and he had to pay his own travel expenses, plus take time off work in order to train in Israel for this service.

If this were not enough to stir my emotions, I learned about the many new sophisticated ways that Israel helps its children with disabilities improve their lives through the use of innovative technology. I now have their happy faces forever branded in my heart.

This AIPAC conference was not a show of brute strength, but rather a demonstration of how integrated Israel has become in a world that is still full of hate. We usually only see the hostility directed toward Israel, normally expressed in institutionalized condemnations and demonstrations that seek to paralyze Israel into submission towards its destruction. We rarely if ever see the magnitude of the impact Israel has on Jews and non-Jews the world over.

The cooperation between Israel and the world has never looked better and being at AIPAC has helped us to feel the support and admiration which, despite our loud detractors, many in the world at large feel towards us. Truly it felt more like an outpouring of love, than just a show of support.

While we are used to receiving positive support from our Evangelical brothers, who have always stood by Israel, in addition there were groups of African Americans and Latino Americans, who came to tell us in person about how grateful and committed they are to Israel. Speaker after speaker, they passionately described their sense of fate and destiny as connected with that of Israel’s survival and success.

Above all, they acknowledged how the AIPAC visit to Israel was transformational for each one of them and how it has changed their political outlook and understanding of the world.

All of this cost a lot of money and, unless you were there, you would not be able to understand the ‘tier system’ representing different membership levels with their own distinctly colored ribbons. While everybody is encouraged to register at the entry level (students come free), all members are encouraged to pledge higher amounts, entitling them entry to different club levels, each with their distinct privileges.

Lobbying costs money and helping support cooperation with thousands of groups from around the political and social spectrum is also costly, despite the organization’s reliance on its members to volunteer towards activism in different venues. This helped me to appreciate the need for a sophisticated and complex financial structure.

Of course, the appeal for many was the appearance of the ‘big-guns’ like Vice President Pence, Speaker Paul Ryan, the presentation of PM Netanyahu or Opposition Leader Herzog. However, what worked so wonderfully were our breakout-sessions with different experts in various fields – from the Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives, to Israeli Law; and from Israel’s economic outlook, to Israeli-Arab cooperation.

In the evenings, the crowds crossed the few blocks to attend ‘show like’ presentations at the Verizon Center. Apparent was the crowd’s enthusiasm and outstanding applause at different sections, following a violinist, who played magically on a violin rescued and restored from Auschwitz, to a top tier comedian – Elon Gold, or the striking personalities of Stephen Harper, former Prime Minister of Canada, and Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, who engaged the crowd’s heartfelt enthusiasm with their courageous and outstanding opposition to a wimpy world, constantly attacked by malignant anti-Semitism.

It is impossible to describe what 18,000 AIPAC participants applauding sounded like. I doubt that the home team, the Washington Wizards, had ever received such deafening applause accompanied by so many repeated standing ovations.

I am not a cynic, but I am quite a skeptic. Yet I find myself compelled to describe this event, where Jews can finally celebrate our togetherness in accordance with the old-time values of Tikun-Olam, fixing the world, that was commanded to us by our sacred tradition. People didn’t just come to network or to show off their social standing, though that too was inevitable. We came to celebrate our togetherness in the best possible way. Many have been coming to AIPAC since the time when being a Jew in America was not something people were so open about. But it’s a growing commitment that once you go, one feels compelled to return again, and again.

I loved seeing two college friends, now in their late seventies, who’ve been attending this conference throughout their entire adult lives. At the hotel bar, I met people who come yearly to meet up with their friends and others who don’t live in strong Jewish communities and for whom this is their strong bond to their heritage.

What everybody was most impressed with, was the presence of four thousands students; young men and women, in college or high school, whose presence invigorated the crowd and made us all feel that this is not the end – but just the beginning.

I went to AIPAC skeptical, sure that it’s all just a political game, but I returned a converted believer, realizing that AIPAC is by far the best agency to promote Israel’s interests across America and around the world.

I am certainly going again next year.

About the Author
Soli now lives in the US, but he was born in Romania and later lived in Israeli boarding school Hadasim, as part of the Aliyat Hanoar. He served in the Israeli Air Force, and graduated with a degree in architecture from the Technion. After settling in Jaffa, he moved to the US and had several businesses. He has been married for 37+ years, and is the father of 4 and grandfather of 4.
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